An Old Friendship – A New Collaboration

During the 1970’s and 80’s, Dr. Tracy Ehlers, a cultural anthropologist, conducted research on gender and development in San Pedro Sacatepéquez, San Marcos, Guatemala. Little did she suspect that she was also planting seeds for the founding of Women Work Together some decades later. In 2007, she reconnected with her long-time friend and soon-to-be colleague, Dr. Marco Antonio Orozco Arriola, who was then in his second term as San Pedro’s mayor. Dr. Orozco asked Ehlers for assistance in preparing their newly formed Office for Women to provide training and technical assistance for women’s groups which were being formed in the city center and its surrounding rural villages.

Girl Power

Shortly after starting to work with the women, Ehlers and her team quickly determined that female empowerment had to begin earlier in the life cycle and that girls’ education was key to this shift in community values.Changing the community’s future depended on changing the trajectory of indigenous girls who presently faced repeating the lives of their mothers, including illiteracy, early marriage, multiple pregnancies, male dominance, and poverty. The local leadership, the Women’s Office and WWT responded together to this deeper need, taking a long view and re-focusing their collective efforts to concentrate on girls, specifically young teens in junior high school (known as básico and equivalent to 7th, 8th & 9th grade in the U.S.).

The work with women turned toward supporting their daughters to stay in school. ¡Manda Tu Hija a la Escuela! (Send Your Daughter to School!) became a prominent program slogan as the work expanded to include not just the girls, but also their mothers, fathers, teachers and community leaders. In 2009, Ehlers and co-founder, Diane Dvorin, established Women Work Together as an all volunteer 501(c)3 (non-profit) organization.

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Building Commitment

From 2009-2011 WWT teams of volunteers made twice-yearly visits to San Pedro to develop and deliver participatory workshops for girls and key adults in their lives. The work developed as a collaboration with local advocates, professionals and interns from the nearby university. Three core programs for 7th, 8th & 9th grade girls evolved during this time, along with intensive technical assistance that resulted in establishing local capacity to sustain and institutionalize these programs and shift community norms in the process.


First year the girls learn about their mother’s lives


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Second year the girls learn to read aloud to their families

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Third year the girls help their little sisters learn leadership skills

A New Partnership

In January 2012, a group of influential San Pedro community leaders and key staff from the Women’s Office established the Asociación del Desarrollo Integral: Mujeres Trabajan Unidas (ADIMTU), an independent, grassroots nonprofit whose purpose is to deepen and expand the work underway with girls and their families.  Later that same year, ADIMTU was legally recognized as a Guatemalan civil organization with its own Board of Directors.  WTT’s Board of Directors committed to raising the funds required to underwrite this new in-country organization.

Passing the Baton

Beginning in 2011, three school and family-based projects were developed and began to take hold:  La Vida de Mi Mama (The Life of My Mother), La Lectura Familiar (Family Reading Time), and Mi Hermanita (Little Sister).  These build on one other and are implemented sequentially with 7th, 8th and 9th grade girls to advance the goals of our collective work.

During the 2012 school year, ADIMTU staff piloted the three projects with groups of girls across San Pedro. At the start of the 2013 school year (January-October in Guatemala), Wendy Baring-Gould and Theresa Preston-Werner, WWT’s volunteer program and evaluation directors respectively, worked closely with ADIMTU staff to review  the pilot programs, rework each accordingly, and develop a format for ADIMTU to work with even more girls in each school during 2013. Workshops with girls, mothers, teachers and principals, and finally fathers continued throughout the 2013 school year, as ADIMTU staff took increasing responsibility for all program development and implementation.

Working out of an office in central San Pedro Sacatepéquez, the ADIMTU staff has grown to four professional field workers/community change agents, an office manager/administrative assistant, and a revolving group of 4-5 interns from the nearby University of San Carlos. Beginning in 2013, WWT’s twice yearly visits focused on technical assistance, local capacity building, and support.

WWT continues to work hard to raise the approximately $110,000 a year required to cover ADIMTU’s operating costs on the ground and WWT’s modest overhead in Boulder.

Moving Forward

During 2104 we are instituting a more ambitious evaluation program, with the addition of RoseMarie Perez Foster to our Board of Directors and program/evaluation team. RoseMarie is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado’s Institute for Behavioral Science and fluent in Spanish.

Also during the 2014 school year, our three school-based projects for girls plus all workshops for parents, teachers, school directors and community leaders are coming together under The Leadership Institute.  These programs will engage all girls in all three grades of middle school/junior high throughout the school year, along with their families and teachers, in comprehensive sequential programs designed to prepare the girls for financially viable lives and change the community’s expectations for their daughters’ futures. In order to reach more people, workshops are held in the rural communities, as part of ADIMTU’s ongoing school-based programs.

Significantly, ADIMTU has being recognized by the National Ministry of Education, which has designated The Leadership Institute as one of very few external programs approved to augment the official school curriculum.