These past months, our thoughts have been with our partners, supporters, and friends who have been impacted by the global crisis. Since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Guatemala on March 13, Guatemala has had similar shelter in place orders to the ones in many other countries: borders are closed, a curfew is in place, public transportation is closed, and masks are required in all public places. We are worried about the large number of deported immigrants arriving in Guatemala from the United States, often 100+ per day. Many of Guatemala’s 2,000+ cases have been from migrants being sent back.
Chajul, the community where Limitless Horizons Ixil works, is very vulnerable, with little medical care available and high rates of lung disease due to the open fires used for cooking in homes. People already living in poverty are especially struggling right now, unable to work and lacking remittances from loved ones abroad, which are often rely upon for basic necessities like soap and food. Neither the local government nor Chajul’s residents have been able to access any government aid. One challenge is that they are requiring electricity bills to prove residence – something many homes in Chajul lack.
Over the past weeks and months, our small team has demonstrated incredible adaptability, teamwork, and dedication, in supporting Chajul’s youth and families impacted by this crisis.
The challenges that Chajul’s families always face are only being exacerbated right now, and we are adapting to address our scholars’, library users’, and the broader community’s needs. We have developed the following urgent and innovative programming, which we will continue while the current situation persists:
Weekly Phone Check-ins
Since quarantine measures began, our local team has been calling all 39 of our scholars’ families each week. These calls are an opportunity to check in with them about their mental and physical health and ask about any specific needs the family may have or any difficulties they are facing. From there, our team has been able to assess what actions to take in order to best support our families during this trying time. Additionally, there has been a lot of confusion from Ixil speaking families about the situation, which our staff help explain.
Our families have expressed concerns over not having enough soap, detergent, food, and other essential items due to government shutdowns and loss of remittances from loved ones abroad. To support our families increased needs, our team is providing food and hygiene baskets each month to all of our scholars’ families, and we will continue to do so as long as the current situation continues. We additionally provided six good-quality and locally-made face masks for each of our scholars’ families.
Hygiene Videos in Ixil
The majority of Chajul’s population are monolingual Ixil speakers with limited access to information about COVID-19 and crucial prevention methods. In rural, indigenous communities, illiteracy rates are high, and national or international news is often unavailable in one’s own language. Limitless Horizons Ixil has partnered with MAIA’s Impact School and the Maya Health Alliance to produce videos on hygiene practices in Ixil.
Our video series, Recommendations in the Maya Ixil Language to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, includes advice on hand-washing, social distancing, disinfecting food products, and shopping at local markets. These videos have been shared on local television stations, as well as social media, in order to reach the entire Ixil Region as well as Ixil migrant workers in other parts of Guatemala. Additionally, we have produced a video on how to use a face mask, which is now compulsory in all public spaces in Guatemala.
Our psychologist has begun conducting one-on-one counseling sessions over the phone with scholars who are struggling at home or with the situation. He is also calling each scholar to check in with them and identifying challenges and scheduling phone therapy sessions for those in need of extra support. During his calls with scholars, he also provides recommendations on how to cope with the current situation and reduce stress.
In a community where nearly half of parents are illiterate and only 5% of youth graduate from high school, school disruption such as that caused by the COVID-19 quarantine, could have huge consequences on scholar retention and graduation rates. Studying from home often presents challenges when there is limited access to the internet or technological services. We have developed the following strategies to support the educational and emotional needs of youth and scholars while they live under lockdown:
- Youth Development Workshops: We have been able to continue conducting remote workshops for our Youth Development Program via WhatsApp, a phone platform all of our scholars can access. In April, Youth Development Coordinator Marina led a virtual workshop on financial planning. It included information on budgeting, managing personal finances, and analyzed the economic impact of COVID-19 at local, national, and international levels. In May, our Gender Equality Committee will lead a workshop on women’s rights, with a focus on how women in situations of violence in Chajul can access support services safely during shelter in place orders.
- Tutoring: To address the gap in remote learning provided by our scholars’ schools, and indefinite school closures in Guatemala, we will be providing scholars with tutoring in key subjects. Our middle school scholars will receive virtual group tutoring in English, Spanish, and Math to help them prepare for high school courses.
- Story Hour on Community Radio: As a way to continue providing services to our library visitors and the whole community, Limitless Horizons Ixil’s librarians are broadcasting bilingual Story Hours in Spanish and Ixil on local radio. Librarians read two children’s books in both Spanish and Ixil twice a week. So far, they have read Rabbit and Turtle Go to School by Lucy Floyd, Pancho’s Journey by Antonio Santos, and Con Mis Manos (With My Hands) by Mariana Pellegrino, among others! They have also done special broadcasts for Earth Day and Mother’s Day to honor environmental action and women’s rights. Listen to the Story Hours here.
- Book Club: Our community library has established a culture of reading in Chajul which our librarians are determined to continue fostering, despite the library’s mandatory shut down right now. Over three quarters of adults never completed elementary school and most have never read a chapter book. To keep youth engaged in reading, our librarians have started a virtual book club through WhatsApp with our high school scholars. Meanwhile, our local team also has a virtual book club, which meets every week on Zoom. They recently finished The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and are now reading Roald Dahl’s Mathilda.
Informational Resources for Ixil Migrants in the USA
This is a challenging time for all of us. While Limitless Horizons Ixil is committed to supporting Ixil families in Chajul, we also recognize that the Ixil Region has one of the highest rates of migration to the United States from across Guatemala. For this reason, we are providing information to support Ixil community members currently living in the United States.
We have produced a video in Ixil which explains the contents of a resource document we have developed. The document, Information about COVID-19 and Medical Resources for the Ixil community in the United States, is available through Google Docs and includes information about food banks, medical access for undocumented migrants, and financial aid in the ten states where we know our families in Chajul have relatives and friends.