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Guatemala Facts

Welcome to Guatemala! OK, so actually I’ve been home for nearly two weeks. I needed time to recuperate from the hectic schedule I created for myself. But I am ready to share the stories and photos now, so lets begin with some basic facts about the country of Guatemala.

If you are geographically challenged, Guatemala is in Central America. Sharing borders with Mexico and Belize to the north, Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. The Pacific Ocean is to the west, and a small piece of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico completes the borders.

When you think of Guatemala think of mountains. Lots of them. Also think volcanoes. This creates a beautiful country with very fertile soil, but makes travel slow and difficult. The occasional earthquake or volcanic eruption can cause devastation. In fact, the colonial city of La Antigua has been destroyed two or three times. And though you may guess the country is nothing but rain forest, you’d be as surprised as I was to be staying in a desert. Turns out Guatemala boasts multiple eco-systems. There are lowlands where it gets hot, highlands were it gets cold. Areas of high humidity and wide arid expanses. So if you are touring the country, pack for anything.

The beautiful and fertile landscape makes it easy to understand why the Mayan people built their cities in the region. Although I would have loved to see the ruins, it was not part of this trip. Today the population of Guatemala is estimated to be about 14.5 million with less than 4% of the population over the age of 65. Literacy rate is 70% – which means 30% of the population over the age of 15 is not able to read and write. And most importantly to me, the infant mortality rate is 35.5/1000 live births (this is about 3.5 babies dieing per 100 born). Maternal Mortality is 240 per 100,000 live births, or .2 per 100 births. These are much better statistics than Sub-Saharan Africa, but still higher than they need to be.

Economically the country is just as varied. Guatemala City is bustling and modern, but it is estimated that at least 75% of the country lives below the poverty line. 50% of the workforce is agricultural and 35% is service. That leaves a mere 15% employed in industry. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of the GDP and a third of all exports – you may have enjoyed coffee, bananas or sugar from Guatemala. I was delighted to find several of the articles of clothing I purchased for the trip (from a thrift store intending to leave in Guatemala) were actually made in Guatemala.

Politically, the country is becoming more stable. Officially the civil war ended in 1996 with the signing of a peace accord. But ongoing political violence and corruption scandals make it difficult for foreign investors to feel confident enough to invest.

And that is Guatemala in a nutshell, or at least in a list of facts. But it does give you some background to understand more about the trip.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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