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Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala

by Asociacion Estrella de Mar
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Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Education & Empowerment for Girls in Guatemala
Girl Pioneers, Photo by Anna Watts
Girl Pioneers, Photo by Anna Watts

The past few weeks have been unforgettable. As we watch the COVID-19 situation evolve in the US and Europe, our hearts go out to our friends whose lives are deeply affected by this pandemic. Guatemala is still approaching the intensive phase. We expect our situation will grow more critical very soon. 

Today's news is tough to endure. Many in the MAIA community are used to being a part of the solution (not sitting something out and "sheltering in place"). Your investment in Girl Pioneers continues to be critical; you, too, play a key part in this solution. We confess that for the first part of last week we were just focused on trying to maintain the course. Our concern was to get Girl Pioneers their academic kits in time to keep up their momentum. Over the past few days, we have had more time to reflect and assess. 

We have always said MAIA was built to respond. Of course, we never imagined how we would react to a global pandemic. However, as our heads pivot back and forth from the global situation to the realities of rural Guatemala, we realize that MAIA has some critical resources that can make a big difference. Thanks to our incredible supporters, MAIA has been creating invaluable social capital for over 10 years. With the onset of COVID-19, we realize that now is the time to use it. 

Clearly, no country is ready for this virus. MAIA is acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of Guatemala’s rural areas, where access to health services and information was extremely limited before the pandemic. Many of you who have visited MAIA can identify with the major concerns around access to information about how to prevent and address COVID-19. Families in rural Guatemala often do not speak Spanish and cannot read. There is precious little information flowing back and forth from these villages. 

MAIA is uniquely qualified to respond to this challenge, and we need to pivot. MAIA's wholehearted belief in the "Girl Effect" has equipped hundreds of Girl Pioneers and staff in over 100 remote communities with the knowledge and know-how to lead and educate. These Girl Pioneers come from supportive families and village councils in communities familiar with MAIA. MAIA’s entire intervention has been designed to be culturally relevant. 

WE ARE ONTO SOMETHING...

Over the past few days, MAIA tested out a few messages in three Maya languages on social media. These messages have been viewed by over 25,000 people in Guatemala in just a few days. Clearly, we are onto something. How can MAIA strategically utilize its resources to help fill this critical information gap? Here’s what we are assessing:

  • Production: Low-tech educational videos and audio spots can be made easily. MAIA is consulting with experts to ensure that the information we disseminate is accurate, current and contextualized.
  • Sharing information among villages: Just 14% of families in MAIA have access to a smartphone. Radio is still a widely used medium for communication. How can we combine our insights with new and traditional techniques to get messages into the villages?
  • Competencies at work: It is not easy to discern accurate information and strategically share it. How can Girl Pioneers maximize their vocal empowerment, critical thinking, and resilience to address this enormous need?
  • Sharing information from the villages: How can Girl Pioneers act as conduits and advocates of information out of the villages? 

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Girl Pioneers in Science Class Photo by Anna Watts
Girl Pioneers in Science Class Photo by Anna Watts

Why is it important for girls to learn and excel in STEM not only in the classroom, but in the workforce as well? STEM is science, technology, engineering, and math, careers considered to be the changing forces for the future. It is estimated that 65 to 85 percent of jobs today will no longer exist in the next 20 to 30 years, in large part due to automation and ever-changing local and global economies. Women in developing countries are most threatened by this change because they are overrepresented in occupations that are most likely to become automated. The STEM fields are some of the fastest growing sectors of the global job market; however, women only represent 35 percent of the student body pursuing university degrees in STEM fields. 

MAIA believes in the importance of representation. When girls and women lead innovation, they make it more inclusive, impact a larger population, and act as role models for more girls to get involved in this field in the future. 

In Guatemala, the opportunity for indigenous women in STEM is almost nonexistent. This marginalization is reflective of greater social context, the poor quality of public education, and gender and cultural norms. According to the Ministry of Education’s 2017 national assessment of high school graduates, only 9.6 percent are considered proficient in math, only .59 percent better than the 2016 results. Similarly, in literacy only 32 percent of high school graduates are considered proficient, a .01 percent improvement from the previous year. This problem is compounded when considering that only 10 percent of indigenous girls graduate from high school and 1 percent receive a university degree. 

