For anyone living in a first-world country, comprehending poverty in a country like Guatemala is an extreme challenge. As we support and sponsor those less fortunate than us, it’s normal to begin asking, “Why?”

Why are people so poor? Why don’t they get a different or better job if they’re desperate for money? Why do they keep having children if they can’t afford them? Why do some people have cell phones, but not food?

We hope to help answer some of these difficult questions, inspiring hearts of compassion for those who seek understanding.

Poverty in Guatemala is Systemic

The systems in place — or the extreme lack thereof — make poverty in Guatemala persistent.

For the majority of people in the country, especially those in rural villages, food is scarce. Most everyone struggles to think beyond what their next meal will be or what they will feed their families. A varied diet of healthy foods is truly unheard-of. Many do not have daily access to clean water and must spend an entire day traveling to bring fresh water back to their families. On those days, they cannot work. With consistent access to food and water, moving beyond poverty is essentially impossible.

In Guatemala’s rural areas, agriculture is essentially the only industry. Most impoverished people — if they’re fortunate enough to have any work at all — work as day laborers on farms, earning less than $3 USD per day. In off-seasons or times of drought (not to mention COVID-related complications), these laborers struggle to find work anywhere. A few are lucky enough to work for more fortunate people, who may give them a cell phone to call them into work. Many others must travel to other countries to look for work. Sadly, this separates families to the detriment of the children.

Families are often large, with children as one of the few joys their parents have.

Plus, children help contribute to the family’s needs. Children can help work a farm where their families can’t afford to hire employees. They can also take care of their siblings if their parents need to leave to find water, food or employment. Unfortunately, this means most children don’t get an education past elementary school.

With such a short education period, people don’t develop higher learning skills or economic abilities. Worse, few receive knowledge about hygiene, health or family planning. A lack of education perpetuates poverty.

Poverty in Guatemala Is Historic

Guatemala’s history of political unrest and civil war contributes to the state of poverty. Long-standing militaristic cartel and gang movements make matters even more difficult. Historic danger makes it difficult to move past poverty.

According to the CIA World Factbook, there are bureaucratic hurdles as well. The share of Guatemalan GDP collected as tax and then spent ranks 204th of 215 countries. Moreover, only a quarter of those taxes collected go to public investment.

Such history and governmental patterns create an inertia that is hard is to move in a positive direction.

Poverty in Guatemala Is Psychological and Spiritual

Imagine that no one in your family can remember a time in your family’s history when they didn’t live in extreme poverty. Imagine that your family’s health history was a continuous story of diabetes, tooth decay and poor diet. Imagine that you don’t personally know anyone who isn’t poor.

Living with these kinds of realities, a hope that things could ever be any different is often out of reach. Without the message of a God with infinite love for you, with wisdom and knowledge for you, with “a hope and a future” for you, how could you fight your way out of poverty?

At Living Water Adopt-A-Child, we exist to be the hands and feet of Jesus to some of the world’s poorest people. We bring food, sponsorship, medical assistance and the hope of Christ to those who need it most. To learn more about how you can join us in combating poverty in Guatemala, visit our Ways to Give page.

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Global Hunger Index, The World Bank