Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mother at age 14 in Guatemala

This is a difficult entry to write. About two months ago, I got an email from Sharon, the head of Mayan Families, with some troubling news about our sponsored student, Juana.

Hi Holly,

I have some not very good news about Juana. Her mother came to see us this week with Juana and a few of the kids. It turns out that Juana is pregnant. She is nearly 6 months pregnant, I think. She has been keeping this hidden by tying her belt and corte [skirt] very, very tight. When she came she did not look pregnant. We sent her to the doctor; he examined her and said that the baby is very small and that she is doing damage tying her belt so tight to try and hide the pregnancy. He convinced her not to do that anymore.

Now according to the mother, the father of the baby is 18yrs old. He comes from a wealthy family, and when she went to them to ask for help, they refused and said that they don't want anything to do with Juana and do not want her to marry their son.

Apparently, from what I can gather Juana may have been working in the house of the baby's father.

So we have arranged to take legal action against the father. She is underage, and she may need a cesarian. We want him to take some financial responsibilty and have started the process......we now have to wait for the baby to be born before any more steps can be taken. I don't want to have the boy go to jail, but I would like the family to take some responsibility to help this new baby.

As you know the mother of the family barely has enough food for her own children. She was crying and saying how will they be able to feed this baby? She said that they are often only eating tortillas with salt.

Juana seems very disconnected from what is happening and doesn't seem to really realize the implications of what this will mean to her future. She is still in school at the moment but she will not be able to be for much longer.

Sorry this is not better news,

When I found out, I sent money for medical care and food. I didn't publicize what was going on since this was a very sensitive situation, and I didn't know what was going to happen.

To those new to my blog, Michael and I have school sponsorships for two sisters, Juana, 14, and Candelaria, 12, whose pictures are featured at the top of this blog. The girls have a brother Rafael, 8, sister Maritza, 7, and infant brother, Antonio. The mother runs the family by herself, and says the father, an alcoholic, is "dead to her." The family live in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, and they are extremely poor.

Here's a picture with Juana's mother, Antonio, Maritza, and Juana picking up the food in August:

I emailed Sharon at the beginning of this month trying to find out how Juana was doing. She had not heard from the family, but since Juana's mother usually comes when they need something, no news was probably good news.

Then I got an email from Sharon last week:

Hi Holly,

Well, co-incidence!!! Juana's mother came yesterday and told us that Juana had a baby boy a few days ago. He was 8lb or so she says...they don't really have a scale, so it is just a guess. But they are both healthy, she had the baby at home. We gave the mother clothes for the baby, and she received a blanket and some goodies for herself.

The mother said that they will come back in 20 days which is the customary time that mothers have to stay at home with newborns and then they leave the house after that.

Warmest regards,


Here's a picture of Juana's mother that day:

I asked Sharon if she thought it would be a good idea for me to post about this on my blog, and she thought it was fine. She said, "If it brings help to the family, thank goodness because they are going to need it."

So that's why I wanted to let you, my readers, know. It's very difficult to be a 14 year old unwed mother anywhere, but even more so living in extreme poverty in rural Guatemala.

I am relieved that both mother and baby are healthy -- especially since the conditions of Juana's pregnancy were very far from ideal. But I'm sad that she will no longer be able to attend school, since she will have to take care of the baby. As Sharon said, "Her mother can't because she already has that little one that she is caring for, and she can't carry two of them on her back."

Without school, there will be little chance for Juana to break out of the cycle of poverty. I still hope that perhaps in a few years she will at least be able to have some skills training. One of the projects Mayan Families sponsors is a sewing program, where women learn to sew and support themselves that way. I would gladly sponsor her education through something like that, once there is an opportunity.

For now, though, she, her new baby, and the whole family need food to survive and be healthy. As I have written in earlier posts, food prices have gone up dramatically in Guatemala, as all over the world. And I'm not holding my breath for the father's family to pay or be forced to pay child support any time soon. Without assistance, this family normally subsists on tortillas and salt, when they have them, so any and all help is needed.

If you would like to contribute to food for the family, please go to, where you can donate through PayPal. They will send you a receipt via email, and the donation is US tax deductible. After donating, you just need to email and say that the donation is for #603 Juana's family. (Otherwise the money will go into the general food fund.)

Any amount will help, and our combined contributions will help this family get the nutrition they need.

Mayan Families' mission is to provide a hand up for impoverished indigenous families in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. While food might seem like a "handout," these people have so little that they need to start from somewhere. Food donations give families like these the nutrition to be healthy, go to school and work, and to start on the path toward getting out of poverty. Without the right food, it is difficult to concentrate in school, work long hours or stave off illness. It truly is the basis for any hand up to work.

If anyone has any other ideas for how we could best help Juana and her baby, please let me know! Particularly if anyone has experience with assistance for teenage mothers in developing countries.

Thank you very much for reading and for your support. I'd greatly appreciate it if you could pass this entry along to any friends, family, or colleagues who might be interested or link to it on your blog.

Thank you, also, from Juana's mother. We met her, along with the rest of the family, when we went down to Guatemala in April. She was SO grateful -- I'll never forget how she said "gracias" for every single thing we gave her family. I can just imagine her thanking each of you now.

Juana is such a sweet girl with a beautiful smile. I'm very sorry she has had to grow up so quickly. Her birthday is in January, so she might have become pregnant before she even turned 14. Truly, I cannot imagine what it is like to be in her shoes, before the baby and now. But I'm glad that we are involved, and that this family is not alone.

I will be updating this blog with news and pictures of Juana and her baby as I get them.


alexlady said...

wow, what a story... i hope she and the baby are okay.

Nikki said...

Oh my gosh.... How awful that she has had to grow up so quickly, but it is wonderful that she has you and Mayan Families to help her and her family. I am sorry that the father of the baby will not take a role in his son's life. It is so frustrating, and I saw it so often in the DR... many (possibly most) families are led by single, young mothers. I assume it is similar in parts of Guatemala as well as many other developing countries. Thanks for the posting about this, and i look forward to reading when you hear more.


Nikki said...

Hi again :) Would it be okay if I use the picture of Juana on my blog? I am writing a post about poverty and would like to include this aspect. I won't post it until I know- thanks!

Holly said...

Hi Nikki, absolutely! I'm looking forward to reading your post about poverty.