Latin America and Caribbean Featured Program: Guatemala
—Carol and Rod Nilsestuen journal
Guatemala is a small country in Central America, with an estimated population of 13 million. It hosts a tropical climate along the lower elevations and cooler weather in the mountains. The country is full of rich indigenous culture and Spanish traditions. However, Guatemala also has a nearly 80 percent poverty rate, and a housing deficit of approximately 1.5 million units.
Spanish, Amerindian (Mayan).
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and in many respects, is still trying to shake off the yoke of colonialism. The country is largely indigenous with approximately 54 percent of the population of pure Mayan descent. The People of the Corn, as they are sometimes referred to, continue to primarily live an agrarian lifestyle, which has its roots in the thousands of years of Mayan culture and tradition. However, this picturesque scene has more often been stained by the long shadow of extreme poverty where 75 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
By far the most significant housing-related problem in Guatemala is land tenure. As many families occupy property belonging to the state or to individuals, most individuals living in poverty are not the legitimate owners of the land on which they live. These properties do not have basic utilities and are often located in high-risk areas, primarily in urban zones where there is a high degree of delinquency and crime.
Because of these living conditions, there is a significantly high risk of gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin diseases in these communities and consequently, a high rate of maternal and infant deaths.
The first Habitat houses in the region of Latin America and the Caribbean were built in Guatemala in 1979 in Aguacatan, Huehuetenango.
Habitat Guatemala was created with the purpose of improving the living conditions of low-income Guatemalan families through the construction of adequate, low-cost houses. The organization’s vision continues to be that everyone in Guatemala has a decent house.
Structured as a community organization that includes the participation of more than 1,300 volunteers, Habitat specializes in working with those families that have no access to the national financing system (banks, cooperatives, etc.) and who are living in inadequate conditions.
Types of construction for volunteers
Volunteers will generally be involved in full home construction. Volunteers may be involved in some improvements, finish/conclusions, repairs and additions/expansions. During construction days, they will be trained to use construction tools, and they will learn the types of housing they are going to be working on. Technical supervisors and masons will be present everyday on the work site to guide the construction. They will provide written construction goals everyday and verbal reports of the progress made.
To guarantee the safety of all team members, the national office will provide safety goggles and hard hats, as well as written emergency and evacuation plans at every work site. There will also be portable bathrooms with water and soap and designated resting areas with chairs and drinkable water near every build site.
Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, El Progreso, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Izabal, Quetzaltenago, Totonicapán, Huehuetenago, San Marcos, Esquintla, Peten, Quiche, Suchipequez, Retalhuleu, Jutiapa, Jalapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala City, Sololá.
Teams arrive by international flight to Guatemala City for all project locations. Flights from the United States typically arrive in the evenings.
Hotels are simple and basic, with trip costs based on double- or triple-occupancy. Accommodations are typically located near the project site. Guatemala’s climate is humid, and the rooms in some areas may smell a bit musty. Hot water is typically provided; however, the water heating systems may not work as well as in the volunteers’ home countries. In most cases, hotel rooms will be cleaned and maintained daily, and all are screened for safety.
Long-distance transportation from the airport to the project site is typically by hired minivan or bus drivers from a reliable travel company. Transportation to and from the work site each day is hired through local drivers.
Food and water
Breakfast is typically served in the hotel or a local restaurant and the hotels normally will make a very simple “packed” lunch for volunteers to carry to the work site.
Dinner is typically served in the hotel or a local restaurant. Snacks are typically not provided on the work site. Volunteers should bring or purchase a small supply of snacks for the work site.
Purified water, or arrangements for getting it, will be provided by the project where the team will be working. Volunteers should bring refillable water bottles to carry with them
Vegetarians: Please remember that vegetarianism is not the norm in Guatemala; however, simple requests for no meat can easily be honored. Though there will not be available items such as veggie lasagna or soy milk, vegetarian platters of salad, fruit, eggs, cheese, rice and beans can often be arranged.
Hosting structure and services
Host coordinators are available by phone and email and will respond within 48 hours of receiving contact. A staff member from the national office will stay with the team for at least 75 percent of the duration of the trip. A mobile phone will be provided to the team leader upon arrival.
The national office in Guatemala will arrange all of the team’s in-country transportation and prepare a welcome activity with the community and the partner families so that volunteers will learn about the local culture as soon as they arrive in Guatemala. Team members will participate in trainings about the national housing deficit and the specific housing conditions of the partner families. The team will also take part in a farewell activity with the local community where they are building, and each participant will receive a certificate and a souvenir at the end of their stay. Habitat Guatemala will follow up with emails, pictures and written testimonies of the partner families to all volunteers, as well as cards and invitations by electronic or postal mail service every six months.
Nine-day itinerary* (A 14-day itinerary is also an option for U.S. teams.)
Day 1 (Arrival day, typically Saturday): Greeted at the airport by Habitat Guatemala staff. Shuttles to Antigua if team arrives before 5 p.m.—if not, stay in Guatemala City.
Day 2 (Sunday): Orientation with Habitat Guatemala staff member; Travel to project site; Welcome ceremony with families and Habitat staff; Dinner.
Day 3–7 (Work days, Monday–Friday): Breakfast served before traveling to worksite; Work from 8 a.m.–4 p.m., with lunch on site (In the rainy season or hot areas, the work days will start earlier.); Free time after work to clean up; Supper of typical Guatemalan food; Time for team activities
Day 8 (Saturday): Travel back to Antigua; Free time; Overnight in Antigua.
Day 9 (Final day, Sunday): Departure.
Note: Special events throughout the week will include cultural experiences with affiliate staff, such as traditional dancing, market tours, museums, school or local organization visits, boat rides, walking tour and opportunities to learn about the host city. There will also be a farewell ceremony.
*View the standard budget.
At least 12 members
Volunteer Engagement specialist
If you have read the FAQs and have further questions before you submit a Global Village trip proposal, please contact Latin America and the Caribbean volunteer engagement Specialist Heather Ewing at firstname.lastname@example.org or 229-410-7700.
Please note: Proposals for LAC trips should be submitted no less than six and no more than nine months prior to departure. This timeline ensures our team can best support you in the Global Village trip planning process.