Although the economy is growing in Guatemala, rates of inequality and absolute poverty persist. A September 13, 2015 article in “La Prensa Libre” (Guatemala’s largest newspaper) states that from 1996 to 2014, the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) grew between 2.4% and 6.3% annually (with the exception of 2009, in which it only grew 0.5%). Growth, however, does not necessarily mean better lives for the country’s poor. During the same years, the percentage of people living in poverty fell just 3% to 53.71% of the population, and the percentage of those living in extreme poverty fell just 2% to 13.33% of the population. (La Prensa Libre, September 13, 2015. Rosa Maria Bolanos. P. 3)
ODIM operates in a rural part of Guatemala. In areas like ours, the rates of poverty and extreme poverty are even higher than those mentioned above. Here, the cost to feed, clothe, educate and maintain a family of five is about $807 a month. As of April 2015, the minimum salary was about $353 per month. However, most of the people we serve do not have salaried jobs. Many are agricultural workers. Cultivating the high-quality coffee for export many of us may have enjoyed, they earn about $5.35 per day. Work is highly seasonal, and for the months where there is no work to be found in the coffee fields, people must find other ways to get by.
How do we respond?
To start with, we offer healthcare and medicines at highly-subsidized rates that are affordable to the people in our towns. We ask patients that can to give about $1.35 for their medical consult and any medicine they need. This amount covers one-tenth the costs of what they receive. The rest is paid for by loyal friends like you, with much of our medicine brought by volunteer teams (who purchase them wholesale from Blessings International).
We also provide work opportunities and consistent incomes to our staff. We pay a good wage and we pay on time. The monthly average salary for our full-time Guatemalan employees is more than 20% above minimum wage. We offer three weeks of paid vacation each year, a week of paid sick time or personal days, and free healthcare at our clinics. In addition, ODIM Guatemala offers scholarships for university education to all our full-time employees and bi-weekly continuing education classes for all 35 of our staff in order to improve our skills and our service.
While economic gains at the national level do not necessarily mean better lives for rural Guatemalans, organizations like ODIM can affect change at the community level. We are an economic engine in our communities, and we’re proud to be creating jobs, making healthcare affordable, and opening up educational opportunities that will help serve the community for years to come.
-Jeff Hassel, Executive Director