Transforming Lives

Every day, all over the world, USAID brings peace to those who endure violence, health to those who struggle with sickness, and prosperity to those who live in poverty. It is these individuals — these uncounted thousands of lives — that are the true measure of USAID’s successes and the true face of USAID's programs.

Troubled with gangs and high crime rates, Villa Nueva, a large suburb of Guatemala City, is one of the country’s most violent areas. Although the number of cases involving domestic violence, sexual crime, and murder of women continues to rise, few are reported or investigated. In addition, criminal justice and civil society institutions lack the understanding and capacity to raise awareness of the problem and help women access the justice system.

Traditionally, candidates who captured the majority of votes in Guatemala City win the presidency, but that is changing. The 2007 Guatemalan presidential election represents an important shift of power away from Guatemala City and toward the more rural areas of the country. Though this process was underway with the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) victory in 1999, it took on more importance with municipal decentralization in 2002 and now with electoral decentralization.

The story of agricultural diversification—the change from growing only basic grains for family consumption to growing a diverse group of crops sold in national and international markets—is the story of thousands of farmers in the Guatemalan Highlands that has increased incomes, jobs, and opportunity, transforming hundreds of thousands of lives.

The Highlands cover seven of Guatemala’s 22 departments. They comprise less than a fi fth of the country’s surface area, but include more than 60 percent of the country’s farms, most of which are very small, less than two acres each.

Yuri Tecún is an exception to the rule. Thanks to a USAIDbacked scholarship program, she was able to attend university, unlike many other young girls in Guatemala.

According to the 2002 census, only 2.87 percent of high school graduates in Guatemala go on to university. Girls make up only 1.26 percent of this group. If a girl happens to come from a lowincome, rural family like Yuri her chances are even lower.

"We are bridges; we build bridges for a better future," says Gladys Marisol Soto. She is 29, a mother of two: 3-year-old Selvin David and 11-month-old Joshua. As a housewife from a rural community in Pedro Jocopilas, on the south coast of Guatemala, Gladys received a visit at her home from a USAID-sponsored community facilitator. He invited her to join a training program for mothers.

The remote rural highlands of Guatemala were the most affected by the 36-year civil war. Mayan families, particularly women and children, suffer the economic and social consequences of severe lack of education, health, and income generation opportunities. Families in these remote villages get their bread from neighboring towns that are a long walk away. Bread is brought in only once or twice a week during market days, and then stored in people’s homes where it gets moldy or insect infested.

USAID's Youth Leadership and Employability Skills Program helped disenfranchised young Guatemalans abandon conflict and discrimination in favor of more productive ways of living and working.

The program brought together urban and rural youth at 10- to 15-day camps - and was met with skepticism by many participants. But mixing young people from different backgrounds in an intercultural camp setting turned out to be a resounding success and proved to be a powerful and immediate way to generate the understanding, tolerance and respect that are the building blocks of peace.

Twenty-two years ago, men, women, and children in Guatemala's highlands were brutally massacred in a state-sponsored genocide during the country's decades-long civil war. Today, communities have finally been able to take legal action and declare the existence and location of clandestine cemeteries - the first step toward having the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) exhume a mass grave.

USAID sponsored six women leaders to represent Guatemala at the Global Summit for Women in Mexico City in June 2005. After returning, they requested a meeting with First Lady Wendy de Berger to report on the summit’s objectives for economic and social development in poor, rural communities. The initial meeting was scheduled for a brief 30 minutes, but the discussion was so engaging that it continued for an hour and a half.

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Last updated: January 20, 2015