A child waits for a meal.
Cross Catholic Outreach partners with ministries addressing the hunger crisis in Guatemala.

Child Hunger in Guatemala — Causes, Effects & Solutions

Vulnerable children in Guatemala are fighting for their lives. An estimated 50% of children in Guatemala under five years old have stunted growth due to chronic hunger. Some of them, like little María Isabel, lost everything in recent hurricanes and receive nutrition from Catholic feeding centers. Sadly, in rural and indigenous areas, the rate of childhood malnourishment stands at 70%.

Causes of Hunger in Guatemala

Guatemala’s hunger crisis is deeply intertwined with poverty. But why are so many children suffering from hunger, and what’s being done about it? Here is a closer look at child hunger in Guatemala, including what Cross Catholic Outreach is doing to fight hunger and how you can help.

A farmer tills an arid field
Droughts are one of the challenges poor farmers face in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, Guatemala.

1. Droughts Hurt Agriculture Jobs in Guatemala.

Consecutive years of drought have affected a large portion of Central America, including Guatemala. Inadequate rainfall leads to poor harvests and low agricultural production, impacting the corn and bean crops that Guatemala’s economy relies on. When the agricultural sector suffers, there are fewer labor opportunities for workers, resulting in lower household incomes. This leaves poor mothers and fathers unable to buy enough food to feed their children.

A mother holds her child outside a home made of sticks
Homes made from sticks, mud and scraps of metal cannot withstand Guatemala’s frequent hurricanes.

2. Natural Disasters in Guatemala Threaten Livelihoods.

Guatemala is prone to natural disasters, especially volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. Guatemala is located on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is home to more than 30 active volcanoes. In 2021, three of its most active volcanoes erupted at the same time. In 2018, Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego experienced a powerful eruption that killed hundreds of people and leveled entire villages with ash and pyroclastic flow. Cross Catholic Outreach quickly responded along with local ministry partners, organizations and community leaders to provide permanent homes for displaced survivors.

In 2020, Guatemala endured back-to-back major hurricanes Eta and Iota, which affected an estimated 3 million people in Central America. The outer bands of Eta and Iota caused flash flooding, landslides and deadly storm surges in Guatemala. The UN reported 60 dead, 99 missing and 249,000 displaced. We provided our partner Friends for Health and Life with food, medicines, medical supplies, dietary supplement packets, vitamins, hygiene products, assorted emergency items and a grant of $8,000 to meet the most urgent needs of those affected.

A mother sits with her son inside their dilapidated home
Parents like Miriam (pictured) in the village of El Sauce struggle to provide basic necessities to their children.

3. Economic Disparities in Guatemala Hurt the Poorest Families.

There are also growing economic disparities in Guatemala, which means that the poorest families are getting poorer and hungrier. The regions of Guatemala most affected by food insecurity are the rural areas in the north, southwest and northwest. Bureaucratic hurdles and periods of civil war have created roadblocks for families to find other jobs outside the agricultural sector or to start their own businesses.

The Effects of Guatemala’s Hunger Problem

Hunger in Guatemala is devastating for children. For many, severe malnutrition can be too much to overcome. The population in Guatemala has been steadily rising and now exceeds 17 million people — making it the largest country in Central America. This means that unless the country’s hunger problem is addressed, the effects will continue to worsen with the increased competition for resources.

A pregnant mother inspects a flowering plant
Dina Recinos and her husband, who live in Guatemala’s Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu, are concerned about malnutrition because they are expecting their second child.

1. Malnutrition Hurts Brain Development and the Long-Term Health of Guatemala’s Youngest Children.

Nutrition is especially critical during the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to a child’s second birthday. Children who do not receive sufficient nutrients can suffer irreversible physical and cognitive development. Proper nutrition during this short window has a profound impact and can determine the course of the child’s life. The ability to grow, learn, work and succeed — and, by extension, society’s long-term prosperity — is rooted in good nutrition before birth and during infancy.

A child does homework on his bed in a dilapidated house
Malnutrition is a roadblock to learning.

2. Hunger in Guatemala Makes It Harder for Children to Be Successful in School.

Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and improving the quality of life in the developing world. Tragically, malnourished children lack the calories and energy to learn and be successful in the classroom and are more likely to suffer from behavioral challenges. Lower education levels in Guatemala make it difficult for parents to find employment outside the agricultural sector, and their children are forced to grow up hungry.

A boy prays before eating
The poorest children in Guatemala pray for their families to have enough food to eat.

3. Hunger Is Tied to Guatemala’s Cycle of Poverty.

Chronic hunger can impact children for their entire lives. Malnourished children are more likely to be short and thin in adulthood and less healthy and productive than they might have been otherwise. When malnourished girls grow up, they are more likely to have low-birthweight babies, perpetuating the cycle of malnutrition and poverty.

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Solutions to Address Hunger in Guatemala

Fortunately, there are numerous large-scale efforts underway by Cross Catholic Outreach, as well as other Christian ministries and humanitarian organizations, to fight hunger in Guatemala. To address the malnutrition crisis and food insecurity — especially among children — organizations like Cross Catholic, USAID and World Food Program USA have developed programs that provide nutritious food to young children, support small-scale farmersrespond to natural disasters and help Guatemalan governmental institutions become more resilient and able to aid their own people. Other humanitarian efforts are providing cash transfers for food to vulnerable people, improving financial literacy and offering livelihood strategy training to residents.

A Catholic priest greets a crowd of boys outside a school in Guatemala
With the support of faithful Catholics, Father Raúl Monterroso is transforming poor communities in Guatemala.

Cross Catholic Outreach’s Efforts to Reduce Hunger in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of Cross Catholic Outreach’s primary countries of focus in Latin America. We have recently worked with the St. Joseph Rescue and Nutrition Center, for example, to aid families and malnourished children living in Guatemala’s remote mountain villages. The Rescue Center cares for children ages 6 months to 5 years, providing a specific diet and treatment for each child in order to restore health. These struggling families depend on subsistence farming for their daily survival and otherwise have no access to health care or education. But through our partnership with the Capuchin Sisters, local children are being nursed back to health and given the nutrition, medical attention and health education they need.

Cross Catholic Outreach also supports El Carmelo Daycare and Feeding Center in Guatemala City. The center has been giving vulnerable children a safe, Christ-centered place to enjoy healthy and nutritious meals. In addition, stimulating activities are provided to develop the cognitive and motor skills of the children.

To address the agricultural needs of Guatemalan farmers, Cross Catholic Outreach works with Fr. Raúl Monterroso to transform the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima through improved crop management, environmental conservation and proven strategies for better yields. In addition to training, families receive corn seeds, fruit trees and fertilizer to help them gain economic independence.

A girl eats a bowl of chicken, rice and broth
For rural Guatemalans, agricultural programs are sowing the seeds of a brighter future.

How You Can Help Reduce Hunger in Guatemala

While these efforts have been very successful in helping Guatemalans overcome the hunger crisis, there is still much work to be done. The causes and effects of poverty in Guatemala may seem overwhelming, but every meal you provide to a child in need makes a difference.

Please donate to one of Cross Catholic Outreach’s food projects today. Your support will help Guatemala’s children receive the nourishment their bodies need and the spiritual hope that only God can provide. Each donation helps us carry out our mission of mobilizing the global Catholic Church to transform the poor and their communities materially and spiritually for the glory of Jesus Christ.

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Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2022, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.