The highlands of Guatemala are populated by the ancient Mayan people. They live in thousands of villages populated with between 50 and 200 families each. In Guatemala, they are 5 million strong, constituting the greatest population of Mayan people anywhere on the earth. They are considered some of the poorest people on earth living in 10' x 10' huts made of sticks or sugar can stalks and dirt floors with no water, no sanitation, no health care, and no hope.
The Rotary Club of St. George is engaged with other non-profit organizations to develop processes and projects that will provide sustainable basic living standards for the Mayan women of Guatemala. Club members are convinced that the only way to break the cycle of poverty is by educating the younger generation. The obstacles to this goal are:
- Few existing schools
- Little potable water
- Wood gathering for cooking
A woman's day begins by walking several miles to gather a gallon or two of water which she carries back to her home on her head. She then walks several miles and spends a few hours gathering wood, tree limbs, etc. for her cooking fire. As soon as her children can carry a stick or water they are recruited, out of necessity, to spend their days with their mother, which leaves little time for school or advancement. Thus the cycle of poverty continues.
Women cook over open fires inside their huts. This constant smoke inhalation causes severe health problems and leads to respiratory cancers and diseases. The World Health Organization has done studies showing that smoke inhalation is the root cause of death and poor health in Guatemalan women. The primary cause of death in infants 1-5 is caused by respiartory and diarrheal diseases.
In 2005, the Rotary Club of St. George joined forces with the Behrhorst Partners for Development (BPD) in an effort to solve the basic obstacles that prevent the next generation form succeeding. This partnership has expanded to include other Rotary Clubs in Utah and Rotary International.