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.

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.

This hearing room at the newly renovated court is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Three judges rotate shifts at the court, ensuring that access to justice is always within reach. The 24-hour courts prevent overcrowding in pre-trial detention facilities by providing timely alternatives to imprisonment, such as bail. This system presents a deterrent to police corruption because police can no longer detain suspects for lengthy periods without court orders.

After learning about safer clearing techniques from a USAID-sponsored awareness campaign, students painted this sign, which says: “Don’t Burn the Forests — Or do you want to end life?” Through its programs, USAID has helped farmers realize that by choosing other clearing methods not only are they saving the forests — they are saving lives.

José Luis Lux, a vegetable producer in the community of Chirijuyú in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango Department, and his family lived in extreme poverty. That changed in 1993 when his family led the community to establish an association of agricultural producers, Labradores Mayas (“Mayan Workers”), which sold vegetables to middlemen. With USAID support, the association strengthened production, became certified on international food regulation practices, and systematized administrative functions to comply with international buyer requirements.

USAID is working to get small farmers involved in international markets by helping them maximize production with crops like broccoli and form local cooperatives that give them more leverage. Converting small farms into well-functioning businesses will make the area more dynamic and productive and create better living standards for the residents.

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Last updated: January 12, 2015