Bulk items arrive for the food baskets 

Letter from the Founder/CEO Fotokids N. McGirr

It is a difficult line to walk, between telling you what is going on in Guatemala and losing your interest for so much more worrying news. What I will do is give you the positive steps Fotokids is taking to help our families in this time of dire need. Then I will go more into detail for those of you who are strong enough to take it. (Re-reading this, I see I didn’t do a great job of separating the two!) 

The good news is, as of now, none of the families or kids have Covid 19. Josefa, our social worker, and each of the teachers are in touch with all their students’ families. Our staff have become health promoters and instruct in hygiene and virus CDC updates. To date we have given out 62 food relief baskets at $50 each.  The Guatemalan government subsidized funding that we received through our light bill (stimulus pay out – $130/month) has been divided among 10 families who are in the worst of circumstances with no work, no food and afraid to leave the house because of the virus.

Our Fotokids families weren’t doing well to begin with, but now the situation is stark. Government restrictions meant to slow the virus, are starving the rural population. The population is more worried about putting food on the table than Covid 19. This will probably change in the coming months as Covid deaths come to the forefront and we begin to peak beyond the present 24,000+ cases and the 800-1000 new contagions a day.

The cases at the present are mainly in urban areas but are predicted to spread out into the countryside, which in a worst-case scenario, could lead to as many as 12,000 deaths by September. Markets have been closed, there is no work, almost all of our families cannot find more than a day or two of wages a week. No public transportation means they often can’t get to their jobs. In the City, the gang extortion of families has picked up again after a hiatus, and they are robbing the people of their economic stimulus money given to them by the government.

©Jorge Bonilla, Barrio Mesquital, Guatemala City

The food baskets have been of great help. The families we work with in Guatemala City seem better able to survive (food prices are competitive) than those in the countryside and where the lack of work exacerbates the hunger situation. It is not uncommon to see whole families on the side of the highway waving white flags, a signal that they have no food.

Our Fotokids families in Santiago Atitlán reflect this situation as over half of them have lost their jobs. The mother of Maria Maribel Sosof weaves cortes (the long skirts the indigenous women wear) but has not had work since March. Her earnings were the family’s only income. They are using what little savings they have and money reserved for buying thread to keep afloat. Her worry is that by the time the pandemic ends she will have nothing. The food baskets are very welcome.

Nicolas Ratzán’s parents have had no work for a month. The mother said. “When Andres, (our Director in Santiago Atitlán) called to tell me about the food it made me so happy, it’s hard to ask, but thank you for thinking of us and this will last us some days. In my bead making work they owe me money. I turned in the work but they didn’t pay me as there is no money.”

María Tacaxoy sorts items for the relief baskets 

Riquelmer’s father is a caretaker for a house by the lakeshore, but since the quarantine started in March he hasn’t been paid and the owner says he must “wait till things calm down,” so he takes his son with him to the mountains to look for firewood to sell. Last week four children in his family were sick but because of transportation restrictions they couldn’t get into town to the health center.  They remarked that they are afraid to go there anyway, to be attended by possibly contagious health care workers, so they are using natural medicines, herbs and drugstore remedies.

I might add, that there was a tussle not too long ago in which health care workers were verbally threatened as suspected Covid 19 carriers and not allowed into a community there. Many pueblos, including Santiago Atitlán are allowing no one in or out of their towns. Suspicion of foreigners runs high, rumors, mob mentality and wanting to place blame for suffering on some individual or group, all contribute to making these times seem almost medieval.

Josue Vasquez’s family suffers as well; his mother has been laid off from her bead work and the father is gathering firewood and makes Q20 day ($3) but only is able to find work 3 times a week.

The mother of Lucas Ajpus said, “I feel very grateful for the support you give us. Lucas was so worried thinking that Fotokids classes were a thing of the past, then two days ago, Professor Andres called to advise us of the food baskets, it made us so happy. Lucas wanted to go with me to pick it up but I told him no (for fear of him contracting the virus). At home we are well, we are healthy, but economically that’s not the case. My husband is an ironsmith and the demand has declined. In my case, I work on embroidery commissions, and there is very little demand for that either.


The new Guatemalan president, who began his term in January, is a medical doctor. He put the country on maximum alert on February 25th. On March 1st, when the first case was reported regionally in Costa Rica, he declared a state of calamity, which meant all major events were cancelled. On the 17th of March, public transportation was stopped, followed by curfews, lockdowns and interdepartmental travel restrictions between counties with the highest number of cases. Masks were mandated by law and fines for not wearing a mask in public still range from $200 to $20,000.

