14 mayo, 2019 -

Four young women are making education a reality for indigenous girls and women in Guatemala

UNESCO Guatemala / Mariana Samayoa
UNESCO Guatemala / Mariana Samayoa

Two UNESCO Malala Centers, established in Totonicapán, Guatemala, are empowering indigenous adolescent girls and women through education. Supported by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, the educational programmes offered by the Centers are implemented in indigenous languages, draw on indigenous culture, and build skills for personal and socioeconomic development including health and well-being, and financial autonomy.

With the help of committed coordinators like Juana, Lucero, Magdalena and Sandra, the Centers are ensuring that local communities are making education a reality for indigenous girls and women in Guatemala. This interview shares more on their efforts. 




What do you like most about your work at the UNESCO Malala Center?


Magdalena – I enjoy going to the communities and meeting families to tell them about the available opportunities through the Centers and help them register for the activities or courses. Girls and women are motivated, and the fact that I am able to speak K’iche’ with them means that they trust me and can ask me for the information they need.

Sandra – I enjoy all aspects of working at the Center. In particular, I enjoy the visits to the communities, speaking with women and informing them of the learning opportunities through the Centers, identifying those interested and helping them register, keeping in touch and supporting them to succeed. For example, even what may seem like a simple act, such as writing their name, means a lot to these women.

Lucero – I like the fieldwork, meeting with the girls and women from my community and finding out about their situation. I like giving my own time to motivate them and help build their capacities to succeed in their lives. Seeing results from this work, such as women registering for courses through CONALFA or IGER makes me really happy.

Juana – Although girls and women in this community want to pursue their education, they often need a little nudge to go forward with their wish. I enjoy helping them achieve their goals by supporting them through activities in the workshops and providing them with the tools to succeed.


What changes can you see among women participating in the activities of the Centers?


Magdalena – I noticed that the participating girls and women have changed a lot in the way they think, what they wear, how they behave. Some even look at us as a role model and realise that they can aim higher.

Sandra – One of the major changes is that women have gained significant leadership skills. Before they were shy, but through our work we motivate them, and they have changed the way they think. They are now able to envision their future and to express who they want to become. This change can be seen in the communities and schools too.

Lucero – I have noticed that women’s desire to learn is stronger than the obstacles, that they will attend the workshops regardless of the distance they have to cover from their home or whether food is provided. Women are also less afraid of participating in the workshops, and they are registering for courses via CONALFA or IGER. There are more and more women participating, sometimes calling to make sure they get a place in the workshop.

Juana – For me a major change has been how negative stereotypes, such as ‘women do not study,’ are evolving. Mothers who were not able to get an education themselves are accompanying their daughters so that they can pursue their education. Women are also now taking their own decisions, and slowly becoming more self-aware and independent. The workshops are changing their way of thinking.


How did becoming an educational coordinator change your life?


Magdalena – Through my role and thanks to UNESCO I have achieved a lot and gained new experiences. I always had a dream to graduate, and I managed, thanks to the support from my mum. But there are many girls who do not have family support, so I feel happy that I can help them as a promoter. For example, there are girls who know how to read and write but do not have a certificate, so I help them register for an evaluation to assess their skills so they can further their education.

Sandra – Becoming a promoter is a new experience and complete change for me. I am able to see the challenges and realise that as promoters we all need to train further to achieve our objectives, but the big change for me was to successfully help these women by breaking the negative thoughts they may have. Girls and women who participate see in us that they can succeed, too.

Lucero – I became a role model to my family. My grandmother, who took part in the activities of the Center, encourages other family members to take my example; to continue their studies and help girls and women in our community do the same. My sister, who married at 14 and has seven children, is now motivated to learn. I teach her to read and write. She plans to register for the courses once her child is no longer a baby. I always wanted to help people around me, so I am really happy to be able to help girls and women from my community to further their studies.

Juana – Being a promoter is an important responsibility and experience, and it initiated a clear change in my family. My father, who is 60, did not go to school, but he knows how to read and write, so I have encouraged him to do an evaluation with CONALFA to assess and certify his abilities. We are now waiting for the results to see at which level he could enroll to finish his education and graduate.


What are your plans for the future?


Magdalena – I would like to continue doing what I am doing now: support girls and women in the community. Although girls and women have shown a high interest in the Centers, there are many more to reach, especially those who live in remote areas. There must be opportunities for everyone. Young men have also approached us with their interest to learn. Including boys is important because it can help to change the negative social norms and gender stereotypes around girls’ and women’s education.

Sandra – Thanks to my parents’ support I managed to be where I am today. I am currently finishing the PEM (faculty for teaching at middle level) and after I graduate, I want to continue studying, and support my parents, to give them back a little of what they gave me. My strength is working with people, I like to help others, so I would like to have my own institute to do this.

Lucero – I have always wanted to be a social worker, and I am currently studying social work at university, it is my first semester. I am also now realizing part of this dream by supporting girls and women in my community. My grandfather was always telling me that “I can” – and I graduated as a teacher for primary level.

Juana – I would like to finish my bachelor’s degree in education and graduate, perhaps even at Master’s level or higher. I would like to continue working for the benefit of these girls and women. I would like to have my own educational center, where I can open spaces for women and manage it. I would like to lend my services to the community.



Magdalena Cox and Sandra Alvarado work at the Center in San Andrés Xecul, and Lucero Chivalán and Juana Ajpacajá work at the Center in Santa María Chiquimula.

The project, led by the UNESCO Office in Guatemala, facilitates the right to education for indigenous adolescent girls and young women, especially those marginalized from education because of gender, ethnicity, rurality and poverty. UNESCO is working with the National Literacy Committee (CONALFA), the Ministry of Education and organizations such as the National Institute for Radiophonic Education (IGER) and Fe y Alegria, in alliance with the participating municipalities.


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