Population Background


Globally, indigenous peoples suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability and reduced quality of life, and ultimately die younger than their non-indigenous counterparts.[1] Data indicates that circumstances of extreme poverty are significantly more prevalent among indigenous peoples than non-indigenous groups, and are rooted in other factors such as lack of access to education and social services, forced displacement, armed conflict, and the loss and degradation of their customary lands and resources. These forces are compounded by structural racism and discrimination, which makes women and children particularly vulnerable to poor health. Because of these issues, indigenous peoples experience higher levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illness, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Accessibility is a key component of the right to health and is a barrier to proper health services1. In Guatemala, there are significant direct and indirect costs for health services that prevent or postpone low-income families from seeking health care (i.e. transportation, food, accommodation, family care, medication or loss of work days). These costs can lead to significant financial hardship. The health services that do exist in the indigenous communities are likely lower quality and not always culturally appropriate. There is therefore an urgent need to develop comprehensive and relevant health strategies for these indigenous populations.

Mayan languages are spoken by over 6 million people across Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, as well as in various communities in the United States and Canada[2]. The Maya area is divided into two geographical regions, the Highland and the Lowland areas, with the boundary falling roughly along the chain of mountains that runs through central Guatemala. Guatemala has the highest density of Mayan speakers of any other country today. Official census estimates suggest about 40% of Guatemalans speak Mayan languages natively, which is likely a large underestimation. Literacy rates in Mayan territories are generally quite low, though literacy has improved with increased availability of Mayan language education. With poor access education, poor family incomes, and lack of resources, there is a significant need for scholarship assistance in these areas.

[1] The United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group (IASG) on Indigenous People’s Issues, World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014

[2] Introduction to Mayan Linguistics, Ryan Bennett, Jessica Coon, Robert Henderson, Yale University, McGill University, University of Arizona, May 2015