Earlier this month, Tamalyn Gutierrez, Country Director, gave a presentation called “The Weight of the World” at the Latin American Heritage Camp in Fraser, Colorado. She talked about the weight that the women of Guatemala carry, both physical and cultural. Some pressures are similar to those we carry in the States, she explained: juggling lots of responsibilities, wanting the best for our children, feeling like we have to be everything to everyone. Yet some pressures are very different.
In daily life, Guatemalan women must make beans and tortillas from scratch, 20-50 lbs per day. Women wash their family’s clothes at public pilas—outdoor water basins where they scrub clothes by hand. Women run errands carrying a multitude of supplies on their head: firewood for their cook fires, water for their homes, and other supplies for their home or work. They bring their supplies on the crowded bus system to get where they need to go.
Common Hope helps women to shoulder some of their burdens—by providing hope and opportunity, by partnering with families, by providing a process they can engage in to actively improve their lives. Common Hope focuses on lifting the weights of education, health care, and housing.
The weight of education is that only 69% of girls go to school, compared to only 79% of boys, and the illiteracy rate is 30.9%. For many girls, the choice is to teach, or to work in the fields. Girls drop out of high school at much higher rates than boys. Yet in 2007, Common Hope began to see girls go onto high school in Guatemala, at the same rate as boys—a great sign. And female students affiliated with Common Hope are going on to careers in fields as diverse as medicine, business, and social work.
The weight of health care is that cervical cancer is the number one killer of women in Guatemala. The fertility rate for girls age 15-19 is 107 per 1,000 compared to 42 per 1,000 in the US and the average woman has 4.2 children, vs. 2.1 in the US. Many Guatemalans do not have dependable access to health care. Yet last year, Common Hope served an average of 770 patients each month at our medical clinic, and our health fairs conducted more than 4,350 screenings in 15 communities for conditions like cervical cancer and nutritional deficiencies.
The weight of housing is that many families live in homes made of corn stalk and sheet metal, with dirt floors. The tight quarters mean that many family members sleep together, which causes problems of sexual abuse. Many families do not own their land and risk being kicked off at any moment. Yet last year, Common Hope built 36 homes and 26 vented stoves for families, and families worked a collective total of 9,750 hours to earn them.
With Common Hope, families don’t have to worry about having access to education, health care, and housing. Once partnering with Common Hope, they start to see improvements in these areas. Soon, mothers can stop worrying so much about carrying the weight of short-term fixes and instead plan for long-term solutions.
For more images from Tamalyn’s presentation, check out our Flickr feed to the right.