“I come from a very conservative, indigenous culture. It’s a beautiful culture, but, at the same time, it limits many things,” explained Nidia Tiúl Cucul, Trainer and Technical Advisor for Asociación Puente and Global Women in Management (GWIM 63) program alumna. “Here [at GWIM] I’ve realized that as women, we have a lot of strengths. We have a lot of opportunities, and that we can do many things.”
Nidia comes from Santa María Cahabón, a remote area in northern Guatemala. Chauvinism in this area is very common. Most girls are lucky to reach the sixth grade before they leave school. Graduating from high school and going on to study at the university level is near impossible.
However, Nidia was smart and determined, and had supportive parents. Having struggled with extreme poverty while raising 10 children, her parents saw potential in Nidia for a better life and they encouraged her studies. Not only did Nidia graduate from secondary school, she won a scholarship to study agriculture at one of the best universities in Guatemala. Sadly, her plans changed when she became pregnant at the age of 18.
Having a son changed her future, but Nidia did not accept that the die had been cast. She graduated from a nearby university with a degree in teaching, thanks to the assistance of her parents.
“My parents helped me a great deal, otherwise I would not be here,” Nidia said. “But, I worked too. I used to sell ice cream and cold drinks from my house. That is how I supported my family.”
Still determined, Nidia continues to study. She and her husband are currently working on their master’s degrees, despite their obligations to their three children and the distance to the university.
“I leave my house at 3 am to get to the city, where I begin classes at 7 am,” she said. “We leave the city at 5:30 in the afternoon to get home around 10 pm. We do this every Saturday. In other circumstances, at my 27 years, I would be at a different place in my life, but the difficulties are many: the distance, my job, the family. But, I carry on.”
Nidia’s desire to grow as a person is insatiable. After getting her master’s degree, she will continue studying towards a degree in psychology.
“I’m a really good listener,” she said confidently. “I like listening to people. I want to make people feel important and recognize their strengths. I want them to feel good, to feel like they’ve been listened to because I often feel like I don’t have that.”
That desire to help others and continue to grow, along with encouragement from another GWIM alumna, her supervisor, led Nidia to apply for the GWIM program. Nidia was a participant at the 63rd GWIM workshop in Bogota, Colombia, along with 25 other women from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.
The program, sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative, brings together women from diverse cultures and countries to share, examine, and adapt best practices worldwide for expanding women’s economic opportunities and meeting the needs of their communities and countries. The four-week residential training covers topics such as leadership, economic participation, fundraising, project management, monitoring and evaluation, financial management, advocacy, and strategic communications.
“Thank God I was selected. It’s been an opportunity,” she said. “The truth is, it is the best thing that I could have received. GWIM creates an environment of equality, solidarity. So, after two or three days, I felt like I knew all the women here for all my life.” GWIM participants learn valuable tools and techniques during the four-week participatory training, which they take back to their organizations and implement. The supportive workshop environment allows the women to learn, not only from the facilitators, but also from each other.
“The truth is that it is difficult for me to open up,” she recalled. “One of my limitations has been that I’m often insecure, but I made an effort and I’ve been able to do it. The other participants are very open. If it’s not one of them, it’s another one that is supporting you or another one who will come talk to you so you don’t feel alone or excluded. It’s a very beautiful environment. It’s a great experience that I’m taking with me. It’s a lot of knowledge that I’m acquiring.”
GWIM participants are selected from diverse backgrounds, and education and experience levels often differ. These differences help create a rich environment that mimics the real-world environments within which they implement their programs. This design helps participants learn to look for strengths within their teams that will help improve their programs.
“Everything I was learning, I thought about how that applied within my organization,” Nidia said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a competition. It is an accumulation of knowledge and abilities that we have in the organization that does not make us competitors. It makes us stronger as an organization.”
GWIM is designed to facilitate the creation of networks and group bonding, but each participant leaves the workshop with her own unique experiences and learnings.
“I’m taking back a lot of tools with me,” she said. “There are many things that I’m thinking about how I am going to apply to my programs. For example, the gender focus. We work in gender, but not with that type of focus. But, the topic that stood out the most was finances. I didn’t understand it one bit before I came to GWIM. It’s something I had never seen before. Now, I understand how finances work, and I realize that I like them. I felt great analyzing costs, expenses, deposits, and withdrawals. I loved it!”
The learning continues beyond the workshop with a one-year coaching program, and also with each other through the bonds formed during the training.
“I admire these women, who have so much strength, so much patience, and so much knowledge,” said Nidia. “I leave here enchanted by Colombia, enchanted by the program. It would be wonderful for anyone, because it’s a program that is not just knowledge, but it is personal growth. I know that I’m not going to change the world in a month or a year, but I will make many things better.”