Impact of COVID on the Mayan Community in Guatemala
Although the impact of COVID has been devastating for many of us in Central Oregon, and indeed for the entire country, the fact is that the long arm of this pandemic has also touched other parts of the world, specifically parts of the world that our club has been active. As most of you are aware, for the last several years, the Rotary Club of Greater Bend has been assisting the indiginous Mayan community in Guatemala, primarily in and around the community of San Lucas Toliman on the shores of Lake Atitlan, via Global Grant and District Grant projects. Projects range from providing clean water filters, latrines, and smokeless stoves to hundreds of Mayan households, to an x-ray machine for a local hospital, to textbooks and middle school scholarships for intellectually promising but impoverished students.
According to in-country sources, Guatemala shut most things down on March17, and has been in a State of Emergency for over six months, with nightly curfews, limited transportation, closed borders and a complete halt to the tourism that holds up the local economy. This has been devastating to local families, whose incomes have been affected almost across the board and who are struggling to make ends meet even worse than before.
Schools are officially closed through the end of the year, with the likelihood of returning to in-person learning of some sort in January at the start of the new school year. Students and schools have developed a range of ingenious efforts to try to provide some level of education. Schooling has pivoted to distance learning in creative ways, including the use of local TV and radio stations, online learning for some middle and high schools in areas with better internet connectivity, and good old fashioned packets of school work sent home weekly. Organizations which our club supports (including San Lucas Toliman Scholars and Mayan Families) continue to help needy students through direct payments, payments of school fees (schools have not reduced fees just because the learning is not in person), tutoring, and in-home learning and nutritional support for preschoolers.
Local efforts and international support notwithstanding, challenges for the Mayan community are even greater than other population segments in Guatemala as a result of the continuing systemic inequality -- the Guatemalan government has never held much concern nor fairly distributed resources to Mayan communities. There is on-going concern that once COVID cases peak in Guatemala City and the overall number of cases begin to decline, the country will reopen again in spite of the contrasting situation in the Lake Atitlan region where cases continue to spread quickly and dangerously.
As containing/eliminating COVID remains a work in progress, our Guatemalan friends need our continued thoughts, prayers and support. For those who would like to provide assistance and learn more, suggest you look at the website for San Lucas Toliman Scholars Program (SLT Scholars). There you will be able to learn how you can sponsor a student or provide direct financial aid to the SLT Scholars to use in providing food and other school related assistance.
For an update on the San Lucas Toliman Scholars program, see this letter from Dennis Evans.