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Story from the Front Lines: Investing in Education

A Safe Space to Thrive

Mariel is one of more than 2,000 girls who have participated in Abriendo Oportunidades, an innovative program to support the health and well-being of indigenous girls in rural Guatemala. Now she is a counselor and a role model in her community, educating and empowering younger girls.

Before Abriendo Oportunidades, I used to help my father in the fields. We would often wake up at four in the morning to plant beans and broccoli and wouldn’t finish until seven at night. I also helped with the cooking, cleaning, and washing at home.

I always wanted to study, but I didn’t always have my father’s support. He took me out of school the first time when I was 9 years old to help him in the fields. I begged him to go back to school, and two years later I returned. But he took me out again later, and I cried for a year until I could go back.

At this time, I also started going to the girls’ club, and my life changed. I was always told that sex was immoral. Now, I am really happy that I have a better understanding of sexuality and reproduction—someday I want to get married, and now I know how to space my pregnancies and make my own decisions. I give advice to other girls so they don’t find themselves getting married or pregnant too early, before they are ready.

What I have most enjoyed is passing on the information I have learned to younger girls. I myself was very shy and afraid to speak in public when I started in the program. Now, I can be a positive role model for younger girls.

We need to reach more girls and give them a place to come to make friends, learn new skills, and have fun. I have seen how the girls are already teaching each other the things I have taught them. They are becoming more confident and are assuming greater responsibilities in their families and in the community. It makes me very proud to see the younger girls I have worked with becoming leaders. Like me, they want to stay in school, have greater opportunities, and live a better, healthier life.

*Not her real name, changed per request

Abriendo Oportunidades is a pioneering program for girls in rural Guatemala, where limited opportunities mean that they are likely to drop out of school, marry, and have children at very young ages. By establishing community girls’ clubs, the program offers girls ages 8–18 the chance to connect with and learn from each other, develop new skills, and access health and social services. The program engages parents, too, who see the benefits of the program for their daughters. “We are sometimes sad that we don’t see Mariel as much as we used to,” said Mariel’s parents. “But now we understand the importance of education for girls…. We would love for all of our children to have these opportunities.”

This project is implemented in partnership with the Population Council.