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Los Ancianos

Anna Watts | Guatemala

Organization: Mayan Families

Located in the highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán and the small indigenous communities scattered around it are known for their diversity of Mayan language, traditional dress, and craft. Yet behind vibrant colors hides Guatemala’s dark side: a devastating history of civil war, which saw the mass persecution and genocide of its indigenous populations.

The villages surrounding Lake Atitlán still suffer the effects of this destruction. Further debilitated by extended drought brought by El Niño, the country now finds itself in the depths of a food insecurity crisis, struggling to feed millions.

With barely enough income to feed their children, few families have the resources to care for the older generation. This neglect has left many elderly facing daily, almost insurmountable obstacles to survive. Yet these ancianos are the men and women who not only survived Guatemala’s bloody civil war, but outlived it. In each of their homes, this power and strength is quietly evident in pots hung in the kitchen, handwoven threads, the closeness of a grandchild on their bed.

Mayan Families is a nonprofit organization that strives to create sustainable development programs in the impoverished, indigenous communities surrounding Lake Atitlán. The organization operates an Elderly Care Program, which provides daily nutrition, medical assistance, and other basic needs. This brings essential support to families and ancianos in critical need, enabling these families to better care for their elderly and for these men and women to live comfortably, with the security of food and health check-ups.

Over the past few months, I have traveled with social workers into the villages and homes of many of these ancianos. With this series, I hope to offer some small insight into the moments, rooms, and obstacles that make up their daily life as well as their intense strength and spirit. They have accomplished and continue to do things I could never manage —walking barefoot up sharp cobblestones, weaving intricate traje, taking care of grandchildren, of chickens, of their communities.

Mayan Families


Anna Watts


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