Economic Development

Guatemala LIFE: A Flagship Program for Sustainable Change

When launching one of its largest initiatives, CHOICE needed to pivot in the face of natural disasters. Though challenging, this brought stronger relationships and even more support to the original plans.

Felt Needs in a Picturesque Region 

Alta Verapaz is a beautiful region of Guatemala, made up of mostly Mayan inhabitants living in rural and isolated communities and surrounded by lush, picturesque jungles. However, this area contains some of the lowest income, health, and education rates in the country. Alta Verapaz also holds some of the highest levels of child malnutrition and subsequent stunted growth in Guatemala. 

While there is enough food to avoid starvation, people’s diets lack the nutrients needed for children to grow and develop normally, both physically and mentally. In response to these multidimensional poverty problems, and with the financial support of Pat and Florence King, CHOICE Humanitarian undertook a comprehensive social and economic development program called Guatemala LIFE.

Guatemala LIFE is designed to enable residents of the Alta Verapaz region to build paths out of poverty. This initiative is one of the largest programs CHOICE has undertaken. The program focuses on creating food resilience through community gardens, increasing community organization, teaching entrepreneurial skills, and creating jobs through the growth of small businesses.

Unfortunately, the start of the program corresponded with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Hurricanes Eta and Iota, cutting CHOICE off from many communities within Alta Verapaz and essentially halting all progress on these original goals. However, through the winds of these terrible hurricanes came an opportunity for CHOICE to fulfill immediate needs and build strong relationships.

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Strengthening Relationships with Medical Aid 

When the hurricanes flooded almost 80% of the area, CHOICE immediately pivoted from its initial plans to meet new challenges. CHOICE partnered with several organizations to provide three phases of relief: helping people locate and communicate with their families, providing access to medical care, and distributing food. The swift response to the hurricane was made possible by the Kings, who graciously allowed CHOICE to reallocate their donation to meet unpredicted needs.

CHOICE supplied food kits to 3,796 individuals and aid bags with clothing, shoes, and toys were given to 2,359 individuals. Medical relief was also provided in partnership with Guatemala Red Cross to 2,216 individuals, along with psychological care for at least 200 individuals. CHOICE’s quick response boosted the relationships with community leaders. Not only did these leaders help determine where resources were needed, they also worked to open up the communities. Such collaboration positively affected the Guatemala LIFE program outcomes in the long-term.


Healthcare Service in Action 

Another example of CHOICE’s nimble response to community needs in the aftermath of the hurricanes was the deployment of a medical day of service in the municipality of Chisec. Along with local leaders, the CHOICE Guatemala team helped provide food, clean water, and sanitizer in an organized distribution event. Individuals from the Candelaria Yalicar community and all surrounding areas received emergency medical aid and cleaning supplies while long-term solutions could be formulated. The event included the support of the Red Cross Guatemalan Cobán headquarters who dispersed free medicine to individuals who needed it. Fourteen doctors provided care in general medicine, pediatrics, and gynecology. For those with chronic health issues who were unable to travel, the health workers came and treated them in their homes.


Returning to the Big Picture 

Emergency relief needs have since decreased, and the original Guatemala LIFE plans for community development have resumed. Though CHOICE still helps people respond to the effects of the hurricanes by providing medical relief to those who need it, the focus is now on long-term development so that community members are more resilient when emergencies occur in the future.

Strategically, Guatemala LIFE’s solutions approach is founded on human capacity, leadership skills, organizational infrastructure, and economic opportunity, each critical in providing sustainable results. For example, when it comes to food security, preventative health, and nutrition, the program has supported over 100 families in developing family gardens with over 30 schoolchildren receiving garden training. Another project in the program implemented midwife training in various communities to decrease mother and infant mortality rates. These workshops provide opportunities for midwives in training to work directly with pregnant women, under the supervision of their teachers. Within the areas of business, agriculture, and economic development, rural communities in Guatemala are leveraging oyster mushroom farming and cardamom cultivation training. Recently, oyster mushroom seeds were provided to 54 families, and 56 families are working to replant over five thousand cardamom plants for continued growth and expanded cultivation. The combined impacts of oyster and cardamom farming will significantly increase employment and income generation while encouraging the effective and efficient use of arable land.

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The Path to Self-Sufficiency

Multidimensional poverty is a dire situation that many Guatemalans face every day. With the Guatemala LIFE program, CHOICE is helping rural Guatemalans identify the problems present in their communities and develop and implement solutions to overcome them. The projects in the program are a vehicle for organizing people and resources, which will create lasting change as communities establish their path to self-sufficiency.


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