Guatemala is roughly the size of the Canadian province Newfoundland or the state of Tennessee. Its diverse beautiful landscape includes tropical rain-forests, mountains, valleys, lowland forests, beaches, and more than thirty volcanoes.
There are a multitude of natural resources and key exports yet Guatemala has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, and continues to struggle with drug trafficking and rampant crime/corruption.
In Guatemala, the face of poverty and hunger is young, indigenous and rural. The Guatemala National Institute of Statistics reports that nearly half of the population is under 18 years old and 20 percent of the population is between 15 and 29 years old.
The chronic under nutrition rate for children under 5 is 49.8 percent, the highest in the region and the fourth highest in the world. Guatemala is one of the 36 countries which account for 90 percent of stunting in the world. Chronic under nutrition in indigenous areas is 69.5 percent.
Fifty-three percent of the population lives in poverty, and 13 percent in extreme poverty. The most vulnerable groups are indigenous women, girls and boys living in the highlands and the “dry corridor” (a semi-arid zone with periods of droughts, degraded soils and low agricultural yields).
Illiteracy is 31.1 percent in women 15 years of age and older and reaches 59 percent among indigenous women.
The current state of the education system is substandard. Many classrooms, especially in rural Guatemala, do not have adequate teaching materials.
Additionally, with more than half the population living below the poverty line, many children – especially rural and indigenous children – are forced to drop out of school to help support their families or because they are unable to afford the cost of uniforms, books, supplies and transportation.
Of the 2 million children in Guatemala that do not attend school, the majority are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, over half of the Guatemalan population is indigenous and only 10% of poor, rural indigenous girls are enrolled in secondary school.
Most indigenous girls in Guatemala are Mayan and they are among the country’s most disadvantaged group with limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing, and chronic poverty.
In many poor communities, school fees for tuition, textbooks, uniforms and supplies often force children to drop out of school as these expenses can easily consume a substantial percentage of a poor family’s income.
Sources: World Food Programme, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Global Education Fund, USAID, infoplease.com.