By: Mariko Rasmussen, Communications Specialist at Women Deliver
In Guatemala, young indigenous girls living in rural areas often do not have a chance to go to school. Instead, they help their families, living in social isolation and sometimes chronic poverty. They often marry young and have many children – the country’s fertility rates are among the highest in Latin America, with each woman bearing an average of 4.4 children over her lifetime. These indigenous girls have limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation, passable roads, and health care. To help break the cycle and enable these girls to reach their full potential, the Population Council, in collaboration with other partners, launched a program called Abriendo Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities) in 2004. The program works to provide the vulnerable indigenous Mayan girls and young women in Guatemala with personal and professional development skills, mentorship, and leadership opportunities, and provides information about reproductive health.
While the teenage years should be a relatively healthy life stage in most settings, many adolescent girls in developing countries are at risk. For many, their well-being is compromised by poor education, violence and abuse, unsafe working conditions, lack of autonomy, and early marriage—all manifestations of poverty and gender inequality. This means that in the poorest countries, adolescent girls miss out on essential health, education, and social services their male counterparts and girls in richer countries enjoy.
Abriendo Oportunidades works to ensure sure young, vulnerable girls aren’t left-out, and they have evolved and expanded to become national in scope with the help of partners like EngenderHealth. To date, the program has reached 4,500 young women in Guatemala by establishing “community girls’ clubs” to help girls aged 8 – 18 imagine and achieve a different life. Whereas traditional programs tend to target youth aged 16 to 18, Abriendo Oportunidades targets a younger group because many girls in the population are already married and/or pregnant by 18. Girls participating in the clubs spend their first year learning about their rights, receiving health information and developing life and leadership skills. Most girls stay involved in the clubs through sports and recreation or arts and crafts groups, giving them a safe place to go to be among friends and peers. Abriendo Oportunidades also engages parents so that the girls may be allowed to live out what they are learning in the clubs. The girls increase their opportunities to earn a living, gain confidence, and become role models in their communities. The program is making an impact on the vulnerable and underserved girls in their communities by encouraging them to lead the process of change.
Watch a moving video on the program below.