What you see is food. Black beans (the traditional bean in Guatemala) and corn meal that can be made into a type of cereal. Twice on this trip we purchased and distributed food to rural mountain families. This caused great internal conflict for me.
According to the World Bank, 18% of Guatemala’s children under age 5 live with hunger. (For comparison, 1% of the children in the US live with hunger, and 34% in DR Congo.) 13% of the population live in extreme poverty – live on less than $1.25 a day.(There is no data for extreme poverty in the US, and 59% of individuals in DR Congo live in extreme poverty). And as is true in just about every country, rural communities are more poor than urban communities – which means mountain families have higher rates of malnutrition and extreme poverty than the country as a whole. It was easy to see in the children.
So everything inside me wanted to feed these families. With the money we had we were about to provide about 5 pounds of beans and two bags of cereal to about 75-80 families in one community. In the other we were able to provide 10 pounds of beans, 5 pounds of rice and 5 bags of cereal to 50 families. But this amount of food will not even get the average family through a week. And this is where the internal conflict begins.
Providing free food is merely a temporary fix to the long-term problem of poverty. And while these families will be able to eat for the next few days – or more likely to continue their inadequate eating by stretching the food out longer – eventually they will run out of the free food. Yes, it gives short term relief. But I know the only way to really end poverty is with longer term solutions – education and improving the economy of the area.
As we passed out the food I kept running through possible solutions in my mind – could we have used the money to help the community develop a food co-op where they purchase larger quantities of beans and rice at cheaper prices? Could we have used the money to help educate the people about better farming techniques? Any real solution will take time – something we did not have on this trip. Any real solution will take a good relationship with the communities – which is what the organization is trying to build by providing free food. And so the reality was all we could do was to help alleviate some of their hunger for a few days.