CRS' Guatemala Operations are Growing

    CRS Guatemala Country Representative Anne Bosquet meets with residents in Choaquisis in the Guatemalan western highlands. The community is part of a CRS project to enhance nutrition for local residents. The project is funded by the Howard Buffett Foundation, which works closely with CRS on food security, agricultural development, and nutrition projects in Central America and Africa. Photo by: CRS

    Catholic Relief Services' largest Latin America program is in Guatemala - and its $15 million portfolio is expected to grow, thanks to investments by donors such as the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

    Overseeing this growth is Anne Bousquet. The new CRS country representative for Guatemala manages a local staff of almost 70, with a focus on sustainable agricultural production.

    Bousquet joined CRS in 1993 as an intern for the organization's Cameroon operations. She has spent most of her career with CRS in Africa, previously serving as country representative in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. Bousquet arrived in Guatemala in 2008 for her first posting in Latin America.

    Devex spoke with Bousquet about CRS' work and funding in Guatemala, as well as the organization's alliance with the Buffett Foundation the Catholic Church.

    What are the current development funding trends for Guatemala?

    There seems to be a great focus on sustainable agricultural production, the environment, climate change. I'm seeing a lot also on human trafficking, labor rights, child labor rights, and exploitive labor of children. And there's a lot of U.S. government RFAs [requests for application] and things coming out that address these issues. I'm seeing more of that coming out.

    There seems to be quite a lot of funding coming to Guatemala. Having worked in other parts of the world and knowing that there is difficulty in the Latin American region getting funding, I find there's a lot coming to Guatemala. Does it have to do with all the other issues in this country, the drug trafficking and that kind of thing? I think so.

    I feel like there really isn't a shortage [of funding]. It's more … where you are competitively placed to go after some of these things … I had heard that this part of the world had shortages of funding, and people were always scrambling to get funding to do programs. I was kind of pleasantly surprised, but, at the same time, it creates new challenges as well.

    Now, we have this big drought emergency. USAID is putting a lot into this current emergency. EU tends to focus a lot on the food security, but so does USAID. And when we talk food security, that's a lot of elements: That's agriculture, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. It's a package.

    What donor agencies support CRS' work in Guatemala?

    A lot of what we see at CRS is USAID funding. We also work with private donors, and we have some foundations. We have four projects funded by Howard Buffett from the Buffett Foundation. That's been new to the region as well, that level of private donor funding we are getting through the Buffett Foundation. They are focused on agriculture production and improved livelihoods, water, sanitation and nutrition. We've had very good relations with them.

    When we focus on EU funding, we will work together with one of our European sister agencies like Trocaire [Irish] or CAFOD [Catholic Agency for Overseas Development], or somebody like that that has the European base.

    What are CRS' program emphases in Guatemala?

    Our areas where we are specifically working are improved agricultural practices, marketing [agricultural] production … marketing some of the produce. We do work … to minimize post-harvest loss. We definitely have a focus on agriculture, but also we have programs in health, mother-child health and nutrition.

    We have a big education program. We have some foundations that support a sponsorship program for children of families who otherwise would not be able to send their children to school. We've integrated our education with our savings group program and microfinance program.

    We have water and sanitation, which is quite large. We are helping schools improve sanitation at the school level … That's with the Global Water Initiative, also funded by the Howard Buffett money.

    We have a youth-at-risk program, where we work with youth in risk of falling into the gang life. We have a partner that we work with called YouthBuild.

    We have a migration program, where we help these migrant centers in the capital city as well as along the border with Mexico … These are migrant transit houses that provide them a place to go when they are in trouble, or at risk, or have been thrown out of the country, or been beaten up, or they just need a place to stay and get washed and food. It doesn't promote migration; it's just a more humanitarian response.

    We have an HIV/AIDS program, and we have a very big emergency [food security] program we are going to be implementing in a place called Jalapa.

    Being a U.S. Catholic agency, you have a unique relationship with church entities on the ground in Guatemala. How does CRS interface with local church groups to carry out its programs?

    We have our immediate inroads when we come to a country and come on the invitation of the [Catholic] church. We work directly with the social pastoral organization in each place. For CRS, it's an advantage we have. We do work with the church and share our ideas with them.

    Because they work at the grassroots level, you get a lot of important and relevant information in designing your programs and working on interventions, because you have that immediate community to go. That's made our relationship and work go smoothly.

    There are some issues we run into when it comes to some of our donors that have criteria or have requirements of reporting at levels that some of our [church] partners haven't fully developed their capacity to do. That's when we have to step in as CRS and provide a lot of backstopping support, a lot of capacity-building support. That's something we can offer to our partners.

    That's something advantageous that CRS has is this relationship with the church, that we can come into countries with this [pre-existing] relationship. It's great when you have an emergency. They know all the communities; you can get an assessment done very quickly. You know who you are dealing with. You are not flying in there [saying], "Who are all the players?" You already have instant players, and they also have relationships at the government level. It's a very good strategy.

    CRS does not directly implement projects here. We have one area … where we did not have a strong church partner to work with. We attempted to work with a church partner, but they just did not have the staff. So now, we have CRS staff [consisting] of 12 local hires that are running the project, but it's quite small.

    The rest of our projects in the country are implemented through church partners. These would be with diocesan social pastorates. Each diocese has its own office, which deals with everything from education, to health, to agriculture, the priorities of each diocese. They have their own staff recruited.

    They implement these programs, and we support them both technically and financially. This is how we work in a lot of countries around the world. This is the model.

    About the author

    • Andrew Wainer

      Andrew Wainer is director of policy research for Save the Children. He was formerly a senior immigration policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. He has also worked as a journalist and social researcher in Latin America and the United States. Andrew’s research and journalism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese.