On May 9th, 2010, 11 social work students and two professors from Dominican University went to Guatemala to learn about the culture, international social work, and issues in developing countries. I knew very little about Guatemalans history and their current political system. Only 10 years ago did the countries 36 year Civil War end and it is still apparent in today’s society. The government is very unstable and the whole system changes with every election which makes it very difficult to sustain programs that were developed by one president because the next one will change everything. The political system in Guatemala is very corrupt and even the police force cannot be trusted. They are known to contribute to the trafficking in and out of Guatemala and very little is done by the government to stop human trafficking. There are many other issues that face Guatemala, including poverty, violence, and orphans. The child welfare system in Guatemala is very weak and the government has barely any funding to take care of the orphans. Most orphanages and children homes are funded solely on private funders and donations. It is frustrating to go to a country of such beauty and see the issues that prohibiting the country from being self-sustainable.
As a group we visited several different social service agencies and NGOs to learn about what is being done in the country. We visited UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services and learned about the macro approaches to changing policy in the country. We visited the largest garbage dump in Central America which employs thousands of Guatemalans. Men, women, and children make their living in the dump by digging through thousands of pounds of trash and finding anything that is recyclable. They typically make around $1-3 dollars a day while doing a great service for the environment and Guatemala . As assumed with this job, there are many health risks involved and many children are being exposed to the toxic environment early in life. We visited a program called Safe Passages which works with the women in the dump to educate them and teach the literacy to try to get them out of the dump. Also, there are education programs for the children to teach them literacy, nutrition and hygiene habits, and other basic education skills. In Guatemala City we worked with an orphanage called Our Lady of Mercy Children’s Home and helped to develop a program for children with Downs Syndrome in Guatemala City . The orphanage is completely funded through donations so it is very difficult to keep the home running day to day. For our final day with the children we took them to Chuck E Cheese and they were so excited. They only get outings 3 or 4 times a year so they were very excited to do something fun away from the home.
Outside of Guatemala City we visited a few different agencies also. We went to a residential school that houses up to 300 children outside of Antigua . The organization is called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International (NPHI). Guatemala has very little funding for schools and many children do not go pass the 6th grade. There are no public high schools so many children never have a chance to go to high school because they cannot afford it. Residential schools allow children to receive quality education and give them the potential to receive higher education. We went to Lake Atitlan to San Lucas Tillman and visited a Catholic Mission. Father Greg had been in Guatemala for over 40 years and has sustained the entire community. The mission has a free health clinic to help anyone in the area, a woman’s center, a coffee plantation, a school, and it has rebuilt a whole community after mudslides. There are around 300 people from the community that make a living through the mission. It was incredibly powerful to see how one person can change a community and make it sustainable.
Since being back to the states, Guatemala has been all over the news with the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano which left over 1,800 people abandoned from the homes while it was erupting. Just days after the eruption, tropical storm Agatha hit Guatemala City and areas around the city and flooded the area. Many families were without homes, displacing 125,000 people. Over 250 people are dead or missing from the flooding and landslides. There are limited food supplies in some areas and drinking water is now contaminated in some areas. The storm has left Guatemala in a rough condition. I am so thankful that we less than a week before the disasters happened in Guatemala . However, it is very unfortunate to see the people of Guatemala go through this. For many of the people, everyday seems like a struggle and this will only make each day more difficult.
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