A Request for Help
Dr. Tracy Elhers, a cultural anthropologist who during the 1970’s conducted research on gender in San Pedro Sacatepéquez for her PhD, began the work of WWT. In 2007, her long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Marco Antonio Orozco asked for her help. At the time Orozco was the city’s mayor, and he asked Ehlers for assistance in helping San Pedro’s Office for Women provide training and technical assistance for the women’s groups which were being formed in both the city and its surrounding rural villages.
Through these early workshops, Ehlers and her team realized that one of the biggest problems that indigenous Guatemalan women faced was that their daughters seemed destined to repeat their own lives: a trajectory of early marriage, illiteracy, male dominance, and poverty. As a result, the mayor, the Women’s Office, and WWT responded to this deeper need and re-focused their collective efforts to concentrate on the daughters of these families. Female empowerment had to begin earlier in the life cycle and schooling was the key to assuring that the girls could be financially viable decision-makers and active members of society.
“¡Manda Tu Hija a la Escuela!” (Send Your Daughter to School!) quickly became a prominent program slogan, and the work expanded to include middle-school girls, their mothers and teachers. In 2009, Ehlers and co-founder Diane Dvorin established Women Work Together as an all volunteer 501(c)3 organization.
Creating a Collaboration
The original thrust of the work with girls was to form of after-school clubs led by local literacy teachers working under the Women’s Office. This was augmented by twice-yearly visits by WWT’s volunteer team of adults and college students. The revolving teams ran participatory workshops for girls and women, as well as trainings for the Women’s Office staff, local volunteers, educators, community leaders and the literacy outreach workers, who supported the local programs throughout the year. During each visit, Social Work and Education students from the nearby university worked with the U.S. volunteers, improving the local capacity to sustain and institutionalize these programs and shift community norms in the process.
A New Partner
In early 2012, several prominent community leaders and key staff from the Women’s Office established the Asociación del Desarrollo Integral: Mujeres Trabajan Unidas (ADIMTU), an independent, grassroots organization who’s purpose was to deepen and expand the work with girls and their families. Later that 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 support this new in-country organization.
Passing the Baton
Over time, the ADIMTU staff grew in size and understanding of WWT’s role and community acceptance of the work became more wide spread. In the fall of 2011, three school and family based projects were developed: La Vida de Mi Mama ( The Life of My Mother ), La Lectura Familiar ( Family Reading Time), and Mi Hermanita, ( My Little Sister), each encapsulating the goals of our collective work. During the 2012 school year, the ADIMTU staff was invited to pilot these projects with some girls in 13 schools. After a thorough evaluation in February at the start of the 2013 school year, under the leadership of Wendy Baring-Gould, incoming Director of Program, and Theresa Preston Warner, Director of Evaluation, these pilots were reworked to eliminate the kinks, and a structure was developed for ADIMTU to work with more girls in each school during that school year.
In addition, workshops with girls, mothers, teachers and principals, and finally fathers continued throughout 2013 school year, with the ADIMTU staff taking increasing responsibility for the development and implementation of all levels of activity. With an office located in San Pedro Sacatepequez , the ADIMTU staff includes four professional field workers, an administrative assistant, and a revolving group of interns from the University of San Carlos. Beginning in 2013, this team has taken the lead in all aspects of the work, with WWT’s twice yearly visits now focused on technical assistance, capacity building, and support. WWT continues to raise approximately $110,000 a year required to cover ADIMTU’s operating costs.
Beginning in the 2014 school year, the 3 school projects and all workshops will come together under ADIMTU/WWT’s Leadership Institute. These activities will actively engage all girls in all 3 grades of middle school, as well as their families and teachers in comprehensive, sequential programs designed to prepare the girls for financially viable lives and to change the communities expectations for their daughters’ futures. In order to reach more people, the workshops will be held in the various communities as part of the ongoing school- based programs. Significantly ADIMTU is 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.