UN World Food Programme

Hunger Deepens As Families See Cash From Abroad Dwindle

Juan Coj and his family are struggling now that the money from California has dried up.

(Copyright: WFP/Edgar Tánchez )

Eighteen months ago Juan Coj Soc’s son left his poverty-stricken community in Guatemala and found work in California. For a time he sent money home regularly and all seemed well. Then the economic crisis started to bite...

NAHUALA -- Juan Coj Soc, a 50-year-old father of seven, lives in Patzité, a poor village about 200 kilometres south of Guatemala City.  In this small community of 117 households, over 80 percent of the families live below the poverty line and three quarters of the children in the first grade of school suffer from chronic malnutrition.

In late 2006, Juan’s 18-year-old son Samuel decided to leave for the United States to look for work so he could send money to his family in Guatemala. The family had to pay around US$ 4,500 to get Samuel across the border illegally and into the United States. To pay for this, Juan Coj took out a bank loan at an interest rate of 12 percent.

Sent money every month

“During the first eight months everything was going well. Samuel was able to send around US$ 300 every month,” said Juan Coj, explaining that Samuel found work as a construction worker in Los Angeles, California.

But a few months ago, because of the economic downturn in the US, Samuel lost his job. “He couldn’t afford to stay in his apartment anymore. Now, he sleeps under a bridge and he is sick in his lungs due to the cold weather.”

Today, the Coy family is having trouble keeping up with the repayments of the bank loan. Juan has had to sell his small piece of land (100 square meters). Samuel’s sisters and brothers were forced to drop out of school and start looking for jobs.

One of many families 

But jobs are hard to find in this area. Men and women usually work in the coffee farms and banana plantations but only two or three times a week. They earn between US$ 3 and US$ 4 a day.

This family is just one of many families in southern Guatemala that have been heavily affected by the reduction in money, or ‘remittances’, being sent home by relatives working abroad. This has had a direct impact on the amount and quality of food reaching family tables. Global Food Crisis In Depth

WFP already works in these area with programmes to combat malnutrition and build food security and may have to boost assistance in the light of the drop in remittances.