No one in 19-year-old Julia’s family has ever gone beyond the third grade of elementary school. Growing up in a rural K’iche’ community in Guatemala, her parents weren’t able to attend primary school. Still, when they had children, they were determined to keep them in school for as long as they could. Julia left school when she was 15, but she hasn’t given up on her education.
“My father says that our secondary education is on us,” Julia says. “My goal is to learn to sing and then take some courses with a musical instrument.”
In 2019 and 2020, Julia took part in a series of leadership workshops with Plan International where she learned she learned about her civil and individual rights, including pregnancy prevention, domestic violence prevention, self-esteem, leadership, political advocacy and civic participation.
“After the workshops, I changed a lot,” she says. “My family noticed, especially my mother, because before I was very lonely and shy. Now, I’m not afraid to talk to people.”
Her new leadership skills led her to become a member of her community’s water committee, a position usually only held by adults.
“Where I live there are not enough young leaders, because adults close the spaces for them,” Julia says.
In addition to being on the water committee, Julia adopted an informal position as a youth advocate in the area and has plans to develop opportunities and improvements for future generations.
“For me, the main thing is education, and I would like all children in our community to study,” she says.
In rural communities like the one Julia lives in, educational opportunities are extremely limited. Chronic challenges like poverty force children out of school and into informal jobs to care for their families.
Girls also face unique barriers to staying in school, like gender-based violence, pregnancy and early and forced marriage. Without finishing their education, girls can’t pursue their life and career goals to their fullest.
[Read: This young activist is ending child marriage in Guatemala]
Plan International’s partnership with Comic Relief US aims to change all of that.
Through the Creating My Future: Flexible Education and Economic Empowerment project, we’re working with Indigenous girls and young women in rural Guatemala to implement inclusive learning opportunities as they work toward graduation.
For young people like Julia who have dropped out of school but want to continue their studies, we’re designing online courses that are accessible and flexible according to their needs. Entrepreneurship and employment courses are also preparing girls to obtain sustainable jobs so they can achieve financial independence and build the futures they envision.
The project is also implementing life skills training to strengthen children’s and young people’s knowledge about gender equality, leadership, civic participation, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender-based violence prevention.
So far, 426 children and young people have gained or regained access to formal education, and 159 students in the project have completed activities in the first phase. Almost 900 students have learned about issues surrounding gender equality.
We’re also involving entire communities, organizing gender quality trainings and awareness workshops for parents and adults in the community on gender equality and importance of supporting girls’ education
As the project continues, Plan will be able to support more girls in Guatemala who are facing barriers to their education while addressing the employment needs of Indigenous young people. Education and economic empowerment projects like this are vital to fighting gender inequality and chronic poverty. When girls can succeed alongside others, our world gets better.