Guatemala – 28 May 2018

Women empowering women

A dedicated mother helps women in her community to gain literacy skills

Edilia is a strong woman who dedicates her time to empower other women in her community in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala. She believes that education plays an important role in ending harmful patterns such as violence and discrimination against women. 

Edilia, 28, did not grow up in Santa Cruz del Quiché. She moved to the community when she got married. But this is not the only thing that makes her different from other women in the area. What sets her apart from many others is that she knows how to read and write because she is a trained primary school teacher.  

Nevertheless, Edilia’s young family has had to cope with many restrictions because they have limited resources and income.

“We did not have a house,” says Edilia. “We lived with my parents-in-law, and the house belonged to one of my husband’s brothers.”

Families affected by inequality 

Then she found out that SOS Children’s Villages Guatemala is supporting vulnerable families in Santa Cruz del Quiché, an area in Guatemala where over 80% of the population is indigenous. People from indigenous descent experience many disadvantages in Guatemala, which makes children and families particularly vulnerable to challenges such as malnutrition, poverty, poor education and inequality.

As a mother of two daughters, she was able to enroll in the SOS family strengthening programme.

Edilia and her family live in an area with high rates of inequality, poverty and malnutrition. Photo: Alejandra Kaiser

 

SOS family strengthening support includes measures to help curb malnutrition in the communities. Additionally, it provides and supports family development workshops, early childhood development activities, access to literacy classes as well as educational activities to empower community leaders and foster communities’ organisational skills.

“This has been very important for us,” she says. “It has helped us economically. The most important part for me has been the learning. Through family training we have learned a lot.”

Giving back to the community

Soon, Edilia began to give back to the community. She realised that her skills are very valuable in an area where many families lack basic literacy skills.

“In 2015, I started working with the families who didn’t know how to write. I helped them, teaching them how to read and write,” she recalls.

“At the beginning, the women weren’t able to write at all. The muscles of their hands were very tight because some families plait hats or work with threads. Some of them tore the paper when they tried to write on it. I had to apply various techniques to help them to make their hands softer.”

Edilia is proud of the progress the women have made.

“If you could see them in the classroom now,” she says smiling. “They can read!”

Reading and writing skills are an important tool for women's empowerment for Edilia. Photo: Alejandra Kaiser
 
Educating women to reduce discrimination

Edilia believes that educating women is an important tool to break harmful patters such as domestic violence and discrimination. She knows what it is like when you do not have access to the same rights as men.

“They put us women down,” she says. “In my own family, my parents say that they won’t give us land because we are women. For me, that’s discrimination. That’s inequality.”

Edilia hopes that her daughter will have more opportunities in life. Photo: Gerrit Reinmüller

 

Being able to read and write can be an important protection for women to avoid that others take advantage of them, says Edilia.

“When we started with the classes, a woman told us her story,” she recalls. “She said that one day someone came to her house and asked her to sign a document. They told her it was for some kind of aid. Since she wasn’t able to read, she signed. But that’s not what it was for.”

Observing changes and progress

Edilia insists that working with the women from her community has been an enriching experience for her. She is also convinced that the family strengthening activities have changed the community.

“What I see in the families is that they are no longer victims of violence in the family. And that’s a progress for society, and for the families,” Edilia says. “They have a different perspective on the social context now. That’s what I see. They are different families, different people.”

Visible changes for the family

Her own life has also improved since she has started working with the SOS family strengthening team. The food supplies provided once a month have alleviated the pressure on the family’s limited income and Edilia and her husband have been able to make some investments to improve the living conditions for themselves and their children. Eventually, they have been able to build a modest house, where the four of them are living with Edilia’s brother.

“It is a simple home, but it is our own,” she says. “We were also able to pay for a water line to our house. Before, we had to go to the river to collect water.”

Edilia now has running water at her house. Photo: Gerrit Reinmüller

 

Her husband also joins her for the family strengthening workshops. She believes that it is essential to include men in the activities.

“If only women attend the workshops, men do not always believe us when we tell them what we have learned. This is different when they go themselves and listen,” Edilia says.

Her dream for the future is to find work and provide a good life to her children. To give them better opportunities than she had, she also wants to teach them both Spanish and Quiché, the indigenous Maya language she learnt growing up. Edilia learnt Spanish much later in life, and she wants her daughters to be fluent in both languages.

“I want them to be good members of the community,” Edilia adds. “And I want them to work as professionals.”

 

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