Printer Friendly

Guatemala: after the rains: mudslides destroyed entire villages in this Central American country, leaving 1,000 children orphaned.

A wall of mud came rushing down the volcano in the middle of the night. Eleven-year-old Antonito will never forget the haunting sound.

"It was something strange, coming from the center of the Earth," he recalled. "Suddenly, it was very dark."

Antonito was speaking with Red Cross workers sent to aid him and other survivors in Guatemala's Western Highlands. In early October, the heavy rains of Hurricane Stan caused massive waves of mud, rocks, and trees to flow down the steep sides of volcanoes here, burying several farm villages. More than 1,500 people were killed.

Antonito's parents and brothers and sisters were among the dead. Their village, called Solola, was all but swallowed up, and their home was destroyed (see map, p. 13).

In one village, Panabaj, more than 600 people were buried alive, and about 3,000 others are now homeless. Instead of rebuilding the village, Guatemalan officials may declare it a mass cemetery.

After a Civil War, More Misery

With a population of nearly 13 million, Guatemala is Central America's largest country--and one of its poorest. Half the country is made up of indigenous Maya Indians; the other half is mostly of Spanish descent. An estimated 75 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, a situation aggravated by a decades-long civil war that ended in 1996.

In 1954, a military-led coup backed by the United States overthrew Jacobo Arbenz, Guatemala's popularly elected President. The U.S. feared that Arbenz, who had seized (taken by force) privately owned land and redistributed it to the poor, was leading the country toward Communism.

By 1960, civil war had broken out. For decades, the military conducted a campaign of terror against the Maya, many of whom had supported President Arbenz. The struggle ended in 1996 with a peace agreement, but not before about 200,000 Mayan civilians had been killed and thousands of children orphaned.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Guatemalan officials estimate that this year's mudslides have created an additional 1,000 orphans. Tens of thousands of other children were separated from their families and are staying in churches and empty classrooms.

Antonito is living temporarily in a church shelter with other orphans from his village. His school was destroyed, as were most of the village's tin-roof adobe houses. Crops of potatoes, corn, and beans were wiped out, leaving many people starving.

The village's winding roads were impassable, covered by mud up to five feet deep. Desperate residents had to rely on Guatemalan and U.S. military helicopters that dropped food and medicine.

Reuniting Families

In the town of Santiago Atitlan, a long line of children from Panabaj recently waited for food at a school being used as a shelter. Many of the kids were suffering from stomach ailments, such as diarrhea, caused by impure drinking water.

According to Karen Hickson, UNICEF's officer for child protection and education in Guatemala, tens of thousands of children are currently living in shelters. She and other UNICEF officials say that the highest priority is reuniting as many children as possible with family members. Otherwise, lax adoption rules in Guatemala could make these children vulnerable to illegal adoptions and even kidnapping.

Manolo Morales, Guatemala's Red Cross director, worries about the psychological impact that the disaster has had on the kids. "You can see it in their eyes," he told JS. "They don't have a brightness there." Antonito, he said, "looks up, or looks down," but does not make eye contact with others.

Dr. Arturo Monsanto, a surgeon for the Red Cross, noted that the children have nothing to distract them and no way to express their thoughts. "They don't even have pen or paper," he said. "To them, a bottle of water or a medicine bottle is a toy."

"A Never-Ending Story"

The Maya of Guatemala have a tragic history. When Spaniards conquered the country in the 16th century, many Maya were enslaved. During the civil war of 1960-1996, antigovernment rebels hid in the Western Highlands. Government troops and civilians forced into service killed about 200,000 Maya who lived in the area, mistakenly believing that they were helping the rebels. Maya who were murdered and buried in mass graves became known as "the disappeared." Today, say relief workers, the mudslide victims are a new generation of "disappeared," because they too were killed and buried in large numbers.

Many orphans are likely to end up at Guatemala City's oldest orphanage, the Hogar Rafael Ayau. The supervisor, Mother Ines Ayau, already cares for 100 children. Inside the building's yellow rooms, empty cribs and beds await the arrival of yet more children. "They will be coming from the highlands," said Ayau, a Catholic nun whose family founded the orphanage.

The orphans will join Astrid Carrillo, 12, and her brother, Jember, 7, who lost their parents in the mudslides. "I just would like a family with my brother," Astrid said one night, over a dinner of flied beans and bread.

Ayau shook her head. "It is," she said, "a never-ending story."


Guatemala is a country of Central America, a political division of the continent of North America. A rugged and fertile land, Guatemala is the largest Central American country in area and population. More than half of Guatemalans trace their ancestry to the indigenous Maya. Colonization by Spain, beginning in the 1500s, also left marked cultural influences.

After winning its independence in 1821, Guatemala experienced many decades of political and military unrest.


AREA: 42,042 square miles.

POPULATION: 12.7 million.


POLITICAL SYSTEMS: Presidential-legislative democracy. Oscar Berger Perdomo was sworn in to a four-year term as President in 2004.

ECONOMY: Agriculture (mostly coffee, sugar, and bananas) makes up a quarter of the country's GDP, one third of its exports, and half of its labor force.

MONETARY UNIT: The quetzal, worth about 13 cents in U.S. currency.

PER CAPITA GDP *: $4,200.

RELIGION: Roman Catholic, Protestant, and indigenous Mayan traditions.

LANGUAGES: Spanish and Amerindian dialects.

LITERACY: Males, 78%; females, 63%.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Males, 63 years; females, 69 years.


