Women Work Together

Mission Statement Women Work Together supports women and girls in highland Guatemala in their efforts toward gender equality, focusing on girls' access to education. Our mission is to raise the socio-economic status of Guatemalan women and girls by cultivating and strengthening their ability to work effectively in groups and aspire to leadership, thus accelerating positive changes in their lives and in their communities. We believe that the cycle of poverty and powerlessness endemic to rural Mayan women can be broken through systemic grassroots change that values and invests in girls' education and leadership. To accomplish this, we have taken an uncommon path in Latin America, partnering ...
Aug 13, 2013

Big Sisters - A "Magic Ingredient" in Little Sisters' School Success

In preparation for this posting, I asked Nancy Fabiola Pérez Orozco de Navarro, who runs Las Hermanitas in 5 of San Pedro’s 13 rural middle schools, to pass along some news about the relationships she’s seen develop between some of the Big and Little Sisters in the program.

Two of these stories follow, alternating paragraphs in English with the original Spanish to share Nancy’s personal voice here, too. Nancy grew up in San Pedro Sacatepéquez and persevered in school herself to earn a degree in psychology. Skillful at engaging with children and adults, she is married to an agricultural engineer and is the mother of 3 young boys (including twins!). Nancy is a terrific role model for the girls, just by being who she is and doing what she does.

From Nancy… How your generosity and caring is changing lives:

A couple of weeks ago we went to the different primary schools to monitor the younger girls’ progress. We met with the primary school teachers in San José El Cedro who mentioned that the girls had made a lot of progress and that they were achieving at grade level. We made several visits to the girls’ homes and we learned that the Big Sisters are doing great work.  The mothers are very grateful to their daughters’ tutors because they have seen the academic improvement.

Hace dos semanas nos fuimos a las diferentes escuelas de primaria a monitoriar el avance de las niñas.  Encontramos a las maestras de la escuela de primaria de San José El Cedro, las cuales mencionaron que las niñas han avanzado muy bien y que ganarán el grado. Realizamos algunas visitas domiciliares a las casas de las niñas y nos dimos cuenta que las señoritas están haciendo una gran labor.  Las madres de familia están muy agradecidas con las tutoras de sus hijas porque han visto el avance académico.

In El Cedro there are two cases that really get my attention. One is Karen (Karen Elisabeth Fuentes Velásquez).  A little girl who did not like to study, Karen went off to school at 8 AM and during 10 AM recess she ran away and went home, saying that she didn’t like it. Her mother, when she would see her arrive home told her, “Clearly you’re going to be like your brother who was in his first-year of middle school and dropped out because he didn’t like school.” But since Yeyli (Yeyli Rutilia Lopez Miranda) is coming to her house, the little girl, like magic, no longer runs away from school, rather she attends all her classes. It’s still hard for her to make good grades, but at least she’s now consistent and we hope she will catch up and achieve at grade level. Last year she was promoted as a matter of convenience and reading and writing are still hard for her, so her tutor had to start teaching her from the beginning.

En el Cedro existen dos casos que me llaman mucho la atención.  Uno es el de Karen, (Karen Elisabeth Fuentes Velásquez). Una niña que no le gustaba estudiar, Karen se iba a la escuela a las ocho de la mañana y a las diez a la hora de receso se escapaba y se iba a su casa, diciendo que no le gustaba.  Su mamá por su parte cuando la veía llegar le decía: “De plano va a ser igual que su hermano que estaba en primero básico y se retiró porque no le gustaba la escuela.” Pero desde que Yeyli  (Yeyli Rutilia Lopez Miranda), está llegando a su casa, la niña como “arte de magia”, ya no se escapa de la escuela sino que recibe todas sus clases.  Todavía le cuesta sacar buenas calificaciones pero ahora ya está constante y esperamos que se pueda recuperar y ganar su grados. El año pasado ganó su grado por conveniencia y todavía le cuesta mucho leer y escribir, pues su tutora le tocó enseñar desde el principio.

The other case is Elicela (Elicela Francisca Velásquez Pérez), a little girl with physical disabilities who in a way has been discriminated against by the rest of the boys and girls. (In the photo you can’t appreciate it very well, but one of her legs is shorter than the other.) Ever since Carmelita, her tutor, came to work with her, the little girl has realized that she can achieve many goals, and now she is one of the best in her class. Eliclea’s mother is very happy with Carmelita since she has seen such a big change in her daughter. The teacher also remarked on the little girl’s improvement and the consistency that Carmelita has shown in the content of what she is teaching.

El otro caso es de Elicela (Elicela Francisca Velásquez Pérez), una niña con una deficiencia física, que en cierta forma ha sido discriminada por sus demás compañeros y compañeras. (En las fotos no se aprecia muy bien, pero una de sus piernas es más corta que la otra.) Desde Carmelita, su tutora, llegó a trabajar con ella, la niña se ha dado cuenta que puede alcanzar muchas metas, y ahora es una de las mejores de su clase.  La madre de Elicela está muy agradecida con Carmelita, pues ha visto un gran cambio en su hija. También la maestra explica sobre la mejoría en la niña y la constancia que Carmelita ha demostrado en los contenidos que se enseña.

