Guatemala's Forgotten Souls: Saving the Mayans From Extinction
We all love Netflix, right?
For as little as ten dollars a month we can view unlimited movies, documentaries, television shows and an obliteration of stand-up comedy containing the word "cunt" from the comfort of our easy chairs. Look at you, under the duvet with a bottle of wine in one hand, your iPad in the other, as you pause on the juiciest parts of that new stripper documentary just to get the blood flowing in the right direction. Well, that's what I do, don't you?
And how much does it suck when all you want to do with your Saturday morning is watch reruns of The Family Guy, and a Jehovah's Witness comes knocking on your door? You open the door, stare down the ugly little kid they always seem to bring along with them in the vain hope that you won't abuse them with all the new swear words you've learnt through watching Netflix, and then return to your easy chair as tense as an altar boy who's been asked to stay behind after church by the local... "priest". I got some news for you Jehovah; stop sending your little urchins to my fucking house on a Saturday morning to interrupt my Netflix. I already have a religion; it's called Making A Murderer.
All seriousness aside, Netflix actually serves an educational purpose too. One particular documentary I recently stumbled upon, not only smartened me up, but without exaggeration, has changed my life forever.
Living on One Dollar follows the extraordinary journey, conducted by four amazing young individuals, over an eight-week period as they battle illness, hunger and parasites in rural Guatemala, while having to survive on a daily average of one dollar. The premise of this trailblazing documentary is that one dollar per day is exactly what many indigenous Mayans in Guatemala are forced to survive on whilst battling illnesses of their own, trying to find work in a harsh economic climate, and are forced into the cruel choice of either feeding their families or sending their children to school. To most of us in the privileged western world, that is a God-given right. In many regions of Latin America, rarely can one family achieve both.
Here's the thing; to send one child to school for a year costs the meagre sum of $25. Twenty-five dollars. Yet 7 out of 10 inhabitants of the region cannot afford this. Employment is scarce, if available at all. Government handouts are non-existent; the Guatemalan government has a long-standing history of being one of the most corrupt in the world and, with many families being stranded in Guatemala's Lakes District, geography behaves like a treacherous master. Twenty-five dollars.
The solution should be so simple; but human-kind's narcissistic traits, mine included, and an ever-present out of sight, out of mind biological glitch in our wirings, means that it's not.
Look at it this way: In the unlikely event that your current daily income suddenly doubles, how much easier would your life be? You already have a pantry full of food. There's a pretty decent roof over your head and your Steely Dan back catalogue that you just had converted to Mp3, has now had to be repurchased on hipster vinyl because that's what those weird little penny-farthing riding men with beards have told us is "uber-cool" again.
What do you do with all that extra money? Buy a BMW? Increase your soy latte intake? Upgrade to a higher class of prostitute? Fantastic! More power to you. Only thing is, it'll probably never happen.
But what can happen, is that the household income of these struggling families be doubled. Tripled even. One dollar to us entitled pricks, who just sit around writing blogs all day and jacking off to our collective, ever so planet-conscious philosophies, is nothing. Really... nothing. What can you do with one dollar? Roll it down the street? Buy a bag of those weird milky lollies with the red thing on top that makes them look suspiciously like nipples? Pick it up with your clenched butt cheek at your next sordid office Christmas party? All of that sounds great; it really does. Or, instead of acting out all of your Freudian childhood complexes while Oedipus voyeuristically watches on from inside the closet, you could donate it. Who would have thought that you have the power to double the household income of a family who oh so desperately need it.
I hear your concerns; I have them too. How can I be sure that my money isn't lining the pockets of some charity scam artist instead of going through the appropriate channels? Many charities suck. I've been burnt in the past (hello, Anti-Apartheid Organisation of Victoria) but now I know, that if a charity doesn't foreclose its yearly financial statements on its website, not to bother with them. But one charity, that's specifically relevant to this cause, is more than happy to show off their impeccably kept records.
Mayan Families is a legitimate, non-profit charity organisation, whose purpose is to help educate, feed, shelter and heal the impoverished communities around Lake Atitlan. Through school sponsorships, health initiatives, vocational training and microfinance, this wonderful collective have achieved so much in a relatively short amount of time, giving thousands of families hope for the future. Some fantastic feel good stories have come out of this venture, some of which are documented magnificently on Living on One Dollar.
Enough of my gushing; here are some figures:
- For $15,000 (USD), an entire pre-school and nutrition centre can stay afloat for an entire year. This includes student tuition fees, teachers wages, administration costs, maintenance... on and on it goes.
- $1,000 (USD) will pay for one student's university education in the big smoke for a year. Tuition fees, books, accommodation, transport... all that stuff.
- A few hundred dollars will allow a family to have a fuel-efficient stove and a water filter installed. Many families do not own a stove and must essentially dig a pit in the floor of the only room in the house to set up a fire for cooking. In the wet season, as many roofs leak, this can be almost impossible. For this reason, household air pollution is also a major issue.
Why do we have a right to all of these important facets of life but these communities don't? Are we better than them simply because of geographical circumstance? If you think the answer is yes, let's just hope like hell that your next life sees you return as dung beetle.
Still with me? Good.
Mayan Families policy is to charge as many local Mayan volunteers with the responsibilities of aiding their own communities. The organisation provides the education, supervision and of course, physical assistance. In turn, the volunteer builds a sense of self-worth, technical skills and a higher understanding of how their respective communities can be helped. This is a great thing.
These issues are not exclusive to just Guatemala. Tens of thousands of indigenous communities all over Latin America, nay, the world, are in such dire need of help that many are dying at significantly lower ages even than that of twenty years ago. Many non-indigenous people refuse to treat these communities fairly, denying millions the opportunity for employment, education and even food and housing. Racism exists everywhere!
So what can be done?
While this article may seem like a blatant promotion for a charity that I not only deeply believe in, but am also invested in, it is so much more. It doesn't have to be Guatemala, or any other country that is foreign, unknown and therefore scarily intimidating to you. It can be your local community, your street. Help people. Give them a dollar. If the local homeless guy wants to spend it on alcohol then so be it. What would you do if you were homeless and exposed to the harsh elements of Winter? I'd down a bottle of rum, that's for damn sure. Start your own charity. Get rid of Netflix and put that ten bucks a month into the rebuild of a downtrodden community. I have. If you are in the position where you can volunteer, then do so. I know it's hard, and I know full well that many cannot afford to stop work for a while to go off galavanting halfway around the world to help others when it's a constant struggle just to help themselves... I get it. But if you can, the rewards will far outweigh the heartbreaking effort that's involved. You'll learn things; I am now an expert stove fitter and I have the manual dexterity of whatever the hell species might be blind with no opposable thumbs.
There is little to no selfishness among these beautiful communities and their people. Everyone helps everyone else even if they are in desperate need of help themselves. And yes, I know, some volunteers are really fucking annoying and pretentious, forever going on about yoga and why you're an evil person because you happen to like Coca-Cola and brush your teeth with fluoride. They're idiots. I know. But deal with it. Suck it up, put some earphones in... whatever. It's for the greater good.
Before you cancel your Netflix account, do watch Living on One Dollar, if for no other reason, inspiration. Don't let your lust for the idiot box be for nothing.
*If you enjoy the writing of Benjamin Munday, why not subscribe to The Low Road for a free download of his award winning short story, 'The Ashtray'.