Provide Life Skills for 4000 Rural Mayan Girls

by Population Council
Tag rugby
Tag rugby

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.

mentors in Chisec are ready for scale up!
mentors in Chisec are ready for scale up!

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.

Community Center where the girls meet
Community Center where the girls meet

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.

Girls playing soccer in front of the school
Girls playing soccer in front of the school
Angelica (on right) and her fellow changemaker
Angelica (on right) and her fellow changemaker
AO girls from Chisec
AO girls from Chisec

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. 


new AO community
new AO community

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!

The rainy season adds some challenges to the work
The rainy season adds some challenges to the work

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Organization Information

Population Council

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alejandra Colom Bickford
Guatemala City, Guatemala
$39,541 raised of $50,000 goal
633 donations
$10,459 to go
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