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Building a Foundation of Hope: Supporting Guatemalan Households to Combat Shelter Challenges and Food Insecurity

Published 09/06/2023 by Global Communities

Guatemala_Podemos program_Shelter Repairs

Over the past few years, vulnerable communities in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, have faced the triple shock of COVID-19, prolonged periods of drought and increasingly severe hurricane seasons.

In 2021 and 2022, heavy storms affected 44% of the population in the country, resulting in the evacuation of 78,877 people and placement of 14,757 in shelters. According to the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED), more than 165,000 people and 400 homes have already been impacted by severe weather since the start of the rainy season in May 2023. Lacking safe shelter can deepen vulnerabilities such as food insecurity and lead to an increased risk of serious health conditions.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA), Global Communities is working to address these challenges, in part, by ensuring minimum living standards for people affected by disasters in Guatemala.

Through the Podemos program — which means “We Can” in Spanish — we have supported 482 families to live in more secure and dignified housing through targeted shelter repairs and upgrades. As observed by the program, shelter recovery is a driving force for people to regain their security and privacy, while also reducing disease and improving their health and food security.

Juana Morales Méndez, 48, is a single mother to seven children and one of 4,749 households enrolled in the Podemos program. Before receiving assistance, Juana’s home teetered on the edge of collapse, plagued by the use of substandard construction materials such as branches, deteriorated metal sheets and flimsy plastic nylon. Additionally, her cooking area was precariously situated on a makeshift ground-level structure outside, making it vulnerable to flooding and a range of harsh environmental conditions, including intense heat.

Having grown up in similar conditions, with a hardscrabble work ethic ingrained in her since childhood, Juana was doing her best to meet her family’s basic needs through odd jobs such as washing clothes, collecting firewood and temporarily migrating for manual labor on nearby coffee plantations. Where Juana lives, it is not uncommon for families to come together to financially support community improvement projects as well. When repairs began on a bridge that connects the community to the Inter-American Highway, Juana did not have the means to pay her share and instead worked on the bridge as a contribution from her household.

According to the 2023 UN OCHA Humanitarian Response Plan, over 5 million individuals like Juana are in need of humanitarian assistance in Guatemala, with 4.6 million experiencing food insecurity that requires urgent food assistance. There is broad recognition that long-standing vulnerabilities, shocks and urgent food insecurity require a combined response to provide life-saving assistance along with opportunities for empowerment and resilience.

In January 2023, upon hearing she would receive shelter support from the Podemos program, Juana searched for jobs around her neighborhood to contribute additional construction materials. While Podemos provided 12 metal sheets for walls and ready-mix cement to install new floors, Juana earned $500 to purchase wood. It was important to her to be part of the process to create a more stable home for her and her children.

“Thanks to the support [Podemos has] given me and my family, now I do not need to travel far to find work with my children,” she said.

Modesto Morales, president of the Community Development Council (COCODE) also shared that he is satisfied with the Podemos program’s activities, because it’s clear that the aid is reaching families with the greatest need in the community and significant positive change is taking place.

Aside from targeted shelter repairs and upgrades, Global Communities plans to help 4,700 Guatemalan households meet their basic needs and enhance food security through multi-purpose cash assistance delivered via the Podemos program. Additionally, we are helping 1,500 households learn how to save money and invest in productive assets through economic recovery activities and market systems training. Read more about those efforts here.

This success story is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Global Communities and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.