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.
These past three months have been very busy and exciting! Abriendo Oportunidades is scaling up and incorporating a weekly radio program to add to the regular club meetings. We have started work in 50 new communities in the municipality of Chisec, a predominantly Q'eqchi' area in the department of Alta Verapaz. This region has some of the worst indicators in terms of maternal health, maternal and child mortality and early marriages and pregnancies. School drop out rate is high and girls barely finish the 6th grade.
We have an excellent team on the ground visiting communities and engaging leaders, parents and adolescent girls in AO. The mayor of Chisec has been incredibly supportive and this has helped us establish our activities more efficiently. The logistics of the scale up are great, since we have continued with our mission of reaching the poorest, most distant and forgotten communities. The pictures attached correspond to some of these villages.
We hope to add 50 new communities every year. With your support, we may reach even more!
While Abriendo Oportunidades focus will remain in investing in adolescent girls, young men from five different communities approached us to participate in some of our activities. These young men are working closely with girl leaders organizing co-ed activities as well as inviting younger boys to learn about rights, equality, and prevention of gender based violence. This past June, young male leaders from participating communities joined 45 girl leaders in a one week workshop that included activities to reflect and discuss about issues related to gender relations, myths, prejudices and possible new paradigms that will improve the life of girls in rural communities.
Girl leaders began using our new curricula after the November leaders' camp. During the past months we have observed participants' increased knowledge on the topics including the importance of safe spaces for girls to meet, gender, sorority, and self esteem. Girl leaders find the new curriculum more user friendly and the activities easy to follow and plan for. Our March leaders' camp was also successful, allowing girl leaders to practice new activities and learn new topics.
Some Abriendo Oportunidades graduates have been invited to apply to different positions to work as community outreach facilitators. Feedback from these organizations has been very positive regarding graduates' skills such as leading learning sessions, capacity to engage community leaders, and ability to plan and strategize community outreach activities. We are very happy to know that young women who benefitted from the program are now finding interesting and meaningful work in rural Guatemala.
Grassroots organizations from different parts of Guatemala have reached out to us to request that we open girl clubs in new communities. We hope that fundraising can help us expand to new areas where our program is already seen as a positive investment in girls' empowerment and education.
We are grateful for all donations received through GlobalGiving. They are allowing us to improve the quality of training camps and also cover the cost of some girl leaders' participation and materials.
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