The MAIA Impact School is working to transform these statistics and provide the tools Girl Pioneers need to have a choice-filled life and become leaders in the industry of their choice. MAIA offers a rigorous, culturally adapted curriculum that is delivered by educators who are pioneers in their own fields and come from the same rural towns as the Girl Pioneers. MAIA’s educators are powerful local role models for girls in Guatemala. 

Marlen, MAIA’s natural science educator, is from a small town in the Guatemalan highlands. When she was deciding on her career path, Marlen wanted to study agroforestry in university but was met with resistance from her family—they believed this was not a woman’s career. Marlen fought for her beliefs and passions and pursued her career as an agronomist. It was challenging for Marlen to follow her dreams and overcome deeply embedded stereotypes of what a woman’s career should be in rural Guatemala. Her graduating class was equally balanced, 50 percent men and 50 percent women. However, only 11 percent of the women were indigenous. During her studies, Marlen became passionate about soil preservation and climate change but would hit brick walls when trying to engage with adults in her community on this topic. Many adults already had their minds made up and would not respect her expertise as a woman in a male-dominated field. That’s why Marlen sought opportunities as an educator, where she could teach passionate young students who have open minds and want to make a difference in the world. Once she was hired as MAIA’s natural science educator at the Impact School, she found that she was in the perfect place to teach the next generation of changemakers in an organization that is breaking paradigms just as she did. 

MAIA is a bold organization that asserts the right of indigenous girls to pursue a high-quality education by emboldening them to use their voice in spaces where indigenous women’s representation has been limited, especially in STEM and technology. Divisions in access to technology reflect socioeconomic divisions and amplify the lack of access to opportunities marginalized groups face in developing countries. By investing in computers, a cutting-edge science lab, talented local educators, and intentional partnerships, MAIA is ensuring Girl Pioneers will have the skills and opportunities to become leaders in STEM fields.

Indigenous culture is integrated with MAIA’s identity and academic instruction, this is important because it creates an environment that is familiar and fertile for learning. One example of the integration of indigenous identity and academics is MAIA’s Zayed Sustainability Garden. MAIA was awarded the 2019 Zayed Sustainability Prize as the most “innovative and inclusive school in the Americas” and received $100,000 to launch the Zayed Garden at the Impact School. The Zayed Garden combines STEM learning opportunities with traditional Mayan farming practices, organic gardening techniques, and nutrition. As part of the Zayed curriculum, Girl Pioneers learn about traditional medicinal plants as well as organic and permaculture gardening. By integrating medicinal plants as part of the natural science curriculum, Girl Pioneers learn to integrate the knowledge of their ancestors with STEM subjects, giving them unique insight and experience in this field.

Claudia, a 10th-grader, recently participated in Ella Impacta, a competition sponsored by Vital Voices in Guatemala City, and competed against students from elite schools from all over the country to receive seed funding for community-based projects. Claudia proposed a project of family gardens, where families grow organic vegetables in their homes, with the goal of increasing access to fresh vegetables but also to address the problem of malnutrition in her community. This project would increase access to nutritious organic vegetables and diminish the use of chemicals and pesticides in rural communities, thereby fortifying nutrients in the soil, protecting water sources, and sharing information and resources about the advantages of organic gardening with community members. Claudia won $1,000 in funding for her project, and is applying what she learned at the MAIA Impact School to become a changemaker in her community. She’ll use the intersection of traditional permaculture techniques and the natural science curriculum (with support from her educator, Marlen).

It is essential to establish a sense of belonging for female minorities in STEM fields. According to a study in the STEM Education Journal, the biggest reason minority groups drop out of STEM majors in university is that they feel they don’t belong in that space. This is attributed to interpersonal relationships, perceived competence, personal interest, and science identity. At MAIA, we create a positive learning environment in STEM and other culturally relevant subject areas, so Girl Pioneers feel a sense of belonging rather than alienation in these fields. We ensure they know they have the ability and expertise for any field of their choice, and if they choose to pursue a career in STEM that they have the tools they need to become leaders.

