Why we work in Guatemala
More than half of people in Guatemala live below the poverty line. Illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition are among the highest in the Americas. Life expectancy is among the lowest.
Guatemala is still recovering from a 36 year-long civil war between government and rebel forces, which ended in 1996. The conflict left more than 200,000 people dead and created an estimated one million refugees.
As Guatemala recovers from the destruction of schools during the civil war, the number of people who can read is increasing. However, while government-run schools are free to attend, ‘hidden’ costs like uniforms, books and transport mean that education is often unaffordable for the poorest families.
Perched on three tectonic plates, Guatemala is also subject to frequent earthquakes of varying intensity. Tropical storms regularly wreck fishing villages on the Caribbean coast and active volcanos threaten remote communities.
Women's rights in Guatemala
Women in Guatemala are especially vulnerable to violence, which has sharply increased in recent years. Only 13% of seats in parliament are held by women, and women are far less likely to own land than men.
What we do in Guatemala
Nearly half of Guatemala's children under the age of five are chronically malnourished; one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. By providing emergency food aid, training communities on health and nutrition, supporting school gardening projects and helping communities to improve food production, ActionAid is working to beat hunger.
To keep the land they rely on, we also support communities battling land grabs from large multi-national companies.
Helping women deal with violence
In the north of Guatemala, levels of violence against women are extremely high. Between 2000 and 2013 over 4,000 women were killed at the hands of their partners or family.
The northern state of Petén is now one of the most dangerous places for women in the whole of Central America. By running workshops to teach women about the laws in place to protect them and how to report acts of violence safely, we’re helping women fight violence in their daily lives.
With ActionAid training, women are also learning how to earn a wage outside of their houses and patriarchal attitudes are changing.
Education for children and women
In rural Guatemala, there are few schools above primary level. To help overcome this, ActionAid has created a distance learning programme. The students listen to their classes on the radio and meet with a teacher three times a week.
Where schools are ill-equipped, ActionAid supports them with funding for libraries and materials such as whiteboards, markers, crayons, pencils, notebooks, paper, printers and pots and sinks for school kitchens.
For women who missed out on an education when they were younger, ActionAid provides literacy classes, arranged around childcare and household chores.
Improving resilience to disasters
ActionAid runs disaster workshops which help prepare communities for droughts, earthquakes, floods, forest fires and landslides. Here people can learn about the measures they should take to protect themselves and their families, for example, identifying a safe place to take shelter. Children draw maps of their communities marked with the areas of risk – such as rivers and forests – and areas that are safe for evacuation.
Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic
ActionAid has supported over 3,000 people in Guatemala as part of our emergency Covid-19 response.
This includes distributing food packages and emergency cash transfers in vulnerable communities, with a focus on women and girls, people with disabilities, the elderly, single-parent households and survivors of gender-based violence.
We have also been disseminating vital public health communications to the community in local Maya languages, through Whatsapp and radio broadcasts.
Midwife and first female president of her village
Meet Margarita. Despite missing out on education as a child, she has now finished junior high school and is saving lives through her work as a midwife. This is thanks to support from her local women's groups, funded by ActionAid's partner organisation ASEDE (Association for Education and Development).
"Before, women gave birth in a corner of the house," explains the 28-year-old mum of two. "Sometimes the babies died. Women were dying, but not anymore. I feel happy to be able to help giving birth. I am supporting my community."
ActionAid also gave Margarita the councillor training. Not only did she become the first ever woman councillor in her village, but she went on to become President of her village. "In the past women were never on the development council," she says proudly. "There was no training or guidance for us, so we felt inferior to men. But it is not like that now. Men are beginning to understand that we have this right to participate, that we are equal."Learn more about our work supporting women around the world
Women learn beekeeping and business skills
In San Carlos Alzatate, Guatemala, many women like Petronila Santiago lack the confidence to leave their homes and have no way of earning their own income.
Thanks to ActionAid and our partner ASODEMNA (the New Dawn Women’s Association), we're teaching women beekeeping and business skills. Beekeeping is profitable, requires little time, creates nutritious food and protects the environment. And they’re showing men in the village that women can run a business too.
For Petronila Santiago (left), learning how to keep bees gave her a new lease of life.
“Before, women did not have any freedom to attend meetings because their husbands were too macho," Petronila explained. "They did not want them to go. We never had these women’s groups organised before."
This is just one of many economic alternative projects that ActionAid and our partner our developing with women’s groups across the region.Read more about our work with women and girls
Helping indigenous families get healthcare
In Guatemala, many people from the indigenous Qeqchi community are marginalised and struggle to get even basic medical attention, all because they do not speak Spanish. This is because the hospitals only work in Spanish, despite the fact that the right to healthcare without discrimination is a core part of Guatemala's constitution.
Lucrecia Maza, pictured, is a programme cordinator for ActionAid's partner ASECSA (Asociación de Servicios Comunitarios de Saluda), a local Guatemalan organisation that helps improve health services. By creating and managing a group of women translators Lucrecia is helping Qecqchi women get the vital medical care they need.Donate to support our work
Page updated 6 March 2023