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.

Through her work, trained therapist Vilma Dinora Morales learned that violence against women in Villa Nueva (a Guatemala City suburb) was a serious problem that received little attention and often went unpunished. Community leaders and justice center professionals wanted to help women access justice, but did not know how.

Selvin Boanerges Garcia Velásquez is the mayor of the municipality of Pachalúm, in the Department of Quiché’s southeastern corner. This department was one of the most heavily affected areas during the armed conflict that ended with the 1996 Peace Accords. The municipality, mostly Ladino (referring to persons of mixed European and American Indian ancestry, mostly mixed Maya-Spanish ancestry), has a population of about 11,000 persons, with an estimated additional 3,000 living abroad, mainly in New Jersey.

Ana Lucia Soto de Escobar is one of the valuable volunteers that gives life to the Búcaro, Mezquital Youth Outreach Center in Villa Nueva, a Guatemala City suburb that is home to gangs and high crime rates.

When neighbors asked Manfer Manuel Guzmán how much the new Youth Outreach Center pays him, he said, “I’m paid with love and I’m planting seeds to harvest.”

Manfer volunteers three hours a week at the Ciudad del Sol Center, at his Evangelical church. Though he thinks it is not much time, he knows it goes a very long way. Manfer, who lives with his parents and brother, is a music teacher and a student at the Instituto Canción (Song Institute).

Fazal Agha had just bought some food for his family’s evening meal. As he neared his home, a convoy of international military vehicles passed him on the road. Suddenly, a car laden with explosives burst into a fireball. Fazal was knocked unconscious by the force of the blast and woke up in hospital.

In Guatemala's Quiché department, only half the children complete first grade - one symptom of a wider education problem that continues a cycle of illiteracy and poverty in the area, especially among rural, indigenous girls. Inefficiency in the education system is one of the root causes and particularly affects the lower grades.

More than a third of Guatemalans are between 15 and 29 years old. Only two of every five children finish sixth grade and just 19 percent of all high school-aged kids are in school. Guatemala's population growth rate is the second highest in the hemisphere and doubles the population every 19 years. More than 70 percent of Guatemalans live rural poverty, driving the country's youth to seek work in unskilled labor or organized crime. Youth are disenfranchised and marginalized, deprived of the tools and the opportunity to become productive, healthy, responsible citizens.

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.


Last updated: January 12, 2015