Miguel Rodríguez. Photo: Liinu Diaz-Rämö.
The participants’ laughter and chatter is heard from afar; it is clear that something exciting is about to happen. The youth school of the Project for Integral Economic Empowerment of Rural Mayan Women (PODEEIR) in Guatemala is about to start its third learning module.
Around 30 youths from all over Guatemala have been chosen to participate in the school, which is just one of several “schools” within the project run by We Effect and its’ partner organizations in Guatemala. Many of the participants’ parents are part of the project’s target group.
The idea is to work with the entire families and communities in order to make integral changes at both family and societal levels. Once the youths have concluded the school they will work within their communities with campaigns against violence. One of the participants has gotten a head start with her community work, 17-year-old Aura María Sical is already planning a lecture about bullying in her school.
− I want the other students to understand that it is not right to behave like that, to bully, tease and use violence against others.
Aura María, whose mother participates in the women’s school, has travelled for almost 12 hours to get to the Guatemalan capital. But she is not tired, on the contrary, the dynamic character of the school, in which theater and other artistic methods are used, motivates her to challenge herself and participate in an active manner. And it is not just a fun place, Aura María has already seen the school’s results in her everyday life.
− Before I started here, I was very shy. If someone spoke to me I did not always reply. Here we do exercises in which we have to present in front of everyone. Nowadays, I don’t get nervous when I have to speak and in my regular school my classmates always pick me to present our class exercises.
After an energizing but challenging warm up exercise, where everyone’s coordination skills were tested, the school starts with a history lesson. But this is not an ordinary history class, it is a critical review of history as we know it. Starting with the evolution and the first people on the continent, passing through the arrival of the Spaniards, the independence of Guatemala and the civil war, the discussion ends in a vibrant conversation about identity, culture and power. Myths about history are exposed, and marginalized peoples’ perspectives emphasized.
Miguel Rodríguez is happy he is getting new perspectives:
−Today I learned a lot about history, especially from the point of view of the indigenous people in Guatemala. Now I understand why there are so many problems in our country, and I see the world with different eyes.
It is clear that Aura María, Miguel and the other youths have gained new knowledge, and that the school is not a learning space only for them. The school is creating young leaders, who will continue to apply and spread their skills and abilities to others in their surroundings. Through the school Aura María has realized that she wants to become a teacher.
−At home I teach my younger sisters everything that I learn here. When I grow up I want to teach others that there are other ways to see reality, other ways to build our society.
Miguel has also started to think about the future, and he has started to dream big. This journey trip will not end with the last learning module of the school, he is determined to continue to work for his community.
− I have learned to value myself, to trust myself and my abilities. After the last class I held a meeting with my family, so that I could tell them what I had learned here. When I am out with friends playing soccer, I talk to them about the school, so that they too can benefit from my new knowledge. Now I dream of being part of decision-making spaces in my community, in order to contribute and generate changes for many more.
The Project for Integral Economic Empowerment for Rural Mayan Women is a collaboration between We Effect, ten partner organizations (Mamá Maquin, Utz Che’, Tikonel, Alianza de Mujeres Cooperativistas de Guatemala, FECCEG, ALANEL, CCDA, FICCI y AIGMIM) and the Swedish Embassy in Guatemala.