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, and masks are required in all public places.
Chajul, the community where Limitless Horizons Ixil works, is especially vulnerable at this time. It lacks quality medical services and suffers from high rates of lung disease due to the open fires used for cooking in homes. People already living in poverty are now struggling even more financially. Lockdown has limited work options and reduced remittances from loved ones abroad, which community-members often rely on for basic necessities like soap and food. Government aid has had limited impact in Chajul, in many cases not reaching the hands of those most in need. One challenge is that receipt of the government cheques requires 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 have only been exacerbated, but we are adapting to address our scholars’, library members’, and the broader community’s needs. We have developed the following urgent and innovative programming, which 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, our staff is on hand to clarify or translate any aspects of the current situation that our Ixil-speaking families may not understand.
Food Baskets & Face Masks
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 Youth Development Program and university 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 compulsory in all public spaces in Guatemala.
Mental Health Services
Our psychologist has begun conducting one-on-one counselling sessions over the phone with scholars who are struggling at home and with the current situation. He is also calling each scholar to check in with them, 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 June, our Gender Equality Committee led 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.
– Technology Assistance: Our Artisan and Technology Coordinator, Cecilia, has started a designated WhatsApp group for our scholars to support them in downloading and familiarizing themselves with the online platforms they now use to write and hand in school assignments. Through group and one-on-one calls, she is orienting all of our scholars on Microsoft Office Suite, Zoom, and Google Meet.
– Academic Enrichment classes: To address the gap in learning due to school closures and lack of distance learning options provided by schools, we are providing scholars with enrichment classes in key subjects. Our middle and high school scholars are all receiving 3 hours of virtual classes every week on Google Meet.
– Story Hour on Community Radio: Limitless Horizons Ixil’s librarians, David and Olga, are broadcasting bilingual story hours in Spanish and Ixil on local radio, thereby continuing service provision for our library visitors and the whole community. 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 story hour 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 closure. 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 Matilda.
– Book Lending: While maintaining social distancing measures, David and Olga are opening the library once a week for book lending services only. They are announcing the one-in, one-out policy over community radio, to ensure that Chajul’s children and youth can continue to engage in reading and further their learning.
– University Scholars: With stay at home orders in place, universities in Guatemala have gone online in similar formats to schools around the world. However, our university scholars have faced increased challenges to keep up in their classes due to the challenge of accessing the internet in Chajul and the additional costs associated with it. Many of our university scholars would usually work while they study, to help cover their school costs and provide some financial support to their family. At this time of reduced job opportunities and increased expenses, we are supporting university scholars’ by covering their internet costs, ensuring they can continue to access their classes.
Informational Resources for Ixil Migrants in the US
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 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.