Two young boys in a narrow alleyway.
Children like Elias and Isaias Mazate are seemingly trapped in Guatemala’s poverty.

Addressing Poverty in Guatemala

From a bird’s eye view, Central American poverty can look the same from country to country; however, the causes of economic problems are often unique to a location. For this reason, different approaches are often required to address poverty in Guatemala than in neighboring and nearby nations such as Nicaragua and Honduras.

Comparing Poverty in Guatemala and Nicaragua

In Guatemala and Nicaragua, the poorest families are concentrated in rural villages — but the similarities end there. In Guatemala, the poverty rate is nearly twice as high as Nicaragua’s, and the disparity between rich and poor is extreme. For example, Guatemala City is full of pricey boutiques and shopping malls right next to communities that are mired in poverty.

Also, in Guatemala there is a landowning crisis you simply don’t find in most other countries. Many of the poor farmers in Nicaragua own their small plot of land. Not so in Guatemala. Much of the land there is owned by wealthy individuals or corporations.

Thankfully, Cross Catholic Outreach has many projects in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America to address poverty and the disparity of wealth.

Related: Hunger in Guatemala – Causes, Effects & Solutions

Shanties dot a mountainside.
Poverty is widespread in Cuilapa, the largest town in Guatemala’s Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Poverty Statistics in Guatemala

● Population: 17.4 million
● GDP per capita: $8,637 (62,530 in the U.S.)
● Children chronically malnourished: 42%
● Infant mortality per 1,000 live births: 26.8 (7.5 in U.S.)
● Population lacking modern sanitation: 4.1 million

Sources: CIA World FactbookThe World Bank

Root Causes of Poverty in Guatemala

Several factors contribute to keeping Guatemalan families in poverty:

Conflicts and Civil War in Guatemala

Guatemala has an extremely diverse population that comprises different cultures and ethnicities, and this diversity has often been the root cause of many conflicts, such as the Guatemalan Civil War that raged from 1960 to 1996. More than 200,000 people died during this bloody conflict, with the death toll largely concentrated in rural indigenous communities.

Tragically, the effects of the war are still seen today. The fighting displaced more than half a million people, and many of them banded together in informal settlements in other areas of the country in order to survive. Many of these families have never been able to return to their original homes and were forced to make a new life for themselves, often by renting unwanted plots of land.

Social and Economic Inequality in Guatemala

Another factor that keeps families in poverty is social and economic inequality. Poverty among indigenous groups is heartbreakingly high —  with 40% living in extreme poverty. Eight in 10 indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition, with lifelong impacts.

Children who grow up in poor communities face a lifetime of challenges. Language barriers and poor access to education often prevent hardworking families from achieving their God-given potential. The poorest families also face health challenges due to a lack of clean water, unsanitary housing and limited access to medical care.

The result is a human tragedy that drives much of the poverty in Guatemala, and it’s the cultural backdrop that fuels many of our partner’s projects.

Related: Learn more about our plan to reduce material and spiritual poverty in Guatemala — and how you can help!

Donate to Fight Poverty in Guatemala


Guatemala's Cycle of Poverty Perpetuated

Although there is significant poverty in urban areas — and there are certainly urban areas that are particularly dangerous — poverty in Guatemala is predominantly rural, and extreme poverty is almost exclusively rural. Nearly eight in 10 indigenous people fall below Guatemala’s poverty line. There is a “poverty belt” in the northern and northwestern regions of the country, which is populated primarily by indigenous groups.

Malnutrition among Guatemalan children is extremely high. In terms of child growth attainment, Guatemala has an overall stunting rate of 47% of all children under age five. Malnutrition is highly correlated with poverty and is much higher among rural and indigenous children than among their urban or non-indigenous counterparts.

In the nation’s remote rural villages, poor families often work as day laborers on local farms and large plantations. They perform backbreaking labor for no more than $1 to $3 a day — but they are grateful to have any work at all. Once the harvest season passes, they begin the desperate search for odd jobs, such as washing their neighbors’ laundry or traveling long distances to sell household items in the city.

Other factors that perpetuate the cycle of poverty include a high rate of teen pregnancy, lack of access to quality schools and the separation of families. Many fathers migrate to neighboring towns or countries to search for work, and their households become increasingly divided by the distance. Poverty places an unbearable strain on these families, and many begin to fracture beneath its weight.

Related: Learn more about our work in Latin America.

A young woman sits outside her makeshift home built from sticks, scrap metal and fabric.
Makeshift homes can barely withstand storms in Guatemala. Dirt floors turn to mud, and parents struggle to keep their children healthy in these living conditions.

Pressing Needs in Guatemala

In recent times, the situation has only become more difficult. Just a small portion of the population holds permanent jobs, and unemployment is on the rise. Many households have no access to electricity, sanitation or decent roads, and without intervention, poor rural families are unlikely to see improvement any time soon. Pressing physical needs include:

Water and sanitation
Agriculture and microfinance

To create lasting change, we must begin with the basics. Food and water are two of life’s most fundamental necessities — without them, more advanced developments in education and income generation make little progress. By supporting hunger relief projects and the installation of clean water systems, we can lay a firm foundation that future generations will be able to build on for years to come.

A mother helps a small boy wash his hands in a clean water fountain, and a girl smiles while sitting for a meal.
With your help, Cross Catholic Outreach can help fight Guatemalan poverty.

How Cross Catholic Outreach is Making an Impact in Guatemala

The challenges faced by Guatemala’s poorest families are real and painful — but we have an incredible opportunity to bring relief! Cross Catholic Outreach currently works with nearly a dozen Catholic ministry partners that address poverty for the glory of Jesus Christ. All are devoted to relieving the burden on struggling families, and with support from our donors, they can make a profound impact on the lives of those in need.

Cross Catholic Outreach helps unite the global Church by linking these trusted ministries with compassionate donors. Your generosity has the power to fuel missions of mercy and equip them with the resources to address Guatemalan poverty. Working together, these efforts will shine Christ’s light into seemingly forgotten communities and pave the way for sustainable community transformation!

Related: Learn more about our impact around the world.

Donate Monthly to Provide Lasting Hope

Every month (on the 25th)


Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, 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.