Last week, over thirty members of the GoPhil community virtually gathered to “travel” to Guatemala and learn what is happening on the ground as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.

We were first welcomed by Emily Bild, GoPhil Director of Programs, who spoke to the importance of community-led and trust-based philanthropy during this time. 

“Our philosophy has always been built around local solutions to local problems… This has never been more important or more relevant than right now in the time of this crisis… We want to step up and support our partners through this incredibly difficult time that they are facing, so that they can support their communities as best they see fit.”

Next, we heard from Mae Ardón, GoPhil Guatemala Programs Manager, based in Panajachel, about the national response. Mae also shared updates on all GoPhil partner programs in the region and how their work is being impacted. 

“The nonprofit sector is stepping up… All of our partners in Guatemala are working with indigenous and rural communities, with women, children and people with disabilities. It is very inspiring and motivating to see how they are honoring their commitments that they have their program participants. All of their operations have been affected by the restrictions and the pandemic.”

Finally, we were so humbled to be joined by Julio Letona Chávez of ASSADE, who took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to connect and share directly with the GoPhil community. As Julio explained, ASSADE “…was created to provide adequate healthcare for indigenous communities through an inclusive and participatory model,” and they are staying true to this mission despite the many challenges presented by this crisis and lockdown. 

“We need to imagine first that our national structure of healthcare, before COVID-19, is already collapsing, it is already inadequate, it is already incapable of covering all the real needs at a national level… and then we add this situation… it is a deep crisis.”

Below are some of the key takeaways from the gathering: 

  • The Guatemalan government is responding, but with force, and with efforts concentrating on urban areas. The advice they do provide to rural areas does not typically apply — for example, telling people to wash their hands every thirty minutes when they have no access to running water.
  • In times of crisis, already marginalized groups become more marginalized. Already weak healthcare systems become more strained. Structural inequalities widen. Corruption becomes more rampant.
  • Nongovernmental organizations, including GoPhil partners, are stepping up to care for those most in need: rural communities, women, children, indigenous peoples, those with special needs, and those living in extreme poverty.
  • Organizations like ASSADE, which rural, indigenous communities already depend on, become more essential and more strained for time and resources. They are truly the only source of trusted information or support for so many isolated communities.
  • The ASSADE team remains courageously committed and dedicated to their mission despite all the new challenges.
  • ASSADE, having worked over the last decade to become more self-sufficient by implementing a sliding fee scale, are providing more free services than ever before. They no longer ask for donations from their patients because they know people are falling below the poverty line.
  • The primary needs of communities right now are basic — such as masks, medicines, food, water, hand sanitizer, etc. This means that even small donations can go a long way and make a real difference.
  • Collaboration among partners and other NGOs and clinics is absolutely crucial during this time. GoPhil is actively working to connect partners so that they can learn from and support one another.

To those of you who joined the Virtual GoPhil Gathering: Guatemala last week – THANK YOU for taking the time and mental energy to step out of your own sphere to listen and learn with us. Your solidarity means the world to all of us and our partners. 

“This is a great reminder of the importance of human connection, and it is really motivating to know that you are interested to learn more about what is happening here in Guatemala.” – Mae Ardón 

There is still time to sign up for our upcoming Virtual GoPhil Gathering: India, April 17, 9am MDT, during which you will hear directly from two incredibly dedicated and inspiring activists – Usha from Vikalp Sansthan and Anuradha from AVANI – about the local impacts of the crisis and their grassroots relief efforts.