Just last month we beat our goal of raising $10,000 for children’s education. Yet COVID-19 continues on and schools have stayed closed in many developing countries, such as Guatemala. What happens to Guatemalan children when they aren’t able to return to school?
For children in Guatemala, school closures have meant, at times, a severe reality. Hundreds of thousands of families throughout Guatemala were barely making ends meet before COVID-19 struck. Now they are now suffering the economic repercussions of the pandemic. Without any type of social supports, where parents have lost their jobs, families are being forced to make their children work. Long hours on the farm, manufacturing clothes in factories, or shining shoes out on the streets, among other small jobs, are all ways to bring in a meagre pay that barely covers basic expenses like food, water and shelter.
Guatemalans face many other challenges, especially malnutrition. Before the pandemic, the western highland regions had an alarming rate of close to 70% of children experiencing moderate or severe acute malnutrition. Guatemala has the worst rates of malnutrition of all the Americas and is comparable to some African countries in terms of the scale of the problem. When children were in school, they would receive 1 or 2 meals a day depending on availability of school feeding programs, helping to marginally reduce the high rates of malnutrition throughout the most destitute parts of the country. But now that schools are closed and the economy is down, malnutrition in children is once again on the rise, reducing the gains made by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other NGOs who work to quell malnutrition throughout the country.
To help alleviate malnutrition for some of the most at–risk and vulnerable communities, CAUSE Canada has provided food distributions for over 2,500 families with children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in 135 rural communities during August and September 2020, with the help of funding from Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Funds for Local Initiative from the Embassy of Canadian Embassy to Guatemala.
Another difficulty is faced by the Ministry of Education. Most teachers do not have access to the few pedagogical resources they had before the pandemic to help them teach basic subjects, leaving their students with no distance learning opportunities under the current circumstances. To make matters worse, child abuse has been on the rise. Now that Guatemalan children and young girls are quarantined at home, they are more vulnerable and susceptible to becoming victims of physical or sexual abuse. CAUSE Canada Gender Equality Advisors are extremely busy coordinating with key institutions to train community leaders in identifying and making referrals when cases of child abuse occur; and in establishing a safe and effective chain of services for survivors.
No one knows when the Ministry of Education will authorize the reopening of schools throughout the country. Right now, it is anyone’s guess when this challenging situation will end. Meanwhile, CAUSE Canada will continue to champion quality education rights by supporting teachers and schools, and by disseminating important information through the radio and other mass media means. Guatemalan children and their families need our partnership more than ever, and it is our duty to work with them in solidarity to help them improve their lives and have opportunities. We must have hope and believe in a brighter future for generations of Guatemalans to come.
Written by David Fafard, Program Director of the CAUSE Canada COVID-19 Prevention Project.