People of Guatemala ~ Meet Petronila and Maria

Updated: Mar 10, 2019

by Sharon ~


Hi friends, I love that series Humans of New York and I started to do something similar for the People of Guatemala, but then I became ill and left. I am starting again as I think that it is fascinating to learn about people's lives.


Petronila is 14 years old and will be 15 on June 3rd. She is in 6th grade and her dream is to become a nurse. Her mother, Maria is 53 years old. She was born one of 10 children in her family. She was the oldest. 5 of her siblings died when they were very young as they could not afford medical care. A 16-year-old brother disappeared during the war. He went to work in Guatemala City and was never heard from again. They searched for him but he was never found. Unfortunately, it is a common story for that time. Maria never had the chance to go to school. She does not speak Spanish. She speaks Kakchiquel. She was given in an arranged marriage when she was 14 years old. This was the custom in those days. She was pregnant 17 times. She had 5 miscarriages and gave birth to 6 babies that passed away either when they were born or a few months later. She had 6 children who survived and Maria is the youngest. Her husband, Sebastian, is also 53 years old.

I asked Maria what was her happiest day and she said that since she left her mother and father. She said she has never really been happy. It was very traumatic for her to get married so young and to have so many pregnancies. She said that she had a month or two rest after each pregnancy and then she was pregnant again. After the last child died, she made the decision to move back and live with her parents. It was only when she moved back with her parents that her 6 children survived.

Her mother still lives with her and is 77 years old. Her mother now has the bottom of her leg near the ankle very swollen and very purple. The mother cries because she is in so much pain but Maria cannot afford to send her for medical care.

Sebastian, her husband works in the fields when he can. But he also has a foot problem and some days he is in so much pain he cannot walk.

They lost their home in mudslides during the hurricane. They now have built a small house made of cornstalks. The floor is dirt and the roof is made of old, rusty tin sheets. They have no electricity and no water connected. The children who are still studying have to do all their homework before dark or else they have to do it by candlelight.

They have one bed with a mattress. The mother, the father and Maria sleep in the bed. On the floor, on wooden planks with no mattresses, sleep the grandmother, the older brother, Hector - 20 years old, and Rebeca who is 24 years old. Rebeca is getting married on March 14th and will go to live with her husband's family.


Petronila dreams of becoming a nurse. She does not currently have a sponsor to study. It costs $420 US to sponsor her for a school year.

I asked Maria if she had one wish, what would it be. She said that her greatest wish would be to have a closet where she can put her clothes, as they keep them in cardboard boxes and snakes and spiders get in there and makes it very scary for them. She also said that she would also like a cupboard to put her plates and dishes as she has to leave them outside and rats climb on them and make them dirty.

Petronila said that her one wish would be to have new traditional clothing for her 15th birthday, her quinceanera.


If anyone would like to help with these wishes, we would be delighted to help you make them happen!



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