CAMY Fund 2016 visit to Guatemala

By Emily Barcklow, Senior Program Officer

In late September I embarked on an ambitious trip to Guatemala to see first-hand the work of our current grantee partners, attend the Central America Donor’s Forum, and host a site visit and bi-annual meeting for the CAMY Fund’s Advisory Committee members.

The first organization I spent time with as part of my site visits was GOJoven Guatemala. Co-project leaders, Ingrid Galvez and Josseline Estefania Velasquez spent several hours describing the successes and challenges of their project to inform departmental authorities about last year’s reform to the civil code which elevated the minimum age of marriage in Guatemala to 18.

I then had the good fortune of witnessing one of the forums that they are organizing for local authorities in 12 of the departments with the highest levels of early unions. Ingrid Galvez took advantage of the forum to describe the results of the recently concluded study by FLACSO Guatemala, Me Cambio la Vida, which addresses early marriage/unions and pregnancies. The study is well worth a read and can be viewed here.


Project leader, Ingrid Galvez, presenting the FLACSO study, Me Cambió la Vida

Josseline Velasquez presented the GOJoven Guatemala campaign “No Forced Unions” and the various institutions and organizations in attendance were presented with materials from the campaign and each made commitments to its dissemination. This particular forum, which was held in Chimaltenango, presented the opportunity for two of the CAMY Fund grantee partners to collaborate: GOJoven Guatemala and Women’s Justice Initiative.


CAMY Fund project leaders from GOJoven and Women’s Justice Initiative, from L-R: Ingrid Galvez, Sandra Cocón and Josseline Velasquez

Next stop on the visit was with Asociación AMA, based in Poptún, Petén. Petén is by far the largest department in Guatemala and is therefore broken into different regions. Poptun is the most urban of 4 municipalities that form part of Southern Petén, which include El Chal, Dolores and San Luis.

Asociación AMA recently received their official registration as an NGO in Guatemala, though they have been working for several years as a collective. Their project with the CAMY Fund, led by Leslie Mejía, has three components: leadership and skills strengthening for the 40 adolescent girls that comprise the Asociación, training on the sexuality education curriculum for primary school teachers in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and transmission of the radio program, “The ABC of Sexuality.”

First stop was with nearly 70 of the 111 teachers that the Association has worked to train this year. In an ad hoc conversation with me, they described the contexts in which they work in three of the four municipalities in Southern Petén, the challenges facing girls and boys in their schools, the importance of providing sexuality education and the benefits that they have gained from the training provided by Asociación AMA. I was deeply impressed by their interest and commitment.


Primary school teachers that have participated in Asociación AMA’s trainings

I also got a chance to see two of the teachers’ classrooms, where it was apparent from the posters on the walls that they have been teaching students age-appropriate information regarding basic anatomy and about their right to bodily integrity.

The following day I got to meet about half of Asociación AMA’s members who come from all four municipalities in Southern Petén. There was quite a bit of diversity among them in terms of their time with the Asociación and levels of leadership as well as their ethnic and linguistic make up.

I got the chance to participate in the Asociacion’s bilingual (Spanish and Q’eqchi’) radio program with several of them afterwards where they were focusing on women’s political empowerment and participation.


Participating on Asociación AMA’s radio program, “The ABC of Sexuality”

Upon my return from Petén, I headed to San Luis Jilotepeque, Jalapa, on the eastern side of Guatemala with Saul Interiano, the Co-Director of Asociación COINCIDIR. I had visited COINCIDIR in Jalapa last year and was looking forward to seeing how they had advanced with their project. In this new grant period they are continuing to grow their Adolescent Development Center and trainings and services for adolescent girls. They are engaging in a second round of training for teachers on how to create safe spaces for girls and working with middle school directors to make modifications favorable to protecting girls and guaranteeing their rights. They are also engaging parents of girls to ensure support for continuing their education. Finally, they are continuing to work with the Mayor of the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque to advocate for an increase in municipal funding for education.

When I got to the Adolescent Development Center I was impressed with how far it had come in terms of creating a warm and welcoming space for girls. Benilda Martínez, the project leader, and I enjoyed a game of ping pong as we waited to go out to visit one of the schools where they are working (we later also played a game of pick-up soccer with girls from the Center).


