COVID-19 – how Guatemala and Pionero’s member non-profits are responding

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Despite Guatemala’s comparatively low number of cases, and the government’s quick action to close schools, borders and non-essential business, this does not mean that the country and by extension, Guatemala’s non-profit sector are escaping unscathed from COVID-19. 

Nonprofits by nature, rarely have financial cushions to rely upon in tough times so are dangerously vulnerable to shocks. It has been very interesting (and saddening in some cases) to see how they have reacted to support their communities. 

In this blog, we look at a few member nonprofits to see how they reacted to the COVID-19 situation.

Some context about Guatemala 

Firstly, it is important to outline the panorama of the country in order to understand the economic knock on effects of COVID-19 and the measures the government put in place.

The main generators of employment are agriculture/farming (33%) and trade, transport, accommodation and catering (27%) which combined provide 39% of GDP. The Tourism Ministry (INGUAT) estimates that over 677,000 people work in the tourism sector which in a country that has closed borders and cancelled processions during the most profitable period of the year, Easter, bodes for devastating economic consequences. 

guatemalan informal workers
2 out of 3 Guatemalans work in the informal sector such as street sellers of goods and food. With the curfew measures, no tourism and people staying at home more, this majority of the population are at the biggest disadvantage.

Furthermore, 2 out of 3 Guatemalans work in the informal sector which typically involves activities such as selling things on the street and living hand to mouth.

With social distancing and curfews compounded with lower tourism and fears around sanitation, one dreads to imagine how the majority of Guatemalans managed to survive.

The government took measures to help small businesses, the health sector, and the wider vulnerable populations to cope structurally and economically to the COVID-19 crisis.


COVID-19 Government Measures included:


social paradox
The above illustration perfectly encapsulates the paradox in developing countries such as Guatemala where staying at home for the majority of the population is simply not an option if they want to survive.
The rich man says “Stay at home” where the shoe shiner says that he needs another 25 Quetzales (approx $3) to pay for his room.

Although these measures seem positive, some believe they didn’t go far enough to assist the most vulnerable sections of society.

Some organizations such as Paraiso Igual and thinktank ICEFI believe that despite these measures, up to 17. 25% of workers in the informal sector will completely lose their income.

They are demanding further measures are taken such as:

The paradox is HOW the majority of the population who cannot work from home, can comply with the Quédate en Casa / Stay at Home” protocol, the 4pm lock down and the stringent sanitary protocols when:

a) They rely on daily income to pay the rent in order to have a home to stay in

b) They rely on their daily income to pay water bills in order to wash their hands and buy hand sanitizer etc

It seems like the majority of informal workers couldn’t win either way, they either; stayed at home, unable to earn or pay bills and rent which means they soon wouldn’t have a home to stay in or water to wash their hands with. Or they don’t stay home and work in order to pay rent and bills but risk contaminating others and breaking the 4pm curfew which risks being put into prison.


So with all this in mind, did nonprofits cope with COVID-19?

ihf support
Photo of Integral Heart Family shopping before making food baskets for the families their school serves.

Well, as you can expect, Pionero Philanthropy’s member nonprofits who have low operating budgets, struggled.

The Nonprofits particularly affected were those who heavily relied on tourism and/or foreign volunteer income and support. For example, Niños de Guatemala (a relatively large and well established nonprofit) dismissed half its office staff with gave the remaining half a 50% pay cut. These measures were taken as approximately 30% of its funds were lost due to cancelled foreign volunteer groups. This wiped out income from their tourism centered social businesses. 

Nevertheless, some nonprofits quickly responded to the direct needs of their communities and took to social media to reach out to supporters.

Take for example Integral Heart Family (IHF), a small, Antigua based nonprofit school for 80 children from low income families. The school had to close due to Government measures but IHF rallied to support the community they serve. IHF headed to social media and Global Giving and already surpassed their fundraising goal raising $15,010!

IHF constantly updated its supporters on their care package deliveries to each of their families. They also managed to get their staff fully paid – Hats off to you IHF!!!

ARCAs is one of very few nonprofits that helps Guatemala’s rich wildlife through its rehabilitation and release programs. Despite being over 30 years old, they hugely suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. ARCAS cares for over 500 animals both at their coastal center, and in the rainforest center further north.

However, foreign volunteers and veterinary students cancelled their trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit is at risk. Similar to IHF, ARCAS took to Global Giving to raise a target of $10,000 to cover their costs.

arcas wildlife nonprofit
ARCA’s clinic relies on veterinary student interns to help rehabilitate their animals. Unfortunately due to the pandemic, many have cancelled their plans leaving the nonprofit without support.

Want to help?

Nonprofits’ close community ties and local knowledge are essential to support during these unprecedented times.

Although the Government’s plans seemed promising, nonprofits assisted in disbursing assistance and through helping those who fell through the cracks.

Furthermore, it is uncertain how well Government funds were managed and distributed to those who need it.

Want to support the nonprofits mentioned above? Click on their links below. If you would like to find out about more nonprofit organizations in Guatemala, contact us!