There are no pets in Guatemala, but there are thousands of dogs. Far from domesticated, these skeletal dogs roamed the streets of Chajul looking for scraps of food. Admittedly, I cringed at the sight of every sickly, homeless dog I saw. I pitied the puppies whose rib cages were easily visible from meters away and whose fur was dirty and marked with scratches and scars. Albeit a little flee-infested, they were often quite adorable: I cannot count the number of times I wanted to reach out and pet the dogs or pick them up and take them home with me.
And yet every time I found myself pitying the lives of these animals, I subsequently thought of the even larger number of men, women, and children in Guatemala who suffered from the same problems. These people do not have the luxury of worrying about the needs of a dog when they are merely trying to ensure the basic needs of their families are met. For every mangy mutt I passed by on the streets of Chajul, there was at least one family likewise suffering from hunger. While I had known that hunger and malnutrition were endemic in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, I did not have a grasp on what this truly meant until I saw the plight of the Ixil people of Chajul.
Hunger and malnutrition are not always physically visible in humans. There was one thing, however, that made the malnourishment of the people of Chajul particularly evident: their height. At 5’4″, I’m not very tall, yet in Guatemala there were several occasions in which I was the tallest person in the room. The phenomenon of “stunting” is extremely noticeable in the more rural, mountainous regions of Guatemala, where people’s diets consist of very little protein or essential vitamins and other nutrients. Over the span of their life, these people simply do not attain the nutrients necessary to grow at a normal rate and are much shorter as a result.
Never have I been so exposed to hunger in the way that I was in Chajul. As is often said of development, you never can truly understand the problems facing our world today until you see and experience them for yourself.
Seeing hunger through my own eyes is an experience I will not easily forget; it has helped me to better understand the crucial importance of doing everything in our power to find sustainable solutions for world hunger. I encourage everyone to travel and see things for yourself so that you can have a better understanding of the world around you.