My Visit to Guatemala

My Visit to Guatemala
April 2010

CARE has worked in Guatemala since 1959 and has developed an extensive working relationship with agencies in the public and private sectors.

In Guatemala, CARE operates projects in water and sanitation, agriculture, agro-forestry, primary health care, girl’s education and small economic activity development. I had the opportunity to visit just a few of CARE’s education and microfinance projects in Guatemala’s Sololá region, but there are many, many more!

Extending Education to “Forgotten” Communities

EDUCAN is a five year CARE education project in Central America that provides vulnerable children with a quality education and adequate nutrition in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Guatemala, CARE is partnering with the Ministry of Education and Health to reach some of the most remote and rural communities. Currently, EDUCAN is operating in 19 different communities in Guatemala.

I had the honor of visiting one of these very rural “forgotten” communities in the remote village of Caseris Pacamposante, (located at 10,000 feet). In this village, CARE is bringing education to children who would otherwise have to travel a long distance in treacherous conditions to reach the nearest school. Just last year, a young girl was caught in a mud slide on her way to the nearest school and was seriously injured.

In Caseris Pacamposante, CARE is providing teacher training and peer tutoring programs as well as supplies for the school. But the needs here remain great: 64 students are crammed in two sheds that serve as their classrooms; families live on $1 per day; and the village cannot produce enough food to feed its families for more than half the year. Community leaders here have big ideas and plans for a better future. The villager’s first hope is to build a six-room school for their children to learn in, so let me know if you want to hear more!

Opportunities for Women and Their Families

Through CARE’s micro lending programs in Guatemala (Community Banks and EDUBANCO), we have been working with women for over a decade to help them raise their standard of living and that of their families. CARE has provided training and support to over 55 groups of women in Guatemala, each with an average of 20-25 members.

Here’s how the program works: each women’s group receives training from CARE on (1) business essentials, (2) a management structure and codes of conduct for group members, (3) a lock box with 3 keys that must be used simultaneously, and (4) matching funds to help the members get their start-ups off the ground. Each member is expected to save a designated amount of money in the lock box per week and can apply to the group for a small business loan. Everything is done by consensus, making group members completely accountable to each other. CARE developed this model, which we call a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), in remote parts of Africa in the 1970’s and have found it so successful that we are spreading it to hard-to-reach regions all over the world.

In Guatemala, I had the opportunity to meet with two different women’s groups and each of the members proudly talked about the businesses they’ve formed and how involvement with CARE’s program has improved their lives. What touched my heart was how many women said that the most important thing they gained from membership in the CARE group was ‘confidence’. To understand the magnitude of that, I had to realize that these are indigenous women in rural Guatemala who face prejudice for their race and their sex. Traditionally, these women are not expected to attend school beyond the sixth grade, have no opportunities for work and are commonly married off by 13 or 14 years old.

The most common enterprises these women pursue include making and selling handicrafts and clothing at local markets, raising and selling livestock, growing and selling fruits and vegetables, making and selling sausages, tortillas and baked goods. Woman after woman shared how their daughters can now go to school, they have gained the respect of their husbands and communities and how the lives of their families have been forever changed by this program.

Leadership Training

Not only is CARE helping to train teachers and providing learning materials in schools throughout Guatemala, but CARE is also helping empower the country’s youth through leadership development. At one school I visited in the community of Chuijomil, the administration has adopted CARE’s curriculum for a student government. When I asked the class officers what they wanted to be when they grew up, they all had big dreams: teachers, lawyers, accountants and more. The officers each shared with me how proud they are to be elected into their roles and their hopes for the school in the year ahead.

CARE is also empowering young girls by encouraging role models through an after-school program across the region. Young women (grade 7 and older) volunteer their time in CARE’s after school program to teach their younger counter-parts and help them develop their leadership skills. In exchange for their help, the volunteers receive scholarships to attend secondary school – a rare opportunity for young women in Guatemala today.

On the day I visited one afterschool leadership development program, a group of professional looking volunteers were teaching the youngsters the concept of ‘theater’. Using simple household materials, the young participants put together skits that each had a message or moral. I felt privileged to have witnessed the excitement for learning and hope for a brighter future in those young faces that afternoon.

I am humbled and grateful to have seen CARE’s work first-hand and am honored to share what I’ve learned with you.

Published by Gita Matlock

Gita is a writer, speaker, and nonprofit professional. She earned a bachelors degree in international studies from Pepperdine University and a masters degree in nonprofit administration from the University of San Francisco. She has traveled extensively and held leadership positions with national and international nonprofit organizations. She was born, raised, and now resides with her husband and two children at Ananda Village, the first of eight cooperative Kriya Yoga communities founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda.

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