Benilda and I play ping pong at the Adolescent Development Center

First stop was one of the middle schools whose students, teachers and administrators they have been working with. They showed me the bathroom with separate stalls for girls and boys that they had negotiated with the school’s administration to build, at the request of the adolescent girls.


Bathrooms that were built by COINCIDIR at X middle school at the request of adolescent girls

They also showed me a new computer lab which the municipality has built and furnished with the support of the Ramiro Castillo Foundation. The computer lab was one of the top demands that the Coordinating Body for Adolescent Girls, guided by COINCIDIR, had made to the incoming Municipal Mayor last year as part of this project.


Beneficiaries of COINCIDIR at the municipal computer lab

I met many of the girls that form part of COINCIDIR’s adolescent girl beneficiary population over the next two days, mostly over meals and in spontaneous and informal conversations at the Adolescent Development Center. What I was struck by was the repeated story that girls had limited academic options for upper secondary schooling and that many were unable to continue on after middle school because they didn’t have the support of their parents or the financial solvency at home to pay for the additional costs that it incurred.


Teachers from middle schools in San Luis Jilotepeque at the workshop for creating a proposal for safer schools for girls

On the second day of my visit I observed a workshop with around 20 middle school teachers from the municipality that convened in the Adolescent Development Center for the first of four sessions to identify ways that their schools could be safer for young girls and to formulate proposals to make changes in this regard. I was very impressed with the participatory pedagogy that the Director of COINCIDIR used for the workshop and the seriousness of their methodology. Particularly of note was the Index for the Protection of Children and Adolescents that they asked teachers to fill out in order for them to rank their schools and identify where they need to focus attention in order for girls to feel safe.


Teachers in the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque filling out the Index for the Protection of Children and Adolescents

After two days with COINCIDIR I said goodbye and returned to Guatemala City and then on to Antigua for the Central America Donor’s Forum. It was great to be there with other interested stakeholders in the region, especially with the work of our grantees so fresh in my mind.

Following the forum, the CAMY Fund organized a site visit for our Advisory Committee members with our grantee, Women’s Justice Initiative. Before heading out to see them, Ana Lucía Ramizzini, co-author of the FLACSO study, Me Cambió la Vida, gave us all an inspired and moving presentation of the key results. Having those results in mind was particularly useful for visiting with WJI, whose project focus is around early and forced marriages in rural Kaqchikel communities in Chimaltenango. Since last year, WJI has been working with girls, their mothers and community leaders in nine communities in order to increase self-esteem, knowledge and skills among girls and improve support for them within their families and their broader community.

We drove to the community of Chuiquel in Patzún, Chimaltenango, where we had been on our site visit last year. In communities where they worked last year WJI is engaging in reinforcement workshops with girls to strengthen skills and go deeper on certain topics. We observed a girls club session on the difference between sex and gender with about 20 girls. Sandra Cocón, the project leader, led the session in Kaqchikel, which aimed to distinguish between what is “inherent” to being a girl and what is “optional,” with domestic chores, marriage and child rearing in the latter category. I found the content exhilarating and it was incredible to see the difference in the girls in one year. Whereas in 2015 they were very shy and reserved, this year they were vocal and participatory.


WJI girls club session led by project leader, Sandra Cocón

Following the session we met with three community leaders who have been working with WJI to develop Community Action Plans. They were very clear on the challenges facing young girls and incredibly committed to informing and involving parents in preventing early unions and extending schooling for girls. They discussed their understanding of some of the root causes for why girls get married and have children early in their community and asked us to share what we have learned from how the issue has been addressed in other countries.


Meeting with community leaders

We ended our visit with a lunch with the entire WJI staff, comprised of 10 incredible women leaders. They shared the other work they are engaged in, specifically in regards to providing legal literacy courses for women, strengthening women community advocates and providing diverse legal services to women.

All in all, the various site visits that I carried out in Guatemala over the course of 10 days, were extremely informative and inspiring. The projects and leaders that we are supporting are truly committed and serious about their work and have shown incredible results to date.

Though I was unable to visit WINGS Guatemala, one of our other grantees, on my trip, I spoke with Fidelia Chub, the project leader, afterwards by phone and was very pleased to hear that their work to train youth leaders and provide young people in four states with youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, is advancing well.

Congratulations to all of our grantees and project leaders in Guatemala!