USAC – foto soy usa

A light at the end of the tunnel, far, but hopeful

By Jhony Otzoy

The national reality about education and Indigenous People in Guatemala is nothing satisfactory.  According to UNESCO, cited by Da Vinci University, a private university in Guatemala, in an article published in April 2019, under the title, “Higher Education in Guatemala”, it’s affirmed that only 2.6% of the population (between 18 and 26 years of age) started their university studies. In other data from the newspaper Prensa Libre from September 2019, it’s mentioned that Guatemalans with a bachelor’s degree reach 4.56 percent, but the amount is reduced to 0.48 percent when it comes to a masters or doctorate.  These are alarming percentages.

When the figures are focused on the indigenous population, the General Director of Investigation from San Carlos University in Guatemala, shows that only 12% of its student body belong to Indigenous People (according to a report done in 2015).  In another report done in 2019, it’s affirmed that 15.8% belong to the Maya People, 0.31% to the Xinca People, 0.27% is from Garifuna People, 0.64% others, and 83% are Ladino.  According to the last national census conducted in 2019, 43.8% of the Guatemalan population is indigenous, so it’s clear that almost half the population suffers great exclusion.

Education is a human right, and not a privilege, in which all human beings by the fact of being one, should have access to it.  As humans grow, they need training that prepares them for the challenges that life raises, in all areas, be it social, professional, familiar, personal, among others.  Education is an instrument of vital importance to reach a better standard of living.

However, in Guatemala the reality isn’t like that. We live in an exclusive, privileged society, in which racial prejudices prevail over the intrinsic essence of each person.  The Inigenous have suffered and continue to suffer the most unequal treatment in all of Guatemalan history.  In colonial times they were considered as an “animal without a soul”, that lived in impoverished conditions voluntarily, for being a lazy person, inclined to vice and worldly pleasure.  They were considered to be lacking reason.  Seen from many points of view, this is not the case;  we have the same capacity for reason when we have access to training, preparation and opportunities.

Iniquality, prejudice, exclusion and discrimination take hold of an indigenous person.  This inequality is even more latent toward women.  In Guatemala discrimination, based on race, color, physical state, religion, ethnicity, economic position, ideological position and sex predominate.  Being a woman in Guatemala is difficult, and being an indigenous woman is even more so.  Indigenous women are discriminated against because of their dress, because of their language, because of their physical characteristics, for not filling “certain stereotypes of beauty”.

Even in modern times, discrimination toward indigenous people is explicit, taking an example in which certain members of Guatemalan Congress, openly insulted a governor of the country, calling her “stupid indian”, simply for not agreeing with their assertions.  We are speaking about the highest officials at the national level, from whom we would expect excellent professional training, with a high level of humanism and leadership; they are officials of the highest political positions, who should be educated and professional.

The legal system advances each day, granting rights historically denied to Indigenous People, to women, to the disabled and to other vulnerable populations, rendering discrimination as a crime.  Such discrimination has been explicitly, but not actually mitigated.  Currently there is no express prohibition toward the indigenous to compete in any field.  This is a great advance, because in colonial times the prohibition was overt.

In these moments, one of the greatest difficulties is that those who have fewer economic resources lack opportunities.  People who live in indigenous pueblos have limitations in being compensated for their work.  In my town, San Juan Comalapa in the department of Chimaltenango, a day laborer earns 50Q per day, working between seven in the morning to four in the afternoon, without enjoying lunch, transportation, employment benefits or social security.  A mason, who requires more technical knowledge, earns 75Q daily.  A woman who does domestic work earns between 40Q and 50Q per day.  In addition, it has to be stressed that they don’t get work every day.

La canasta básica vital para una familia tiene un costo de Q.3615.00 comprendiendo únicamente lo básico, tal como alimentos, vestuario, medicina y educación pública, no privada. La canasta básica ampliada que comprende recreación o educación superior cuesta Q.8346.80. El salario mínimo para este año es de Q.2825.10, es decir que no es ni lo mínimo para la canasta básica vital, mucho menos para obtener educación universitaria.

The basic cost of living for one family is 3,615Q comprising only the basics, such as food, clothing, medicine and public, not private, education.  The higher cost of living that includes recreation or higher education costs 8,346.80Q.  The minimum wage for this year is 2,825.10Q, that is to say not even the minimum cost of living, much less enough to get a university education.

De esta manera, la educación universitaria es un privilegio en Guatemala, a la que pocos “con suerte” tienen acceso. La Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala es la única universidad estatal, y al año se paga únicamente Q.101.00 en concepto de matrícula. Fue fundada el 31 de enero de 1676. Fue gestionada por primera vez al rey de España en 1545, por el obispo Francisco Marroquín. Es la única oportunidad de estudios superiores para la población de escasos recursos.

In this way, university education is a privilege in Guatemala, to which a few “lucky” have access.  The University of San Carlos of Guatemala is the only state university, and you pay only 101Q per year for tuition.  It was founded on 31 January, 1676.  It was first entrusted to the King of Spain in 1545, by the bishop Francisco Marroquin.  It’s the only opportunity for higher education for people with scarce resources.

The “privileged” indigenous university students who attend university, have to leave their communities to be able to study.  This entails migrating to the industrialized city, where almost all the institutions, companies, employers or opportunities are concentrated, paying rent for a room if everything goes well, or traveling daily from their communities to the university campus.  All this entails an economic expense that isn’t easy to obtain.

There are some opportunities that certain NGO, government, national or foreign institutions provide to students who want personal growth, through grants or loans.  An invaluable help that changes lives, improves the standard of living for families and for communities.  I’m one of the fortunate ones of such privilege, and I can give testimony to it.  These opportunities are invaluable, although they continue to be limited, only a few have access to them.

          In a country where opportunities are few, exclusive and discriminatory, we should empower ourselves from spaces that allow us to progress personally, professionally and communally.  When we receive a friendly hand that offers the possibility of improvement, it’s like receiving a glass of water in the middle of the desert, where drought, hunger, malnutrition, ignorance, poverty rule, and we see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is when we should take advantage of the opportunity.  In the words of Edmund Burke, English philosopher and writer, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Cover photo: Soy Usac