Cash transfers offer respite to families during COVID-19

Telma gets up at 3 a.m. every day to prepare more than 100 pancakes.

Por: Rodrigo Mussap
30 September 2020

Telma gets up at 3 a.m. every day to prepare more than 100 pancakes. At 6 a.m. she takes them through the narrow alleys of Santo Domingo El Tuerto, a hamlet in Barrio Gerona, zone 1, to her stall on a busy street in Guatemala City.

Telma Paz, 36, and her three children, aged 4, 9 and 11, live in a single-room home that measures less than 24 square meters, where Telma ingeniously placed several shelves and cupboards to separate the kitchen from the sleeping area and the work and study space. Telma and her children benefit from the Bono Familia programme, implemented by the Guatemalan government to provide cash transfers through the Ministry for Social Development (MIDES) with support from UNICEF and the World Bank. The purpose of this programme is to support families during the lockdown period and mitigate the economic crisis created by COVID-19.


Telma recalls that a few months ago, at the beginning of March, when COVID-19 had not reached the country, she used to sell 300 pancakes a day. However, when the State of Public Calamity was declared on March 9 due to the pandemic, she was unable to leave her home. With a strict lockdown that paralyzed the country, Telma’s income, like that of many other Guatemalan families, was seriously affected. In addition to making pancakes, Telma also works as a seamstress, for instance fixing hems in trousers and skirts, but she lost that source of income.

In Guatemala around 60 percent of the population lives in poverty and extreme poverty, and about 11.8 percent of homes have no access to electricity. Furthermore, 70 percent of the economy is informal, which means that most of the families in the country were seriously affected by the lockdown.

The arrival of the pandemic in Guatemala showed that the country’s health and social protection coverage is deficient. But at the same time, it also offered an opportunity to strengthen the social protection system in Guatemala to move forward in reaching the most vulnerable sectors of society and provide them comprehensive support.

The Bono Familia programme has as an eligibility criterion the households with electric power consumption below than 200 kWw in all the country and seeks to prioritize persons living in poverty, single mothers, older adults, persons suffering from disabilities, chronic or degenerative diseases and families with malnourished children. Telma, who is part of this target group, learned about the initiative through the media and soon afterwards found out that her electric bill entitled her to the benefits of the Bono Familia.

“When I saw that we qualified for the programme, I quickly activated it through a text message. I was assigned a code and with it I was able to withdraw the funds from an ATM machine at the supermarket near my home,” Telma notes.


“With the money I received I was able to buy food for my children, because my greatest fear was not being able to afford food for them. I used some of the money to buy flour for pancakes and fabric to make reusable masks, which I’m selling now,” says Telma. She was able to download a novel pattern for three-layer masks that include a washable filter. This turned into a business that has helped her make ends meet.

Her oldest daughter, Carli, 11, used to take a public rickshaw to go to the local school, but now she receives instruction on national TV and through guides that are sent to her mother. “Now we stay at home most of the time; I have seen some of my friends on the street, but we hardly leave the house to stay safe”, says Carli.

Telma works tirelessly to put healthy food on the table and uses all the tools available to keep her three children from lagging behind at school. All of this while ensuring that love and unity prevail in this family’s home.


“I have seven friends, but I have only seen one, and only once, for many months. What I miss the most is my friends,” says Kaileb, 9.

Bono Familia are of great value for Telma’s family finances and those of millions of families in Guatemala. Now that they have received the second transfer she can sleep more easily and dream about a better future for her three children.

In record time, and in an unprecedent effort, the Ministry for Social Development was able to develop a technological platform that allowed it to register and keep records on beneficiaries. It provided the installed capacity needed for creating an important building block for the social protection system in the country.

Family education

The technological platform it developed allowed it to ensure transparency and monitor compliance with the Bono Familia. UNICEF and the World Bank provided technical and financial support for developing this platform. This social protection programme benefits more than 2.5 million families. Each household receives Q.1,000.00 (USD $130.00) for three months.

Whenever we guarantee social protection, there is hope

For more information:

Carlos Carrera
UNICEF Guatemala Representantive

Alejandra Contreras
Social Policy Specialist