Transforming Indigenous Girls in Guatemala into Leaders

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TACOMA, Washington — Guatemala, where the public education system is inadequately funded, has one of the worst gender and ethnic equity disparities in the Americas. Indigenous women in particular are constrained by discrimination and a patriarchal society. In a nation unable to support them, three Indigenous girls in Guatemala, Elvira, Maria Florinda and Yessica, took part in an initiative to install lending libraries in their rural villages. The initiative and the girls’ one-of-a-kind school, the MAIA Impact School, is increasing educational resources for children amid the pandemic and transforming young Mayan girls into community leaders.

Educational Challenges in Guatemala

Children in Guatemala do not have access to the same quality of education. Guatemala spends 2.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) on education, compared to an average of 5% regionally. The government provides free education to children for six years but even then, poor families struggle to pay for supplies. Rural schools in Guatemala lack quality teachers and sufficient materials or classroom equipment. The most disadvantaged from the system are poor, Mayan girls from rural villages.

By the time an indigenous girl in Guatemala is 18 years old, she is five times more likely to bear a child than graduate high school. Only 20% of indigenous girls graduate secondary school and less than 1% continue their education at a university. Girls in poor indigenous families are subject to domestic work, early and frequent pregnancy and a cycle of generational poverty. They are kept from opportunities and choices that allow them to fully participate in society.

The MAIA Impact School and its Girl Pioneers

The MAIA Impact school is the first of its kind in Central America. Opened in 2017, the school recognizes the potential of indigenous girls in Guatemala. It provides them with an education that rigorously challenges them, embraces their culture and emphasizes socioemotional development and family engagement. In an effort to reflect those they teach, the school’s faculty is 86% indigenous and 82% female. Through its many partnerships, the school provides its students with an education unlike any other in rural Guatemala. The students that attend the school are called “Girl Pioneers.” They are changing the status quo for women and many are the first in their families to receive an education past the third grade.

“As students and the future leaders of our country, we want to see a more equitable society, where everyone can access information from around the world,” said Elvira, Maria Florinda and Yessica, featured in Assembly, the Malala Fund’s digital publication.

COVID-19 Efforts

The community libraries are the latest MAIA school effort to curb the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. MAIA students are able to learn remotely with school provided data-loaded tablets. Many other students in their communities do not have the same resources for remote learning. With the help of their parents and the community, the girls built small community lending libraries with assorted books in different reading levels as well as antibacterial gel. The libraries are a small way of encouraging continued literacy and education in the community.

The school and girl pioneers have addressed many other issues during the pandemic. The school has provided its students and their families with food baskets, girl pioneers launched family gardens and worked with local leadership to provide food support to 270 households in their communities. MAIA partnered with Humans in Action to deliver masks to its students and their families and provided MAIA moms with jobs making masks.

The MAIA Impact school is a breakthrough for the education of indigenous girls in Guatemala. Education has the power to change nations and these girls are the change. They are making changes right now even amid the pandemic. They are future politicians, journalists and scientists, who will be the voices for their underrepresented communities. Education has the power to transform lives and every girl deserves the chance.

– Johana Vazquez
Photo: Flickr

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