So what happened? Why didn’t all of this work? One reason was that we had a series of deportee fights from U.S. detention camps, many of whom were Covid 19 positive, others were asymptomatic who then returned to spread it in their villages. When the president objected to the deportations. he was threatened with suspension of U.S. aid.  The health system in Guatemala has not been improved in decades and so hasty building of temporary hospitals was not enough to meet the growing number of patients. The number of tests were inadequate, only 1500 or so a day, and testing was performed only for those who exhibited symptoms. Tests now have risen to approximately 2500 a day, and results show more than 37% positive. 

Our population is 17,500,000 of which 59.3% live in poverty (half of those making less than $5 a day). Bureaucratic slowing of the dispersal of international aid, a bumbling Minister of Health, and rumored corruption of funding, delayed payments for medical personnel (many of whom worked three months without any salary), problems with contracts for purchasing PPE, and oxygen all contributed to an inability to go forward.  The national hospital system has almost collapsed; lack of beds and in most cases medical staffing is at only 40%. At the major facility in the capital, Hospital Roosevelt, patients sit in the hallways 48 to 72 hours attached to an oxygen tank waiting for a bed to free up, either from someone who has recovered, or who has died.

The city kids who live near national cemeteries tell of trucks coming in from 12 midnight to 3 am to clandestinely deliver the bodies. The same is true in Santiago Atitlán, although there, they say it is done in the wee hours of the morning as they don’t want people clustering in crowds in the streets to see who has died. There is fear and there is stigma attached to the virus, with national news of villagers not wanting the virus victims buried in their cemeteries and attempts at burning down homes or attacking families in quarantine suspected of having the virus. People are afraid to say they are positive and that often leads to ignoring their self-quarantine.

Schools have been shut down of course, and unlike in developed countries, the poor do not have access to the internet for online classes. We do however, have to keep paying school fees for all of our kids’ scholarships. Not many of our rural families have smart phones. Even our teachers have to buy minutes of internet time for the Fotokids staff Zoom meetings.

The Fotokids staff, who in most cases are teachers as well, are unable to physically connect with their students. Besides the obvious assembling of the food relief baskets and communication with over 96 families, the staff is meeting every Monday on Zoom, hearing reports from each barrio and participating in continuing education workshops that include narrative photography, essays and writing techniques. These techniques, complete with weekly teacher assignments are subject to peer critiques. If they are judged successful, the methodology is incorporated into future lesson plans.

How to proceed with schooling, we are still trying to work out. We could buy all the kids  tablets for online work, though how we would get 96 tablets to Guatemala is another challenge (airport closed and cargo subject to whatever in customs). The teachers have even tested out the possibility of doing a series of short videos but the problem is that few families can afford internet access, so we really are victims of the digital divide. If you have any ideas let me know


Want to be More Involved?

Food baskets! Buy  a food basket- In Santiago Atitlán since they have restricted entry and exit to only people who live in the pueblo, there is a scarcity of product. Bean prices have risen from 350 ($45) quetzales a 100 pound bag to Q850 ($110)Food baskets now cost  $58.48 (we buy wholesale and package ourselves on items like corn and beans)

Or send by check: FOTOKIDS/ Walt Trask,  1333 Jones St., San Francisco, CA 94109

Mother with food relief basket, rice, beans, corn, oil, eggs, pasta, protein supplement drink.

The students in Santiago all have taken their cameras home and we will have quarantine photos sometime next week. I will do a separate mailing of the photos for your viewing.

And now if you are still with me and haven’t gone off for a stiff drink with a disgusted, “enough already”, here are some of the photos that have come in for the sponsors mid- year post cards. Some great shots here.

Oh, and take a look if you are on Facebook at our new Fotokids Staff page. It has bios of the staff and info about how they have taken advantage of the opportunities Fotokids (read: You) has given them.Uplifting Photos here- as a reward for perseverance-    ©Riquelmar/Fotokids 2020

©Concepción/Fotokids 2020  ©Cristian/Fotokids2020
©Emelyn/Fotokids2020 ©Juan Quieju/Fotokids2020    


©Juan Quieju/Fotokids2020 

©Ana Lucia/Fotokids2020

©Juan Ixbalan/Fotokids2020


© Juan Daniel Ajchomajay /Fotokids2020

©Maria Tacaxoy/Fotokids2020


©Chonita Rabinal/Fotokids2020

©Jennifer/Fotokids 2020

©Juan DanielAjchomajay/Fotokids2020

© Juana Sosof/Fotokids 2020 
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