Although more than half of the population of Guatemala are ethnically Mayan, the vast majority of Mayan-Guatemalans lack basic literacy skills. In rural Guatemala, home to most of the indigenous population, only 58% of Mayan males and only 35% of Mayan females can read or write – as opposed to a literacy rate of 80% among the general population. This widespread deficiency in fundamental skills means that Mayan-Guatemalans struggle to participate in the economy.
In the pursuit of their livelihoods, Mayan-Guatemalans face further obstacles due to the country’s unequal economic structure. About 80% of Mayan-Guatemalans live under the poverty line, compared to 54% of the general population. In the rural areas of Guatemala, where agriculture supplies most of the jobs and income, a small non-indigenous elite controls most of the land; the broad population labours over plots too small to meet their owners’ needs. As a result of undereducation and economic exclusion, many Mayan-Guatemalans are compelled to seek work abroad – draining the communities they leave behind of the ability to lift themselves up.
DESGUA is a non-governmental organisation founded by returned Mayan emigrants working to make local, integral, and sustainable development a reality in the rural Mayan communities. The School of Community Organisers offers various free of charge courses to Mayan youth and adults with the goal of raising the level of education, creating jobs, reducing emigration, and reviving the community.
What drew our special attention is the way in which returned migrants contribute to the project: through their efforts, they provide a practical, living example of the beneficial impact that global experience can have on local communities. ICEF contributed US$ 500 to support four Mayan-Guatemalan youth for one semester of all-expenses-paid classes at the School of Community Organisers.