The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged countries large and small; rich and poor. Some of the richest, most technologically advanced countries have been humbled by this tiny virus. Although vaccine availability has been unequal across the globe, what has been equal is the speed and efficacy at which COVID-19 has destroyed economies and upended lives. Here at Guatemalan Humanitarian Tours, we feel this acutely. Our organization is set up to assist those in Guatemala who are in need. And now there are more of those than ever. So, what is the state of Guatemalan tourism? How is the country doing? And how can you help? Let’s dig a little deeper.
When Guatemala first responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, they did so in dramatic fashion. Much like many other countries around the world, the government in Guatemala put the country into an immediate and wide-ranging lockdown. And when you consider the impoverished state that many Guatemalans currently live in, the problem becomes even more acute.
In the 2019 Global Hunger Index, Guatemalan ranked 72nd out of 117 qualifying countries. Even more, nearly 13% of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 are underweight. This number is four times higher than Guatemala’s peer countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The COVID-19 outbreak caused even more disruptions all along the food chain in Guatemala, creating widespread economic hardship and uncertainty. And this uncertainty was especially acute for populations that are most vulnerable.
Even more, the pandemic has caused widespread disruptions in Guatemala’s farming sector. Export-oriented agriculture represents 45% of the country’s agricultural revenue. It is a key driver in creating and preserving jobs. And even though the ports are open, the movement restrictions placed on individuals within the country has put a lot of pressure on small-scale farmers. And the near-total shutdown of the country’s hospitality and tourism sectors have left many famers with surplus tock and unpaid bills. In a country that has vexing hunger and nutrition issues, it’s of utmost importance that agricultural value chains remain functioning and resilient. Food must keep flowing from production to consumers, especially to address urgent food security concerns for the poor and vulnerable. Yet the disruptions to Guatemala’s economy make this difficult.
Unfortunately, the Guatemalan government’s response to the pandemic has been harsh and some would argue ineffective. By June of 2020, with over 11,000 confirmed cases, one of the highest case loads in Central America at the time, the Guatemalan government imposed harsh restrictions, locking down the country, instituting curfews and travel bans, and mandating mask-wearing in public. And throughout the course of the pandemic, Guatemala has been one of the last to ease restrictions and allow people to move freely around the country. And this while the vaccine rollout has remained sluggish, at best.
The slow roll out of the vaccine is frustrating for Guatemalans. It is available for everyone over 30 but not always in stock when people have appointments. Without an appointment, many local Guatemalans may find themselves standing up to 7 hours in line for a jab. To put the problem in perspective, only 850,000 people have received 2 doses in a country of 18 million people. Even worse, tourism has not returned in any meaningful way and jobs are scarce. Families in remote villages continue to struggle to buy food and medicine. High school and university students are taking virtual classes but this option is not open to all students because they do not have computers or the internet in their village.
The tourism sector in Guatemala, which represents a large part of the economy, has been hit especially hard. Tour operators have difficulty filling spots and guides find themselves out of work. Many of these people live in areas we serve. It is during times like these that outside assistance is needed more than ever. As Guatemalans begin to rebuild their lives, go back to school, and go back to work, they need help putting food on the table and putting their kids in class.
We get it. Countries all over the world have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of people need help right now, from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia and Latin America. How does one choose who to help? As a non-profit organization servicing Guatemala, we invite you to look south as you decide where to put your dollars and time. Guatemala may seem far, but it is closer than you may think. Just south of Mexico, what happens in Guatemala directly impacts policy in the United States. Many migrants who flee from Guatemala end up at the U.S.-Mexico border. They are trying to escape just the hardships we have outlined here in this article.
By helping Guatemalans put food on their table, you may help prevent people from having to take an arduous and sometimes deadly journey north. Even more, if you ever wanted to visit the country you decide to help, a flight to Guatemala isn’t as tough or expensive as, say, a flight to Africa or Asia. And with us here to help you, you can rest assured your money is going to the right place and your contributions are making a difference.
Consider donating time or money to those in need in Guatemala. Here at Guatemalan Humanitarian Tours, we make helping Guatemalans easy and rewarding. Help us in our current campaign as we raise money to feed hungry Guatemalan children in need. Simply follow this link and make a donation that is right for you. And to learn more about what we do, feel free to peruse our website or get in touch! And thank you!