Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Emigration has divided and strained Guatemalan families and communities for decades, especially those in rural areas. From 1968 to 1986, armed conflict drove waves of emigrants to leave Guatemla. Since then, however, economic hardship has been the primary cause of emigration. Everyday, about 400 Guatemalans leave their country; the majority are young, working aged people from rural areas. Most are destined for the United States where an estimated 1.4 million Guatemalans currently live.
Migrants generally leave Guatemala with an intention to gain money or skills elsewhere and then return to help their communities. However, a systematic breakdown of the communication between Guatemalan migrants and their community deters this from happening. Studying the frequency of communication between migrants and their communities, Luis has found a consistent pattern: migrants communicate frequently with their families and friends in Guatemala for four to five years after leaving but then communication lines go silent as the emigrant establishes a new family, culture and community.
This breakdown of relationships with emigrants has social and economic ramifications for Guatemalan communities. First, villages left without their most productive, young and healthy members become even poorer. As the middle age population leave to seek better economic opportunities, some villages have been left almost entirely populated by the elderly and children. Moreover, the volume of communication and remittances between emigrants and their families are highly correlated - as communication wanes, remittances also stop arriving. Thus, families are left without income earning members and after an average of five years, they receive little or no remittances from them. Second, the social cohesion of the community deteriorates as family members are left emotionally and economically disconnected from their relatives abroad, fostering a sense of hopelessness within the communities. Finally, not speaking to emigrants perpetuates a common belief among Guatemalans that the life of an emigrant outside their borders is a “paradise”. Youths do not hear about the challenges of emigrant life and make decisions based on uninformed and unrealistic expectations.
Emigrants also suffer consequences of broken communication with their hometowns. First, it is difficult for the emigrant to see what social, cultural, and economic changes are happening in his or her hometown. Guatemalan national newspapers are available online, but they focus on national and capital city news and politics, not rural communities. Second, emigrants lose touch with their native culture, language and identity. In an effort to assimilate into their new communities, emigrants often don’t celebrate traditional holidays and their customs are devalued. Rural Guatemalans speak 24 indigenous languages, which are lost without use. Finally, emigrants often struggle with feelings of guilt for having left their families behind. While they have a strong desire to give back, it can be hard to do so, and sending money individually doesn’t change the underlying poverty pattern. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to send financial support to their community for sustainable projects that would have a substantial and lasting impact. While groups of emigrants have reactively sent collective remittances in the aftermath of natural disasters, there is little that the emigrant can do proactively and in conjunction with other emigrants to better the welfare of their communities in non-emergency situations.
Emigration, though usually undertaken with high hopes and good intentions, has failed to improve the community welfare because of a systemic breakdown in communication and relationships. Rural villages are often left worse off and the cycle of involuntary migration continues.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Luis is mitigating the negative social and economic ramifications of migration on rural Guatemalan communities by connecting emigrants and their home communities using an Internet news platform called News of My People (www.NoticiasDeMiGente.com). News of My People provides Guatemalans, both at home and abroad, with information previously unavailable to them – news about their community in the form of written articles, radio, TV and photographs. The participatory nature of the site creates a dialogue between emigrants and their communities. News of My People is not only informative, but also formative. As a rule, stories are not alarmist; nor do they sensationalize violence. Instead, each story is presented with a relevant background to inform decisions while provoking and guiding readers to collaboratively create positive changes in their communities.
Each month, Luis connects over 7,000 Guatemalans in 43 countries using this multimedia platform. Luis will use this activated audience to address the root cause of emigration– poverty and unemployment. He plans to channel wealth into Guatemalan communities and create jobs by allowing emigrants to purchase gifts for friends and family members from local businesses through the News of My People virtual store. News of My People will also raise awareness about opportunities for community development projects and motivate financial support from emigrants who want to make a difference in their hometowns. Thus far, emigrant communities in the U.S. have only sent collective remittances to their villages in reaction to natural disasters. Luis’s media platform will allow emigrants to proactively select and fund development projects that promote tourism or improve the villages’ public services. By activating the economy of rural Guatemala towns and allowing the community members to benefit from their cultural heritage, Luis will offer future generations of Guatemalans an alternative to involuntary, poverty-driven emigration.