Giving Guatemala: A Cement Floor Is Cherished

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Mixing cement to build floors in Guatemala. GlobeAware sends volunteers to help local families.
Mixing cement to build floors in Guatemala.

GlobeAware sends volunteers to help local families improve their lives by putting in cement floors.

By Elijah Rivera

building block wall
Building a cement block wall in Guatemala.

For most of us, having a solid floor underneath our kitchens and living rooms a pretty basic necessity that we take for granted. But for many rural villagers in Guatemala and other countries, the reality is that their floor is made of dirt–and this causes a number of health and sanitation problems.  Fortunately, there is an organization that is tackling this peculiar problem, and bringing volunteers to Guatemala to help.

The Problem

According to The Center for Sustainable Development, diarrheal disease kills an estimated 1.8 million people a year internationally, the majority of which are children under five years old. Additionally, around three million children die each year of parasitic diseases of a similar nature.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of these deaths are among the extremely impoverished, those lacking fundamental amenities including clean water, clothing and appliances as well as living in a dirt-floor hut.

walking to village
Walking to the Village

What is often left unmentioned are the abhorrent shelter conditions that often include a lack of roofing, functioning bathrooms and most relevant–finished flooring.

Often overlooked, a cemented or otherwise finished floor defends residents living in any sized shelter from the insidious nature of soil-born disease.

A number of pathogens and parasites reside in soil in the form of feces and bacteria that are transmittable by both ingestion and simple contact.

Fecal matter poses the greatest threat as it may enter a home by foot, animal or unclean water. On dirt floors, often the playground for young children, fecal matter becomes virtually undetectable.

As a direct result of their poor health, children often experience a decline in academic performance or a withdrawal from their educative environment altogether. This presents yet another barrier between third world children and a brighter future including a proper education.

The Mission

“Giving Guatemala” is one of GlobeAware’s many programs specifically aimed at the impoverished youth of Guatemala. Despite its breathtaking scenery, Guatemala’s burden with a rapidly increasing population and lack of resources to sustain it have created third-world living experiences that force its younger population into a battle with many health hazards. One of these hazards, which is most specifically targeted by the program, is the lack of adequate flooring. Often neglected in a first-world mindset, floors are essential in preventing primitive diseases that attribute to over five million deaths internationally.

Installing Concrete Floors

By providing volunteers and necessary materials for the installation of concrete floors, GlobeAware gives Guatemalan families the opportunity to live longer and healthier lives.
Shanti Shahani of GlobeAware describes the concrete floor installation as the “staple” of the trip. One of the greatest benefits to this trip in particular, she says, is being able to experience many different forms of volunteer-ship.

“You can do anything from helping single mothers cultivate their gardens and feed their families to educating members of the community on health or simply teaching them English- really the greatest tool.” says Shanti.

mixing sand
Helping build concrete floors in poor famiy’s houses in Guatemala.

As a volunteer in Guatemala, one may each crop cultivation to the needy and hungry. One could also tend to the environmental protection efforts offered by leaders and locals on the trip alike. Most influential of all, Shahani describes, is the teaching of english to locals-young children in particular.

Offering exchanges in the English language that allow for children to learn and cultivate fluency open possibilities for them as tour guides in their countries-one of the highest paying jobs. Why volunteer on your vacation?

By sacrificing a portion of one’s disposable time and income, another’s life can be drastically altered for the better. GlobeAware embraces the selflessness and compassion it believes exists in every human being.

Furthermore, Shahini describes the benefits families with children in particular reap: “A lot of families want to teach their kids good citizenship and giving back.”

An instillation of worldly qualities in children, some of which being selflessness and worldly citizenship, are not to be neglected. Trips like “Giving Guatemala” offer a low cost opportunity to positively shape the world’s future human beings.

The solution

A World Bank survey of a Mexican government program aimed at replacing dirt floors with cement floors found (among its studied population) an estimated 76 percent reduction in parasitic infections, a 49 percent reduction in diarrhea, an 81 percent reduction in anemia and a 36 to 96 percent improvement in cognitive development.  Clearly the act of installing the floors have been game changing!

Beyond the simple “increase in satisfaction with…their quality of life”, the people aided by the Mexican government evidently reaped a number of health benefits at a reasonably low cost to their government. In addition to being wholesomely productive, volunteer vacations also start at a reasonable cost, often far less than a first world vacation.

What is it to you?

“Giving Guatemala” in particular costs altogether a little under $1500. Being able to change the world and touch the lives of those in need at little to no cost, the question ultimately becomes, why not?

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