This year's Thanksgiving will be especially important to Abriendo Oportunidades. We are celebrating 10 years of the program, 10,000 girls, over 150 mentors trained, sessions in 8 different languages and, as of, 2014, expanding through partners across Mesoamerica. It remains a program built on committment and love from our small local staff, volunteers, and friends who are convinced that investing in adolescent girls is key to Guatemala's development.
Our celebration this Nov 27 will have as guests of honor many of the members of the first generation of Abriendo. We will celebrate their achievements. Some of our first participants graduated college this year, others are leading programs such as providing legal services to indigenous women and increasing participation of women in economic activities. Some have become school teachers or opened their own businesses. We are grateful for all they have taught us in terms of the challenges faced by indigenous girls, their dreams and aspirations, and the brave paths they have chosen to achieve their goals.
We are thankful for you, our globalgiving friends, who support our mentors and girls in distant communities in Guatemala.
The Population Council's team in Guatemala is often asked "how do you train your mentors?" The Guatemala program is part of a long tradition of evidence-based programming that adapts content and methodology to each country's needs. Last week, mentors from Alta Verapaz and Izabal spent a week in Guatemala City learning curriculum content, practicing sessions, and participating in lectures, museum visits and activities that will strengthen their understanding of Guatemala, rural communities, and adolescent girls' rights. They also participated in their first tag rugby workshop, lead by the Guatemala Rugby Club. We hope to raise enough funds to provide each of our 50 new communities with a tag rugby kit.
Training workshops take place every quarter. The structure of the workshops allows mentors to learn new life skills, prepare sessions, and discuss sensitive topics such as gender-based violence, poverty, and barriers to higher education. Workshops also offer an opportunity to spend time in a safe, friendly enviornment where they strengthen their friendships and meet like-minded young women.
Abriendo Oportunidades has secured funding to expand to one hundred communities in Chisec, Alta Verapaz. Fundrasing for scale-up was a challenge but we are finally able to begin training activities for twenty mentors in the area. Donations received through Global Giving will contribute to training and materials for mentors and group leaders.
We are also very excited about coaching other organizations to start or improve their girl-centered programs. Ten organizations will work with Guatemala's Population Council team to conduct needs assessments, identify key populations, program content and monitoring and evaluation strategies. Scaling up through partners is a wonderful way to bring Abriendo to adolescent girls in areas far from our traditional geographic region.
Thank you for your continuing support. We want to express special thanks to the Colom family and friends for donations given in memory of Gustavo Colom and to Francisco Colom for choosing Abriendo Oportunidades as a program worth investing in.
The following is a postcard from Lydia Sorensen, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in Guatemala, about her recent visit to Population Council.
High up in the mountains of Guatemala, in a little pueblo called Xesacmalja, there is a growing movement towards women empowerment. In a community where it was the norm (and for some still is) for girls to marry around twelve or thirteen, and start having children not much later, some young women have begun to work to change that. As one participant, Angelica, explained to me, having an Abriendo Oportunidades group here has changed their way of thinking. Before, she says, she thought perhaps to go to the US, but now she wants to stay and work within her community. It’s a testament to the power of this project, and her own strength, that it’s hard to believe the confident and well-spoken young woman describing her group is the same one as the timid girl she says she was before.
Angelica is just one of the over thirty girls and young women Population Council is working with in Xesacmalja. The younger girls (starting at age 8) attend a weekly group led by a mentor named Elizabeth, who is a former member of a girl group herself. They gather in a safe place (here it’s a community center) where they can express themselves without fear of repercussions, to learn about health, human rights, and self-esteem. The older girls are part of a network that is working to improve their community as a whole. Someday the network hopes to continue the work that Abriendo Oportunidades has started and expand to new communities to help other girls.
In this K’iche’ community, change is in the air. Girls gather to play futbol in front of the local school, and supervise the painting of the community building. They confidently talk about their problems, and the challenges that women in their community face, not just to each other but with outsiders as well. More than anything, however, is the overwhelming feeling of hope, and optimism for the future, that fills the thin mountain air. Angelica and the other young women are improving the situation for women here, and it’s just a matter of time before they improve things in other locations as well.
We started 2014 with more interest and support from people in Guatemala and the United States who want to give to Abriendo Oportunidades. We are very grateful for their support. Their donations not only allow us to continue covering basic field costs but also helps us make girls more visible. We want more and more people to think about adolescent girls, talk about their needs, and get others involved.
We have already recieved various visitors to some of the Abriendo communities. David T. Ives from the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University gave us permission to share his impressions on his visit to an Abriendo Oportunidades community in Chisec, Alta Verapaz.
"Many people [in Guatemala] especially indigenous people, live in abject poverty. However, there are programs that provide hope. Often programs empowering women offer the most hope for improving the economic means of families. One such program that my students and I visited in Guatemala is called Opening Opportunities [...] Both my students and I were very impressed with Opening Opportunities and how they were empowering young women. This is the best way to help families’ live better lives in the long run. I look forward to seeing the results."
The girls of Abriendo Oportunidades are grateful for the support of their recurring donors and families who choose Abriendo as a project worth supporting to honor their loved ones.
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Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala,