Why Girls Education?
What is the problem?
After decades of civil war, Guatemala suffers from one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. Education is grossly inadequate across the board, but this dire situation is even worse for poor indigenous girls. Many Mayan girls never go to school at all, and when they do enroll, they are much more likely to drop out early. Only 1 in 8 girls finishes primary school, and enrollment rates drop even more sharply around the age of 12, when girls go through puberty and are expected to take on typical gender-based adult work and roles. Most of the women in San Pedro never completed third grade, and boys continue to outnumber girls in school by around 3 to 1. In a recent survey in San Pedro, nearly 79% of the female respondents said they had left school early for economic reasons or because their parents did not value educated females. Almost 100% of the women surveyed said they want their own daughters to go to school.
What is WWT doing about it?
At WWT, we believe that investing in Mayan girls is the best way to help end the cycle of poverty in Guatemala. We target young teenage girls because they are at the riskiest time of their lives for dropping out of school, getting married, and becoming pregnant. Our overarching goal is to help these girls stay in school, unlocking their potential to choose healthier, less arduous, and more prosperous lives than their mothers.
WWT strongly argues that improving girls’ educational opportunities and quality-of-life circumstances results in a high return to themselves, their families and their community. A girl who goes to school is an active and visible model for other girls in her village, bucking the trend of female illiteracy and changing her community’s view of educating girls and women. The research is clear: educating a girl results in improved income, smaller families, better health, better gender relations, and more community involvement. Significantly, educated women send their daughters and sons to school. When we apply our resources to improving girls’ lives and possibilities, the benefits accrue to the entire community, today and in the future. It is important to note that San Pedro has made a serious investment in developing and training today’s community leaders, especially women. This proposal advances a strategy for leveraging that investment by accelerating the development of female leaders for tomorrow and filling the leadership pipeline with educated, confident girls and eventually young women who, together, can change the trajectory of their poverty-stricken communities.
WWT works closely with a sister non-profit organization in Guatemala – Mujeres Trabajan Unidas – to run leadership workshops and related activities for 12-16 year old girls from 14 villages in San Pedro. Our flagship program is the Girls Leadership Institute wherehigh-potential teens, nominated by their teachers, meet as a group twice a year to participate in leadership development workshops, where they have a safe place to learn new things, share ideas, and make friends. Back in their villages, these fledgling leaders participate in girls’ clubs and work on WWT/MTU projects to apply what they have learned.
What have we accomplished?
Over the past 3 years, WWT has helped hundreds of girls in San Pedro stay in school through direct programs with girls and a broader campaign to change community-wide attitudes toward the importance of educating girls. Specific selected accomplishments since 2010 include:
- Nearly 200 teenage girls have attended 5 consecutive Girls Leadership Institutes (each year a new incoming class of junior high school girls enters the program.)
- More than 1500 women and girls have attended one of our twice-yearly participatory workshop and career-focused “jamborees.”
- Approximately 25 teachers have attended 10 separate capacity-building workshops
- 1788 people are participating in our community projects, including Las Hermanitas (a girl-to-girl mentoring program), La Vida de Mi Mama (an oral history project where girls interview their mothers and write a book about their lives), and La Lectura Familiar (a family reading project where the girls read aloud to their families.)