CAMY Fund visit to COINCIDIR
By Emily Barcklow D’Amica, CAMY Fund Program Officer
On October 6, 2015 the CAMY Fund Fellow, Gloria Díaz Jaso, and myself drove from the state of Alta Verapaz to Jalapa, Guatemala to visit CAMY Fund grantee, COINCIDIR.
Jalapa is a largely rural state located in Southeastern Guatemala in an area known for having a majority Ladino population and a strong agricultural base. In 2013, 20% of births in the state were registered to young women under 20 years of age and only 52% of young people were enrolled in secondary school. Among philanthropy circles in Guatemala, Jalapa is recognized as generating little attention from funders, despite evident need.
The CAMY Fund is supporting a project led by a young woman named Benilda Martínez in the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque, which is on the eastern side of the state. We came in through the “back door” to San Luis, along a long, dark, gravel road which gave the impression that the town of San Luis is fairly isolated. With two posadas and a very small central plaza, San Luis is the municipal seat for a population of a little over 25,000. Nearly 70% of the population in the municipality lives in poverty and 18% in extreme poverty. San Luis is the only municipality in the state where the indigenous language of Poq’omam is still spoken regularly.
COINCIDIR is a five-year old organization with a central office in Guatemala City but with work in several states: Chimaltenango, Baja Verapaz and Jalapa. Previously it had broader extension in the state of Jalapa with a former funder but when that project ended they decided to focus their work in the municipality of San Luis Jilotepeque because the majority of the young people involved were from there. In San Luis, there is a core team of four young people, including Benilda, who determine the direction of the work and carry out the day-to-day activities.
COINCIDIR is a true youth empowerment organization that follows a popular education model. Their project includes three main objectives; the first is to help girls succeed in school by creating a community development center in the town of San Luis Jilotepeque. COINCIDIR has rented a small building on a vacant lot and are in the midst of creating a space that will offer a variety of educational services to adolescents in the town and surrounding villages, such as a library, free internet access, fine arts space (sculpture, dance, music), gardening, etc. Though bare bones now, there is a world of potential for the space and we saw firsthand the enthusiasm and ownership of the young people involved. Something that I loved was that COINCIDIR has institutionalized a gender perspective in all aspects of their work. For example, they all participate in cleaning the space and preparing food, regardless of gender. They also have the intention of making the community center self-sustaining and are in the process of devising entrepreneurial strategies, such as a café, that adolescents can manage in order to keep the space going if there are gaps in outside funding.
The second objective for their project is to help girls stay in school. In order to do this, COINCIDIR is engaged in community-based advocacy with the municipal government to obtain funding for making minor but significant changes at three tele-secondary schools. These changes will help to create safe spaces for girls at school. We visited one of the schools and met with several teachers there. The teachers, who are also from the area, explained the need for a bathroom, since what they currently have is inadequate and unhygienic for the 96 students at the school.
COINCIDIR is working to leverage municipal funding to replace two schools’ bathrooms as well as create a shaded space at another school. Adolescents from the schools were selected by their peers and trained in advocacy prior to participating in advocacy meetings with the municipal authorities as well as a forum where they asked candidates to make a commitment to these school improvements. Fortunately, the candidate that was recently elected was someone that made such a commitment and COINCIDIR is optimistic that they will be able to make the changes.
The third objective for their project is to increase girls’ enrollment in school. Towards this end, COINCIDIR is in the process of providing workshops for adolescents on self-esteem, leadership and participation, sexual and reproductive health and gender relations. They will also be providing workshops to parents on the importance of girls schooling and gender equality.
In preparation for the visit, Benilda had requested a workshop on project development, which I gave to the core COINCIDIR staff in addition to some local adolescents involved in the Project.
It was wonderful to see such a collaborative youth development project and I congratulate Benilda on her leadership in coordinating all of the project’s activities.