Seeing Hunger - and Christ - on Children's Faces in Guatemala
Last year Bread's multimedia manager Joseph Molieri travelled to Guatemala where he saw hunger and solutions to hunger up close. He filmed Catarina Pascual Jimenez,and tells her story in the short video, Food for the Future.
By Joseph Molieri
Reading the news stories of a surge in child migration from Guatemala does not surprise me. Last year I was there, and I saw the devastation that hunger can cause.
In Guatemala City, the street life is alive with the calls of vendors selling their wares, congested streets, and bustling pedestrians. I took a taxi to a rural region just north of Huehuetenango, about a 200-mile drive from Guatemala City, where life was slower but harder. We had come to Guatemala to observe the impact of food-security programs, which are partially funded through grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and to gather stories for Bread’s Offering of Letters in these western highlands of Guatemala.
As we traveled farther into the countryside, a palpable feeling of coldness grew stronger. About halfway into the trip, we pulled over and got out to stretch for a few minutes. The indigenous locals walking by glanced nervously at us before pulling their children to the other side of the road. Roberto, my driver, said this area saw a lot of fighting during the civil war. I knew this, but I was only beginning to see and feel it.
For many years, the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala has lived in extreme poverty, exacerbated by a political system at times designed to disenfranchise them. The Mayans have also experienced exclusion from development and wealth. Guatemala has made headlines in recent weeks as the country with the worst malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hotspots where children are leaving to migrate to the United States. During my visit, I began to get a glimpse of why this might be.
At our destination I met Catarina Pascual Jimenez, a mother of four children. Her oldest son, Antonio, now 17, left when he was 15 to work as a migrant laborer. Opportunities and access to nutritious food are severely limited in her remote village. Her youngest children, Roni and Shelia, given their age at 17 months, would become two more statistics of malnourishment and stunting without the USAID program.
As we met with more mothers, we heard similar stories. These women and children had a small opportunity to overcome hunger because of the USAID nutrition program. However, for this one village with the program, there were countless more without it, where children might suffer all their lives as a result of malnutrition. The issues these women face, like many others in Latin America, are not isolated incidents of a poor economy but rather the result from years of political unrest, bad policies both from their own government as well as neighboring countries, and racial discrimination.
Matthew 25 asks me when I saw Christ hungry. I saw hunger in Guatemala. I also saw that when we invest in programs and give people a hand up, we not only live out the Gospel call to “do for one of the least of these” but we alleviate conditions that cause people to migrate for survival. I called my member of Congress, and I invite you to join me. Children like those I met are desperate and coming to the United States on dangerous journeys because they are hungry. We cannot turn our back on them. What we can do is try to change the circumstances they are fleeing.
Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.
Joseph Molieri is the multimedia manager at Bread for the World
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