Giving Back : Abriendo Oportunidades

Lago de Atitlán. Photo by Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz for Growing Up Bilingual. All rights reserved.

I was born and have lived most of my life in Guatemala, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and yes I might be a little biased here but it truly is gorgeous. Filled with luscious rain forests, ruins of majestic Mayan cities and active volcanoes this small Central American country is home to warm and loving people and is one of the most culturally rich countries in Latin America.

With one of the highest percentages of Amerindian populations (nearly half) who speak a total of 21 different languages and live isolated in small rural towns with limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation, passable roads, schooling, and health care Guatemala is less educated, faster growing, and more ethnically diverse than most others in Latin America (Dries-Daffner et al. 2007). Seventy-five percent of Mayans live in poverty (INE 2008)

Little girl watching her mother unloading firewood. Sololá, Guatemala. Photo by Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz. All rights reserved.

Mayan women and girls are the most vulnerable and often the most disadvantaged group leading lives characterized by early marriage, limited schooling, frequent childbearing, social isolation, and chronic poverty (Hallman et al. 2006) I was very lucky to have been born into a family that had the means to provide me with education but I would see all around me girls as young as 12 or 14 traveling hundreds of miles from their towns to the capital to find work doing housework. They had probably been working the fields alongside their parents and making tortillas from the time they could walk. After 4 years of living abroad I went back to Guatemala last year for a short visit with family. For the first time I saw with total clarity the poverty my country is really in, I always knew but now that I am a mom and that I have taken a step back I see things are clearer. I can see how all of those girls working from a young age, taking care of their siblings, selling produce on the side of the road, getting pregnant before they even know what sex is … really have no hope of getting out of that poverty cycle. It breaks my heart when I see them and see my own daughter and realize how lucky I am and how badly they need to be given a choice, to be given an opportunity to take control of their lives and break that cycle.

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the Girl Effect. The Girl Effect believes that if we listen to girls, we can do something amazing. We can end global poverty – forever. If you haven’t seen their videos you MUST watch them now. They are amazing and inspiring and they will probably move you to tears!

This one is my favorite, don’t miss it.

Now let me tell you about an amazing program in Guatemala that is doing just that: empowering girls and breaking the poverty cycle. Abriendo Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities) is providing the most vulnerable indigenous Mayan girls and young women in Guatemala with personal and professional development skills, mentorship, and leadership opportunities.

To help empower Guatemalan girls to reach their full potential, the Population Council, in collaboration with a range of local and international partners, launched the Abriendo Oportunidades program in 2004 to increase Mayan girls’ social support networks, connect them with role models and mentors, build a base of critical life and leadership skills, and provide hands-on professional training and experience. To date more than 8,000 girls have participated and more than 100 community leaders (girls 12-21 who lead their own groups) have been created. Maybe it might be more accurate to say have been discovered.

Abriendo Oportunidades, Guatemala.

Abriendo Oportunidades provides girls 8-17 a safe environment helping them create a “life plan” in which they indicate a desire to achieve higher levels of schooling, have more independence, delay childbirth, decide the size of family they desire, and become role-models for younger girls. Participants improve their self-esteem, get support from peers, and are educated on sexual/reproductive health. This supports girls to make more informed, responsible choices and teaches them to advocate for their rights.

You can donate to Abriendo Oportunidades through Global Giving! You can donate and you can send gift card to others.

Abriendo Oportunidades, Guatemala. Photo by the Population Council.

I am very thankful for everything we have and I am determined to show my gratitude for what I have received by giving back! Abriendo Oportunidades really touched me in a very personal way and just want to let everyone out there know what an amazing job they are doing and how they are saving girls, saving families, saving communities from poverty and how YOU can be a part of that! But don’t take my word from it, see it for yourself and hear from the girls how Abriendo Oportunidades has changed their lives.

So head on to Global Giving (JUST CLICK HERE) and make a donation today. $30 allows a girl to complete one whole year of middle school through home-based lectures and as an added bonus (yes I am trying to sound like an ad) you get to experience the best feeling in the whole wide world: the feeling that comes with changing a life and making the world a better place. You will not get that by spending those same $30 on some gadget or on a new piece of clothing.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading this, it means the world to me.

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