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Girls’ Voices from the Highlands of Panajachel, Guatemala

Hello and welcome to beautiful Panajachel, Guatemala, situated on the edge of Lake Atitlan just three hours from Guatemala City. Over the next seven days we will be taking you through the inner workings of the pilot for GreaterGood’s latest Signature Program, Girls’ Voices.  We have just one week to help nine girls create and share their stories through their own video creations, inspiring and engaging people like you and me to donate directly to these girls’ education.

Before we jump in, it is important to answer three questions: why girls; why here; why now?

Why girls?

Research clearly shows us the generational benefits to educating just one girl. With education, every girl can improve her health, increase her wages and job opportunities, have healthier children, decrease her chances of disease like HIV/AIDS and malaria, and promote equality. Yet, as a direct result of cultural, social and economic barriers, 62 million girls are still not in school around our globe. Not to mention, education it’s a human right for everyone, regardless of gender.

Why here?

The town of Panajachel is located in the highlands of Sololá, a region almost entirely populated by different Mayan ethnic groups. While the educational opportunities in Guatemala are verging on dire, the situation is amplified in indigenous communities.  According to the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, only 61% of junior-high (básico) age youth and only 32% of senior-high (diversificado) age youth are enrolled in school. The majority (62.3%) of the 556,000 children aged 7-14 not attending school are indigenous, and the highest rates of illiteracy occur in rural areas with an indigenous population. This is largely due to the extreme poverty faced by many indigenous Guatemalans and a poor education system that offers little opportunity to advance economic sustainability.

Why now?

No matter where in the world, it is increasingly difficult to find a job and support oneself and one’s family without education.  As one of the girls said today, “Yo quiero un título de la Universidad para obtener un trabajo necesario para apoyar a mi familia.” (I want a university degree so I can get a necessary job to support my family). Whether in tourism, business administration, or nursing (among the future aspirations of these inspiring girls), they know education is necessary to live a comfortable life in this modern world.

These nine girls are so committed to sharing their story that more than half of them traveled over two hours to get to the Maya Traditions Foundation for the first two days of the pilot project.  Whether by bus, boat or on foot, not one girl arrived late.

The first day (Saturday) was jam-packed with workshops in which the girls learned the basics of video, developed their main story themes, and recorded part of their narration.  Sitting in a circle, the girls shared their dreams for the future and love for the beautiful Mayan culture.  They discussed the importance of education and challenges of living in poverty.  They opened up about their individual struggles to access the education they so prioritize.

After a weekend of experimenting with the cameras, they all came back on Monday with footage ranging from a family dinner complete with three generations and hand-made tortillas to a picturesque maize harvest against the background of volcanos enveloped in wispy clouds. We worked with them to review and critique their footage, further develop their stories, and practice their camera techniques.

Tomorrow, we will delve deeper into their projects as we accompany three girls to their respective communities as they film their live footage.  Stay tuned for more!

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