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.

The Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala's northern Petén is a vast area of forest that is not suited for agriculture, but is vital for tourism — one of Guatemala's top sources of revenue — and for marketing forest products. The reserve is essential to Guatemala's economic and environmental well-being. Most immigrants to Petén settle on the forest land to farm, and, every few years, move on in search of better soil when the land becomes unproductive. Largely from small rural communities where subsistence depended on farming of corn and beans, the immigrants brought techniques that destroy the Petén's tropical habitat, like slash and burn land clearing

Corruption is an endemic problem in Guatemala that has profoundly negative impacts on investment, governance and the legitimacy of democratic government. In addition to the direct losses caused by diversion of funds, corruption is used as an argument against paying taxes, impeding the generation of additional revenues. While the previous government was plagued by wholesale corruption, President Oscar Berger, who took office in January 2004, says he is determined to leave stronger government institutions for the administration that succeeds his in 2008.

Open landfills are more than an affront to one’s senses. Improperly managed, they can also result in grave environmental consequences and create health problems for people living for miles around. Open landfills are one of the principal sources of methane, a highly flammable gas that is 21 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. The Guatemala City dump emits such great quantities of methane gas that it literally catches fire several times a year — resulting in death and considerable destruction of land and property.

For decades, studies have shown a high demand among Guatemalan couples for resources to help them make informed decisions and follow through on planning the number and spacing of their children. Yet, until five years ago, information on reproductive health and family planning was very difficult to find in Guatemala, particularly in rural areas. Political, religious, and cultural barriers that have long defined social behaviors stood in the way of couples’ ability to protect and plan their family’s health and wellbeing. This lack of access to family planning information and services brought Guatemala to its current position: it has highest fertility rates in the hemisphere.

Stretching 236 miles from Mexico to El Salvador, Guatemala’s breathtaking Sierra Madre range hosts 37 active volcanic cones. With peaks known as the islands in the sky reaching 11,000 feet, the Atitlán Volcanic chain is a major tourist attraction and sustains an outstanding wealth of biodiversity and sacred Mayan cultural sites. Unfortunately, widespread poverty, high population density, slash and burn agriculture, and uncontrolled tourism threaten the ecological and cultural integrity of the Atitlán region. Deforestation, erosion, habitat fragmentation, and pollution are ruining this majestic terrain.

Rural Guatemalan families that were already living in poverty and malnourished were severely affected in 2001 by natural disasters, a drop in export prices (particularly coffee), and a global economic recession. Among other consequences, these events precipitated a severe nutrition crisis, suddenly taking many lives, particularly among women and children.

Nearly a decade after its 36-year civil war ended, cultural and economic gaps persist in Guatemala. Education is plagued by a lack of access, poor teacher training and insufficient resources - especially for rural children. Although 60 percent of urban students complete third grade, only 30 percent of rural students do. Two-thirds of Maya first-graders are taught by instructors who do not speak their mother tongue, and 76 percent of rural children drop out before completing primary school.

The World Health Organization does not consider traditional birth attendants sufficiently skilled to manage normal deliveries and diagnose, manage, and refer obstetric complications. USAID is supporting midwife training in villages across Guatemala. In the above photo, women are learning about systems of the human body in their language, Quiché. Small children often attend training sessions with their mothers, who do not have childcare options.

Wine, champagne, and beer bottles that are considered rubbish by most are thrown out at restaurants and residences in upscale neighborhoods in Guatemala City. A small team of artisans collects these bottles and transforms them into works of art. Before they met these bottles, these artisans were either unemployed or scraping a living as day laborers.

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Last updated: February 24, 2015