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Exploring Guatemala

Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
Trish Olson, Director of Programs — Family Development

The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. This bird symbolized freedom to the ancient Maya because it would not live in captivity. There are many things that "bind" modern Guatemalans — poverty, political upheaval, to name just two — yet this symbol is everywhere. Their commitment to the development of and investment in their youth is one way they work for freedom.

Earlier in October, we (Silvia and Trish) a team from Family Development and Youth Development, accompanied by Director of Extension Global Initiatives John Vreyens, traveled to Guatemala to learn about this work.

staff photo

From left: Silvia Alvarez de Davila; Dorothy Freeman, associate dean, Youth Development; John Vreynes;
Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educator, Youth Development; and Trish Olson.

A common scene in Guatemala.

What Is Guatemala Like?

Of Guatemala’s 14.6 million inhabitants, the average age is 21 years old and more than half live in poverty. Due to many historical and contextual factors, Guatemalans face high rates of social and economic inequalities, crime and violence from drug cartels, and vulnerability to natural disasters. Guatemalans are living under a transitional government until new elected president takes power January 14, 2016. The Guatemalan indigenous population, descendants of Mayans, represent about 43 percent of the population and have struggled since colonial times, lacking access to health, education, and economic opportunities.

Who Are our Partners?

The second week of October, our group visited University of San Carlos (USAC) in Guatemala City. Founded in 1676, USAC has a rich history and is currently the only public university in the country, serving more than 150,000 students. The delegation was hosted by USAC Extension Director Alvaro Folgar and his team to find ways to join efforts to do research, teaching, and programming to promote capacity building in underserved youth and families through their Extension Services.

Visit to a home co-built by Common Hope and partner family.
Similar to University of Minnesota Extension, USAC Extension acts as a bridge to expand knowledge and serve populations nationwide. During our visit, we had also the opportunity to meet Extension Director Folgar and his team, and to learn about their different programs, as well as to share what we do in Minnesota. In contrast to the University of Minnesota Extension, USAC Extension programs are delivered through students who are required to take their knowledge back to the community and learn about Guatemala’s diverse reality through this practicum.

We also met with Common Hope, a non-governmental organization based in St. Paul that serves a wide range of family needs in Guatemala. We learned about the services they offer and visited a home built through their housing program, which provides opportunities for families to earn homes that are clean, dry, and safe.

This visit gave us insights to the realities in Guatemala and its rich resources of caring families and professionals, in addition to an opportunity to reflect on how are we addressing our own local issues impacting youth and families.

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