Students should understand

* how Guatemalans are affected by both recent events and conflicts in their nation's history:


Jacobo Arbenz was not the only Guatemalan President forced out of office. The military rule of President Jorge Ubico, who took office in 1931, grew increasingly dictatorial, in 1944, he was ousted in a democratic revolution. Under a new constitution, President Juan Joser Arevalo established many reforms, including a social security program, protection for laborers, and better schools and health care. His elected successor, Arbenz, continued reforms, but antagonized Guatemala's military and major landowners (including the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation) when he started taking land to redistribute to the poor. A later President, Jorge Serrano Elias, was ousted in 1993, after trying to establish dictatorial rule. Since then, Guatemala's presidents have been elected by the people.


SEQUENCE: Rearrange these events in the story to put them in chronological order: peace agreement; mudslides; military-led coup: Hurricane Start; civil war. (military-led coup; civil war; peace agreement; Hurricane Stan; mudslides)

MAKING PREDICTIONS: What do you think will happen to kids orphaned by mudslides? Explain. (Answers will vary.)


HELPING HANDS: If your students are interested in organizing donations to Guatemalan orphans, have them first find out what is most needed, then be sure to donate to a reputable organization, such as:

Mercy Corps: * Save the Children: * UNICEF:



* People, places, and environments: How hurricane-related mudslides orphaned Guatemalan children and destroyed homes and roads.

* Power, authority, and governance: How a coup, rebellion, and civil war have affected the lives of Guatemalans.



* Delgado, Kevin, Guatemala (Thomson Gale, 2004). Grades 6 & up.

* Sheehan, Sean, Guatemala (Marshall Cavendish, 1998). Grades 6 & up.


* Fotokids Guatemala

Note: If the video (by a Guatemalan teen) takes too long to load, click on one of the photo links instead.

* Mayan Kids

Words to Know

* adobe (uh-DOH-bee): brick made of clay and straw and dried in the sun.

* Communism: a system of government in which the state controls all aspects of the economy and a single party holds power.

* coup (KOO): a takeover of a government by force.

* indigenous (in-DIJ-uh-nus): native.


1. Which four countries border Guatemala?

2. Which country has the longest border with Guatemala?

3. Which body of water does Puerto Barrios border?

4. What is the name of the mountainous region that spreads out across the southwestern part of the country?

5. Which city lies east of and closest to the 90[degrees]W line of longitude? --

6. Which city on the map is closest to the capital of Guatemala? --

7. What is the distance between the coastal city of Puerto Barrios and the Guatemalan capital?

8. Several villages affected by the mudslides are located around which lake? --

9. Is Guatemala north or south of the equator? --

10. Is Colombia in Central America? --

1. Mexico, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador

2. Mexico

3. the Gulf of Honduras

4. the Western Highlands

5. Flores

6. Antigua Guatemala

7. about 180 miles

8. Lake Atitlan

9. north

10. No, it is in South America.

* GDP stands for gross domestic product; per capita means per person. The amount is the value o fall items produced by the country in a year, divided by the population, and is often used as a measure of wealth.

Your Turn

1. indigenous A. sun-dried
2. coup B. take by force
3. adobe C. armed
4. seize D. native
5. Communism E. a system of
 government in
 which the
 state controls
 the economy

1. D

2. C

3. A

4. B

5. E


1. Why have victims of the mudslides become known as "the disappeared"?

2. What more can be done for the orphaned children of Guatemala?

* Use a word or phrase from this list to correctly complete each sentence.

air, capitalism, civil war, Communism, drinking water, helicopters unusable, Katrina, Mayan civilians killed during the civil war by government troops, food, people buried by the mudslides, President Jacobo Arbenz, rebel troops, revolution, Rita, roads impassable, Stan

6. In 1954, U.S. officials feared that President Arbenz was turning Guatemala toward

7. The first Guatemalans to be called "the disappeared" were --

8. In October, deadly mudslides were set off in Guatemala by Hurricane

9. Thick mud has made many Guatemalan

10. After the mudslides, many Guatemalan kids have been sickened by impure --

6. Communism

7. Mayan civilians killed during the civil war

8. Stan

9. roads impassable

10. drinking water

1. True or False? In August, Israeli soldiers began moving Jewish settlers into the Gaza Strip. (false; moved them out)

2. What is Uganda's capital? (Kampala)

3. Name the Israeli Prime Minister who approved the Gaza disengagement plan. (Ariel Sharon)

4. What did Hurricane Stan cause that killed more than 1,500 Guatemalans in October? (mudslides)

5. What country helped Guatemala's military overthrow Guatemala's President in 19547 (U.S.)

6. What is the name of the rebel group that has been fighting Uganda's military since 1986? (Lord's Resistance Army)
COPYRIGHT 2005 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:WORLD
Author:Terrazzano, Lauren
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:2GUAT
Date:Dec 12, 2005
Previous Article:Katrina's kids: after a devastating hurricane, many young people in the United States have been forced to start over in places far from home.
Next Article:Miles to freedom: the dramatic escape of William and Ellen Craft.

Related Articles
The story of Ruth; why the suffering of those in other countries should matter to us.
Greetings from Guatemala: Central America begins another deadly season of drought. (margin notes).
New road, same old path? Guatemala's new highway is one small sign of hope. But will this be a road to peace and prosperity?
IRAN - 400 Killed In Earthquake.
Relief agencies on the ground in quake region.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters