Mariela’s story: the reality of migration faced by a little girl in Guatemala

Mariela is 12 years old. Her father has been in the USA for six years. She says her father is sad, that he would like to be with her, with her mum and with her four brothers and sisters.


Mariela lives in Momostenango. She studies in centre 46 of a Jesuit “Fe y Alegría” school supported by Entreculturas in Guatemala, in the department of Totonicapán. The school provides breakfast and tries to ensure the children have a safe place to learn.


Guatemala, a country with a majority indigenous population, is the biggest economy in Central America but also one of the countries with the highest inequality in Latin America. 60% of the population live in poverty, most of them indigenous people. This is why many of those who leave the country come from communities that do not have Spanish as their native language. Almost half of children under five suffer from malnutrition and 23% have acute malnutrition, in other words, they starve. Only one in four adolescents makes it to secondary school. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that almost a million Guatemalans live in the United States.


The homicide rate in Guatemala has been falling steadily since 2015. Now there are 27 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, a figure slightly higher than Mexico’s but substantially lower than that of its neighbours in the Central American NorthernTriangle, El Salvador and Honduras.

These results, the fruit of years of technical police work  have been undermined, according to analysts, by the current government, which dismantled the police force and appointed new leaders who lacked the experience and expertise required for the job. Moreover, although the murder rate decreased, extortion by gangs and organised crime continue and are among the population’s biggest fears. In 2017, the rate was 43 cases of extortion per 100,000 inhabitants.

Violence against women is another major problem, especially given the viciousness with which attacks are carried out. Gender violence offences are now the most reported, although, according to the UN, 83% of them go unpunished.

Entreculturas supports the educational work of “Fe y Alegría-Guatemala” with special emphasis on the prevention of violence, gender equality and care of girls. It offers academic tutoring and supports people with the reality of migration: there are many unaccompanied children and families that have been broken up. The educational centres become safe spaces for the boys and girls who – in the words of Mariela’s teachers – “don’t get many hugs”, and where their self-esteem can be boosted.

The singer Rozalén talked about all this on a journey she made with Entreculturas in support of the Light of Girls programme. The migratory reality that the country is experiencing and its impact on children has been one of the central themes of her reports back.

Click here for the blog about Rozalén’s journey

This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Philip Walker. Proofreader: Phoebe Thomas