With Guatemala’s 2013 school year ending in October, Women Work Together’s program director, Wendy Baring-Gould and evaluation director, Theresa Preston-Werner, will be in San Pedro Sacatepéquez September 14 – October 6.  Along with celebrating the accomplishments of the girls who participate in each of our programs and conducting program evaluations, they will be working with local staff to prepare for expanding Las Hermanitas (and our other programs) from these 5 to all 13 rural middle schools next year. More on this trip in our next update.

Your donation will help us accomplish this expansion and bring Las Hermanitas to over 1,000 Big and Little Sisters, their mothers and teachers. Remember what Nancy said, “Your caring and generosity changes lives!”

Jun 7, 2013

March 2013 Evaluating Programs--Progress Ahead

The focus for the first two weeks of our March trip to Guatemala was to support our sister organization, Mujeres Trabajan Unidas on an in-depth evaluation of our current programs.  Board member and anthropologist Dr. Theresa Preston-Werner along with Program Director Wendy Baring-Gould led the effort.

The goal for these two weeks of program evaluation was the establishment of a baseline against which we can measure the impact of each of our three projects (Family Reading Hour, The Life of My Mother, and Little Sisters) on girls’ choices to stay in school. To do this, we needed to know about the specific family situation of each girl and her experience with our projects. We are confidant that through the use of a series of quantitative and qualitative tools to learn both the outputs and outcomes of WWT’s campaign to send and keep girls in school, we will determine the best route toward ending the cycle of poverty in Guatemala.   

Each day, our team climbed into the back of a pickup and traveled into the mountains to meet with the girls and their parents. In each school, MTU personnel met with the parents of girls who are just entering básico (junior high) in order to explain the benefits of the projects and to get their permission. They also administered a survey to all of the girls, which creates a program registry and solicits household socioeconomic status information, such as the jobs of their parents and what types of homes they live in. We can compare this information to larger community-wide statistics gathered previously in order to understand the living conditions experienced by the girls in our programs. 

The results were astounding and unexpected in some cases. In one village, the girls flat out said a project was boring. Together we worked to determine the underlying reason and potential ways to make the project more appealing. In another village we learned that the girls spoke eagerly and regularly with their parents about one project but not at all about a different project. Finally, in a third village the girls suggested an entirely new way to structure a project, which has sparked excited discussion all of us.

We witnessed the projects that we developed fifteen months ago in action and changing girls’ lives. For instance, there are eighty-five girls involved in the Little Sisters project, and of those eighty-five, only two dropped out of school last year. This is an incredible success! We have also had the good fortune to observe our MTU staff in action, and each member is as passionate, hard-working, and thoughtful as we could hope for. Our days were filled with bumpy roads, delicious chicken soup lunches, and girls who use their own free time to walk for miles just to speak with us. It doesn’t get any better than that.  

May 10, 2013

Program Grows + Girls, Moms & Teachers Love It!

Now operating in 5 villages of San Pedro Sacatepéquez, San Marcos, Guatemala, Las Hermanitas – Big/Little Sisters - has added 2 new locations for the 2013 school year that began in January. Not only are new middle school girls in all 5 locations signing up to be mentors, but all of last year’s Big Sisters have re-enlisted, most choosing to work with their same Little Sister.

Recently back from nearly 5 weeks in San Pedro, Women Work Together volunteers, Wendy Baring-Gould, Program Director, and Dr. Theresa Preston-Werner, Evaluation Director, spent their first 2 weeks there visiting 16 villages to assess all our programs’ strengths and weaknesses. 

Regarding Las Hermanitas, 100% of the girls interviewed said they were excited about the project and had benefitted personally from being a Big Sister. They were clear that being mentors to their Little Sisters was a form of community service, with many indicating that this experience has contributed to their view of themselves as leaders. And, 100% of the Big Sisters reported that they’d spoken positively about Las Hermanitas with their families and friends, generating positive word-of-mouth in their village about the benefits to all of educating girls.

Thanks to our donors, and based on the girls’ feedback, each Big Sister is now equipped with a kit bag of educational materials including story and activity books plus some basic art materials. Donor generosity has also made it possible for local staff to visit each village 2x/month to run workshops with our Big Sisters, helping them generate ideas and plan activities that are engaging and focus primarily on improving their Little Sisters’ reading and math skills. Additionally, these workshops give the girls a place to work through any issues they may encounter. Staff also meets w/teachers and mothers of both Big and Little Sisters at each location to listen to their feedback and advance their support for the girls’ participation. Teachers and mothers alike report high satisfaction with the program, observing that both the younger and older girls are more successful in school and have a renewed commitment to their studies.

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