On June 3 2018 devastating ash and lava flows from El Fuego Volcano, in Guatemala, brought tragedy to surrounding communities. It is estimated that about 3,400 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters and 1.7 million people were affected by volcanic ash. More than 300 were killed and over 400 people were wounded.
Among the most affected areas are the villages, hamlets and colonies surrounding the volcano, many of them belonging to the municipality of Escuintla, Alotenango and San Pedro Yepocapa, which were buried by the violent pyroclastic flows.
The homes, communities and livelihoods of many hundreds of families were lost permanently as the Guatemalan government has prohibited families from returning and rebuilding in the disaster zone.
The situation following the tragedy
Early government-led relief efforts lacked a logistical and coordinated plan. More than 6 months on from the immediate disaster, government agencies are more organised but many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and humanitarian organisations have scaled down their response or pulled out from the affected communities entirely. Of the remaining NGOs, YMCA Guatemala is one of three seeing to the wellbeing of adolescents and young people.
Adolescents and young people living in temporary hostels accommodation facing increasing vulnerability. Their homes, schools and livelihoods have been upended. Basic services are scarce. Access to education is limited and, with families struggling to make ends meet, school attendance is alarmingly low with the drop-out rate growing. One medical clinic, managed by one medic and one nurse, services over 1,000 people.
YMCA Guatemala response
YMCA Guatemala is working closely with government agencies and community members to coordinate reconstruction efforts. Through community consultation, it was decided 80 young participants in ongoing YMCA activities would receive personal hygiene kits donated by Y Care International’s Emergency Fund. The kits contain toiletries and other essential products necessary for families to maintain hygienic conditions in the transitional accommodation.
Given the absence of afterhours medical care, the community agreed first-aid kits from Y Care International would be distributed among selected households. The first-aid kits contain over-the-counter medicines such as anti-diarrhoeal drugs, serums, painkillers etc. YMCA Guatemala then led informational campaigns about where families can locate emergency medical supplies in the night. This was facilitated through a collaboration with the Guatemalan Red Cross who ran training sessions on how to use the medical supplies effectively.
YMCA Guatemala’s efforts have been directed at the emotional counselling needs of young people through activities centred on art, sport and recreation. YMCA organisers run sessions from 2-5pm twice per week to ensure those in school can participate. Through their programme they are setting up an infrastructure so that the community can continue to independently run the activities when the YMCA withdraws from the communities.
YMCA Guatemala is a longstanding partner of Y Care International and beneficiaries from a previous Y Care International projects have been participating as volunteers in the response.
Children sitting on the floor in Guatemala
The future of young people in Guatemala
YMCA staff are increasingly concerned about young people’s lack of opportunities in Escuintla. Persistent eruptions and landslides since June have led to pre-emptive evacuations by the government. The fluctuating numbers of transient, evacuee families increases pressures on already scarce resources and causes further disruptions to community cohesion. Homeless families awaiting resettlement into permanent dwellings by the government remain unaware as to when and how this will occur, and what opportunities for work or education will be available.