A Guatemalan boy seated at a Catholic Mass

Stopping the Silent Killer of Guatemala’s Poor: Malnutrition

The devastating consequence of Guatemalan poverty rarely gets covered in the news. Occasionally, the world is told about some act of crime or violence in the country, a symptom of the desperation poverty creates, but we seldom hear about the silent killer tragically impacting Guatemala’s poorest families — malnutrition.

Extreme hunger and the medical hardships it creates affect thousands of Guatemalans without drawing much attention from the world at large, even though most of the victims are babies and young children.

However, there is hope.

Local Catholic leaders have found solutions to this crisis, and their efforts to provide nutritious food to the poor on a regular basis have begun to make a real difference.

Related: Hunger in Guatemala – Causes, Effects & Solutions

Nearly 50% of children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition
Within the last year, 22 million people in Latin America have fallen into extreme poverty.

Hunger and Malnutrition: Is There a Difference?

Malnutrition has a terrible impact on poor children. This crisis is particularly deadly in Guatemala’s remote, rural regions. Families live too far from hospitals or clinics capable of helping them. A serious lack of resources and inadequate food production create perfect conditions for malnutrition to thrive.

“Poor mothers are forced to choose which of their children to feed on a given day, and they watch in despair as their sons and daughters weaken, grow gaunt and lose the will to live,” said Jim Cavnar, president of Cross Catholic Outreach. “Most Americans think of hunger as a temporary thing — a pain that will eventually be relieved — and praise God, that’s often the case. A child in the U.S. may go hungry at times, but that hunger isn’t usually a life-threatening issue. Guatemalan children showing signs of malnutrition have typically endured hunger for weeks or months on end, and at that point, they begin to manifest signs of mental and physical damage that may become irreversible.”

Stunted growth is one of the most common physical problems of malnutrition. The harm it does to a child’s body is lasting.

“You can imagine the pain this creates for parents. When they are poor and have no food to offer their children, they begin to feel powerless to stop the decline their sons and daughters are experiencing,” Cavnar said. “Travel into rural areas of Guatemala and you will meet many poor mothers who live in despair, feeling they will never be able to provide relief for their suffering little ones without some kind of outside help.”

Related: How Hunger and Malnutrition During Pregnancy Contribute to Poverty


How Catholics Can Fight Malnutrition

Thankfully, Church leaders in Guatemala have a heart for the poor and marginalized, and they are working in partnership with Cross Catholic Outreach to distribute food where it is needed most.

“Right now, we are developing a feeding outreach in the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu to address the needs of its rural Guatemalan families,” Cavnar said. “These local Catholic leaders were eager to supply food to the vulnerable in their diocese, but they needed help to put the right programs in place. Cross Catholic Outreach will be involved, of course, and we are hoping and praying American Catholics will want to add their support as well. The more who contribute to this mission of mercy, the more we can accomplish. So we are asking for people to be generous in their response.”

Hopeful Guatemalan boy covers a smile with his hand

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures for this project incurred through June 30, 2025, 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.