Marlen is a trailblazer in her community, ensuring younger generations can learn from her and follow her example. We see Girl Pioneers like Claudia Marisol following this path and multiplying impact to benefit the community. At MAIA, we are guided by the question “how far can she go?” and we are just beginning to witness the infinite impact of Girl Pioneers and their passion for learning and social transformation.  

Marlen, MAIA's Educator, Photo Livvy Runyon
Marlen, MAIA's Educator, Photo Livvy Runyon
Girl Pioneers at the Impact School Zayed Garden
Girl Pioneers at the Impact School Zayed Garden
Impact School Computer Lab, Photo by Livvy Runyon
Impact School Computer Lab, Photo by Livvy Runyon
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New MAIA Impact School Building
New MAIA Impact School Building

2019 has been a year of innovation and unprecedented achievement at the MAIA Impact School. Each day we witness Girl Pioneers discovering their strengths, using their voice, and thinking critically to find creative solutions to complex problems. Here are some of the highlights:

First-year with a full middle school in our new building

2019 was MAIA Impact School’s first year in our new school building and with a full middle school. Students come from over 40 different rural communities. Each of these young women is challenging decades of bias that girls don’t need an education. We have seen Girl Pioneers thrive in this environment, developing new support systems and friendships and showing us all the power in their potential.

Zayed Sustainability Prize 

This year, MAIA won the Zayed Sustainability Prize and two of our directors and one MAIA Girl Pioneer had the honor of flying to Dubai to receive this prize! With the prize funds, MAIA launched the Zayed Garden at the Impact School. The goal of the Zayed Garden is to use girls’ education as a tool to address climate change and malnutrition. At the MAIA Impact School the Zayed Garden will combine learning opportunities with traditional farming techniques and nutrition. Vegetables and herbs grown in the Zayed Garden will be used at the school’s cafeteria and as part of the natural science curriculum. Click here to read more about the Zayed Prize

First MAIA Impact School Student Government

This year the MAIA’s first student government was elected. These Girl Pioneers represent the student body and think critically about the importance of representation at the impact school, and on a national level.
"It’s important for students, children, and women to be a driving force for change. Women are empowered to make their own decisions, and they are able to change the world and their communities. We have a voice and vote and should exercise this right. Girl Pionner, Claudia. Click here to read more about what the student government has to say about representation.

Girls Bill of Rights 

For the International Day of the Girl, Girl Pioneers submitted their response to the International Girl’s Bill of Rights. MAIA’s very own Angelica was selected as a panelist to create the final declaration of the Girl’s Bill of Rights and presented this declaration to UN Women as part of their Day of the Girl celebration.Click here to read more about the International Girl’s Bill of Rights 

MAIA Educator Presents at Math Conference in San Diego, CA (USA)

Yolanda (MAIA’s Math Educator) presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the largest gathering of math educators in North America. This once-shy, quiet student has become a leader in mathematics and presented her paper on “Global Lessons from Rural Guatemala on the Empowerment of Women and Girls through Mathematics” at the conference. Click here to read more about her experience as a MAIA Educator 

Zayed Sustainability Award Ceremony in Dubai
Zayed Sustainability Award Ceremony in Dubai
Yolanda teaching class, photo by Livvy Runyon
Yolanda teaching class, photo by Livvy Runyon
Girl Pioneers at Girls' Bill of Rights activity
Girl Pioneers at Girls' Bill of Rights activity
Girl Pioneers candidates for Student Government
Girl Pioneers candidates for Student Government

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Mentorship class
Mentorship class

Mentorship is one of the cornerstones of our work and is key to our success. It’s an investment in the soft skills that aren’t normally a priority in traditional schools. Centered their model around empowerment, MAIA’s mentors support Girl Pioneers to build resiliency, overcome challenges, achieve goals, learn about their rights, become active members in bettering society, and implement routines that are vital for healthy youth development. MAIA’s mentorship programs instill confidence in students and improve their interpersonal skills. Youth development is especially important in Guatemala where almost half of the population is under age 18.

