Stimulating our Economy

image from Prensa Libre

image from Prensa Libre

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. 

Monica Leja, san pablo receptionist

Monica Leja, san pablo receptionist

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

A Day in the Life of ODIM

Back in July, we made a connection with the NGO “Unlocking Silent Histories”, a group that teaches young Maya people to use cameras and video to unlock the histories of their people. Borrowing from a LIFE magazine idea (A Day in the Life of the USA, Russia, etc.), I asked Unlocking Silent Histories to teach eight of our ODIM promoters the basics of photograph composition and we then set them loose to take pictures of every activity and all personnel of ODIM.

The result was the “world premiere” Powerpoint presentation of A Day in the Life of ODIM, showcasing the 100 best photos selected from the 1600 taken. For the premiere, we served up popcorn and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and watched the show after one of our regularly scheduled Wednesday afternoon training events for all staff.  

-Jeff Hassel, Executive Director



Why We Build

Our focus here at ODIM is on building and maintaining quality health and education programs to serve the communities of San Juan and San Pablo La Laguna. Our primary projects are our 2 clinics, our dental clinic, health education programs and scholarship program. However most of our volunteers come down to work on constructing new homes, and won't see much of our other programs besides a short tour of our clinics. So it always felt to me that the construction of these homes is a bit disconnected from the rest of our mission to improve health and education. Interested in seeing the effect housing can I have on health, I decided to do some research into the subject. 

A recent article published by NPR provided some incredible stastics. The first that stuck out to me is that just by switching from a dirt floor to a concrete one, there is a 78% reduction in parasitic infections. Gastro-intestinal illnesses are the number 1 killer in Guatemala, and are one of the most common issues we treat in our clinics. While we can give someone a medication that will kill a parasite, are we truly creating sustainable change if they go back to a living situation in which most likely they'll again become infected? The article, which drew information from a Mexican study in 2007, goes on to explain that switching from a dirt floor to a concrete floor, there is a a 49% reduction in diarrhea, an 81% reduction in anemia and a 36 to 96 percent improvement in cognitive development.

There are of course many other health issues that come into play with low quality housing: poor ventilation which can cause mold or respiratory illnesses due to smoke, a higher prevelence of anxiety and depression and the dangers of having a structually unsound home in a region prone to earthquakes and mud slides. We at ODIM see health as the foundation which allows someone to build a better life. At the core of that is a belief in the power of prevention to create better health outcomes. Perhaps one of the most powerful tools of prevention we have, is building clean, healthy and safe housing for those people most in need. 

The current home of the family in San Pablo that will be receiving the next home built by ODIM Volunteers.

House completed in August by group from University Park UMC in Dallas, Texas

That's why we're so thankful to all our volunteers, be they medical or construction volunteers, for their hard work towards improving the lives of the people of San Pablo. Better health is not just something provided by medical professionals, but is something we can all work towards with something as simple as laying a concrete floor. 

-Joel Enright, Volunteer Coordinator

Interested in bringing a construction or medical volunteer team to Guatemala? Please e-mail Joel at