As I was leaving Guatemala last February after spending over a month there, I was approached by a man who wanted to share his observations of ADIMTU’s work in the villages of San Pedro Sacatepéquez and especially what he thought about the impact it was having on the adolescent girls in the communities where they work. His opinion was of great interest to me, as he was from that region, had extensive experience working in community development, and had followed ADIMTU’s work over the last several years as it evolved and deepened.
What he said was profound. He had observed significant differences in the attitude and behaviors of girls in communities where ADIMTU is working compared to those of girls in neighboring communities where there is no ADIMTU presence. In communities where ADIMTU was not working, the incidence of early pregnancy among teenage girls was disturbingly high, he said. Girls commonly began bearing children at puberty, lured by the entreaties of local boys to become novios (sweethearts) and live happily ever after. As a result, 15–16 year old girls would often be trailed by several offspring and the course of a life of deprivation and poverty for them and their children would be set. In addition, the incidents of human trafficking were mounting, he reported, as when a shining pick up truck rolls into town and its driver promises a future in which a girl’s dreams would come true. Too often, the girl would climb aboard, never to be seen again.
In contrast, he’d observed that the girls who participated in ADIMTU’s programs had a much stronger sense of self. They knew they could stand on their own and that they had the internal capacity to set their own goals and make positive decisions in their lives that would help them achieve those goals. They knew that others valued them. They wanted to live lives in which they could make a significant contribution to their family, their community, and possibly their country. They were not lured by promises of others – neither prospective novios nor traffickers, to whom they would say, “I don’t need to leave, I have a place right here.” And, he noted, their peers, also program participants, agreed with one another, unknowingly but effectively shifting community norms along with their personal changes.
These differences are profound, and yet, when one examines the experiences and learning the girls acquire over the 3 years of their work with ADIMTU, one can see the reasons why:
In Grade 7 (La Vida de Mi Mamá) they learn first-hand about the hardships their mothers faced, and resolve to continue their education so as to be better prepared to lead a better life, with more opportunity.
In Grade 8 (La Lectura Familiar) they learn to really read, with access to wonderful books that explore lives and worlds outside of their own and that are selected by ADIMTU staff to include examples of inquiry, exploration, goal settling, persistence and success. As they share these books with their families, the girls bring new ideas and experiences into the family discourse, simultaneously opening the thinking and expectations of the whole community, family reading time by family reading time, household by household.
Finally, in Grade 9 (Mi Hermanita) they each take responsibility for a little sister, guiding her to success in school through weekly tutoring sessions while also demonstrating to themselves, their families and community members that they indeed have the power to create permanent change in themselves and in the people around them.
The girls who develop this sense of their own capacities want to grow and achieve their own dreams and they know they have the internal resources to do so. Of course, we can not claim this is true for all girls in ADIMTU programs, as the factors influencing their lives are many, but to hear a local man’s observations of such a general trend is very heartening.
The reports of the overwhelming numbers of young children and teens being detained at our borders as they flee their homes and try to enter the US to find a better life are startling and deeply troubling. These young people must be so very desperate to take on such danger and uncertainty. Surely, it must be because they feel they have no future where they are.
While relatively modest, as ADIMTU’s programs evolve they may well become a significant intervention to these overarching trends. We are conducting a 3-year longitudinal evaluation both to learn if this is so and to help ADIMTU improve programs in the field. We believe this to be true, and it has given strength to our ongoing resolve to help them continue this work.
As ever, each and every financial contribution gives the ADIMTU staff the resources they need to go out each day, armed with books and art supplies and activities which help turn these girls’ faces toward a brighter future. We hope you will find it in your hearts to make a contribution to support their work.