Mentors at the MAIA Impact School wear various hats—most comparable to a mixture of teacher, guidance counselor, school psychologist, and friend. They lead their mentorship group through a curriculum that delves into topics that wouldn’t otherwise be discussed at school or at home. Mentors don’t just impart lessons; they listen, give advice, challenge, and encourage Girl Pioneers to reflect upon their own lives. Their job is to help the girls in whatever capacity is needed so they can achieve their goals.

Becoming a MAIA mentor is a rigorous process. The qualities we look for when hiring mentors is the ability to listen and offer encouragement, adapt to a variety of situations, find solutions, and, above all, demonstrate empathy. Five of our six current mentors are former Girl Pioneers. They understand the challenges their mentees are facing because they come from the same communities, speak the same Mayan language, and understand the local context.

MENTORSHIP CLASS

With MAIA’s support, Irma graduated from high school in 2010. When she first joined the MAIA mentorship program, she was shy and three years behind in school. In 2015, she graduated from high school, and today she is enrolled in university, studying social work while working as a mentor at the MAIA Impact School. Irma starts her weekly mentorship classes with a vocal empowerment activity designed to help her students discover the power of their own voice and how they can exercise their voices to ask questions, share ideas, and communicate effectively. They then go on to explore topics ranging from nutrition and menstruation to rights and civic engagement. All this information provides a holistic education that will empower them to make safe, healthy choices.

HOME VISITS

Each family receives a monthly home visit. Every Sunday, mentors venture out into the communities to visit the girls and their families in their homes, conducting about five visits per day. Both parents are required to participate unless it is a single parent household, and younger siblings are encouraged to join in as well. Mentors work within themes such as identifying and communicating about their emotions, discussing household chores and cleanliness, and sharing what their daughter is learning in school so they do not feel threatened by her education or left behind.

On a recent home visit, Mayra, a MAIA graduate and mentor, compared pictures of tidy and untidy houses with the family. Then they took 20 minutes to clean their own house, washing plates, folding clothes, and sweeping as needed. Afterward, Mayra asked each family member which chores they felt comfortable doing. At the end, everyone from the father to the youngest child had an assigned chore so they could all participate in domestic duties.

ONE ON ONE MENTORSHIP

Outside of class and home visits, mentors meet one on one with each of their mentees at least once a month, more often if needed. Mentors use the WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) goal-setting system to teach Girl Pioneers that their goals are achievable (not just daydreams) and support them to create an action plan or road map for achieving their goals week by week. With these lessons, Girl Pioneers are learning to create healthy habits and make good decisions that they will carry with them as they continue to develop into empowered women.

GIRL PIONEERS' FAVORITE MENTORSHIP THEMES:

“My favorite theme in mentorship class was learning about different abilities because it helped me discover more about myself.” —Débora, 9th grade

“My favorite topic was Ruksana (a young woman from India who was featured in the Girl Rising series) because I learned about the life of a girl from another place and how it connected to my life and my situation.” —Bernardina, 9th grade

“My favorite topic was the meaning of MAIA because we learned what the real meaning is so we can explain it in our own words.” —Lucero, 8th grade

“I liked learning to organize my time to take advantage of every minute so I have time to do everything I need to do.” —Aura, 8th grade

“My favorite theme was personal hygiene because they told me how to bathe myself, how many times a week, and that personal hygiene is very important for how we present ourselves.” —Alicia, 7th grade

“My favorite theme was my ambitious dream because we learned to keep trying to move forward and achieve our dreams.” —Vilma, 7th grade

Mentorship Home Visit
Mentorship Home Visit
Mentorship class
Mentorship class
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Organization Information

Asociacion Estrella de Mar

Location: El Tablón, Sololá - Guatemala
Website:
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Project Leader:
Jenny Dale
Canton El Tablon, Solola Guatemala
$94 raised of $25,000 goal
 
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