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Books for Food Program Helps Fight Hunger in Guatemala

Bonifaz Diaz rides through the streets of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Henning Sac via AP)
Bonifaz Diaz rides through the streets of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. (Henning Sac via AP)
Books for Food Program Helps Fight Hunger in Guatemala
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A books-for-food program in Guatemala is helping feed needy children as hunger rates rise during the coronavirus crisis.

The program began about a year ago in the city of Quetzaltenango. It is run by a local nonprofit organization that aims to feed nearly 400 children.

Bonifaz Díaz works for the program. He delivers books on his bicycle to people across the area. When people receive the books, they give him food in return.

On a recent day, Díaz dropped off a sociology book to the home of a local teacher. In return, he picked up four bags of Incaparina, a high-protein drink mix widely used in the country to fight child hunger.

Guatemala has long suffered high rates of child malnutrition. But the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the problem. Since the pandemic hit, Díaz has traveled more than 2,000 kilometers on his bicycle. He has delivered loads of books and carried back thousands of kilograms of Incaparina for the nonprofit group 32 Volcanoes.

The program is simple. People choose a book they want from a list of donated titles, and in return give bags of Incaparina. By bringing the books-for-food program directly to people’s homes, the 44-year-old Díaz makes sure donations keep flowing. The hunger crisis has intensified as many people stay home to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus.

“People want to provide support, but … stay-at-home (restrictions) have gotten very strong,” said Díaz, an actor by profession. “People get motivated if I go to their home with my bike.”

Díaz sometimes pulls a small cart that helps him carry up to 57 kilograms of product. He has traveled as far as 60 kilometers for a delivery to a town in the Western Highlands, where road conditions are poor.

The World Bank estimates that nearly half of the population in Guatemala’s highlands, a majority-indigenous area, suffers from malnutrition.

Incaparina has been a lifesaving product for many families. One bag provides 24 servings and costs about $1.15. But that price is still costly for the families that 32 Volcanoes serves, said the program’s co-founder, Dr. Carmen Benítez. The number of children her group serves has increased from 120 to 382 during the pandemic.

Nearly a year into the books-for-food program, two more cyclists have joined Díaz and donations keep flowing in.

Ana Castillo is the 29-year-old high school teacher who recently received the sociology book from Diaz. She donates to the program often. The 1.8 kilograms of Incaparina she provided will help one family eat for a month.

Castillo looks forward to choosing her books from the titles Díaz posts on social media. She told The Associated Press that she also loves the feeling of a “growing circle” of giving and receiving. “You might not get to those places, but your help can,” she said.

Díaz said he plans to continue cycling against hunger as long as the need exists. He has faced his own economic difficulties since the theater company he co-founded closed last spring. But the program has kept him active.

“It’s an opportunity to serve in which we all benefit,” Díaz said.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

deliver v. to take goods from one place to another

bicyclen. a vehicle with two wheels that you sit on and move by turning two pedals

sociologyn. the study of society and the relationship between people in society

titlen. the name of a book, film, etc.

motivate v. to give someone a reason for doing something

cartn. a small vehicle that is pulled and is used for carrying goods

indigenous adj.​ produced in or existing naturally in an area​

opportunity n. a period of time or situation when something can be done

benefit v. to be helped by something