Seminars on youth at risk in Guatemala: Devolution process completed

During May 2017, I traveled to Guatemala to engage in the devolution of preliminary results of the Fulbright project to those involved in the research process. As part of this project, a series of seminars on youth-at-risk and violence prevention programs in Latin America were carried out. Three seminars were held during data collection from March to May 2016, and two seminars were organized as part of the devolution process in May 2017.

The seminars brought together national and international academics, practitioners, donors, and students to discuss the situation of youth-at-risk in Latin America. The series was organized in collaboration with the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and endorsed by RTI International and CEMCA. The topics and dates are listed below, along with  URL for the You Tube live transmission of the seminars in Spanish. A publication in English summarizing the outcomes of the seminars is expected later this year.

Seminar I: “Youth-at-risk and violence prevention programs in Latin America,” March 2, 2016

Seminar II: “Evaluation and feasibility of educational programs as life projects for youth-at-risk in Guatemala,” April 15, 2016

Seminar III: “The experience of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala in the development of educational programs with youth at risk,” May 7, 2016

Seminar IV: “Good practices in the development of educational programs for youth at risk in Guatemala,” May 4, 2017

Seminar V: “Evaluation of youth educational programs and success stories of students from the Universidad del Valle del Altiplano,” May 12, 2017

For a link to all of the seminars in Spanish posted in the UVG webpage, see

Child Rights and Community-Centered Projects in the Eastern Highlands

I have have not posted blogs for a while, not because I haven’t been working on the Fulbright Project but because I have been quite busy with related fieldwork. My Facebook friends and Instagram followers know about these activities since I’ve been posting photos of my numerous field trips. I’m dedicate this blog to two case studies I have been developing in the last two weeks: two community-based projects supported by the Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano (AMA) and the secondary/vocational program of the Centro Ecuménico de Integración Pastoral (CEIPA).

On June 2, 2016, I visited community-based, educational projects in regions of K’iche’ (Quiché) indigenous origin in two villages located in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Solola: one in the Caserio Xeabaj II and another one in Aldea Chiquisis. AMA’s mission is “to support the empowerment process of isolated and marginalized women through community organizing, education programming, resource strengthening,  and  alliance building so that these women may live with dignity and  initiate processes of sustainable development through the formation of small groups and popular education techniques.” To accomplish this mission, AMA supports the formation of women’s cooperatives of weavers, midwives, farmers, health workers, entrepreneurs, and professionals. By doing that, AMA enables educational and job opportunities to women in a free atmosphere of sexual discrimination and harassment.

The first community-based project is the construction of a building of two classrooms for secondary education in Caserio Xeabaj II where primary school teachers volunteer their time to teach secondary school classes to youth who otherwise would not be able to continue their  secondary education in this remote community. The second community-based project is the provision of a modest monthly compensation to teachers who utilize the classrooms of the local primary school under the guidance of community leaders. Through these projects, AMA is redefining humanitarian assistance by supporting the organization of communities in the Eastern Highlands, who are engaged in their self-development, including the start-up of educational program within their localities to create community assets, i.e., building social infrastructure, forming community educators, and educating children in a culturally sensitive environment. This week I met with community leaders and teachers and plan to visit later in the month to interview the youth in the secondary school.

On June 3, 2016, I visited the secondary school of CEIPA, an ecumenical pastoral center promoting the rights of children in Xela and 15 municipalities in the Highlands. CEIPA’s mission is “helping to build a society that respects and fulfills the human rights of children, adolescents and youth organization.” One of CEIPA’s strategies to accomplish this mission is to provides educational opportunities to children and adolescents out of school and provides the youth with training and technical assistance so that they may be able to access employment and productive activities. CEIPA also provides them with referrals for health care, psychosocial and legal assistance, as well as cultural and recreational activities. I was able to interview five of the youth benefited by CEIPA’s programs who provided specific examples about how this assistance is making a difference to them, families and communities, and how it is preparing them for a better future, once they graduate from secondary school. Both the underage and adult youth spoke of their aspirations for higher education but acknowledged how much they have learned about their rights, as children and human beings.

As I approach the last month of my stay in Guatemala, I’m prioritizing my time in interviewing providers and beneficiaries of this type of programs. The interviews with the children and youth ages 13-23 years old, individually and in groups, are being complemented by informational meetings with administrators, educators, clinicians, and related staff, to prepare the case studies exemplifying educational opportunities for youth at risk in Guatemala. Case studies will be used for comparative purposes in the transformative evaluation of the educational program that got this research project started: the one supported by the Violence Prevention Program (VPP), about which I reported earlier.

Extraordinary Guatemalans

Although much has happened in the last two weeks, I am writing my blog today about some extraordinary Guatemalans I met in the last few days. Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios was one of the several amazing groups involved in critical work with youth at risk who presented at the second Seminar I organized with a wide range of stakeholders. The panel discussion was focused on the evaluation and feasibility of educational programs as life alternatives for youth at risk. It was conducted in Spanish, transmitted live, and recorded in Youtube.

Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios is an association, a non-profit, non-governmental organization working with youth and families in high risk, particularly Zona 7 in Guatemala City, which is a poverty-stricken area with high incidence of crime, heavy drug trafficking, and widespread family abuse. According to the Association’s staff and website, the filter they use is: how much the program participants want to recognize and overcome their adversities (abuse, neglect, drug abuse, poverty, etc.) and eventually succeed.  Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios assumes that the children and youth have inherent strengths. The staff role is to help youth at risk to discover their talents and gifts, and facilitate the capacity to evolve into whole persons.

The organization is committed to a personalized Plan of Recovery and Success. The assistance it provides is comprehensive because it includes getting to know the youth deeply and working together with the teaching personnel in their educational curriculum while engaging closely with their families, and communities. Healing is enabled through complementary programs, such as academic tutoring, substance abuse treatment, individual and family counseling, and health care services, as needed. In other words, they provide the kind of “wrap around” services youth at risk need in order to overcome adversity and engage in the path of recovery and success.

The young women I interviewed during my visit to Zona 7 were 19 and 17 years old. They both stressed the critical work they have done in working on themselves. They identified as their greatest challenge having to confront their anger towards their parents after they abandoned them physically or emotionally, their “rebel” attitude towards their parents and family members, and the risky behaviors in which they had engaged in the past.

Through participating in the Association programs, the youth I interviewed had been able to acknowledge their drug addiction, state of depression, and suicidal thoughts. After “reaching the bottom,” these youth were looking forward, with an open mind and a positive outlook towards life and their future. They were proud to be engaged in education programs to which their parents didn’t have any access. The healing process they had gone through helped them to improve communication with their families.

The youth I interviewed viewed education as the mean to breaking the cycle of violence and poverty in which they were entangled. They told me of the responsibility they felt to give back to their families and communities. They attributed the healing process as the reason for having assumed leadership in the Association. They told me that this was the main reason they were talking to me, so that their stories would help others to overcome their adversities and start assuming responsibility for themselves, in the same way they had done it.

The two young women assisted by Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios spent over an hour with me talking about their past and present lives and how they envisioned their future. I was also able to join their group activities with other eight youth who are part of the same cohort. During the day, these youth engage in educational scholarships through the Association and attend diversificados (diversified programs equivalent to High School) or work towards Peritos (equivalent to technical education, in tourism, communications, and other fields). In the evenings, these youth go to the Association offices for extra-curriculum activities, which are part of their therapeutic group work, and for individual counseling, as needed.

A founder of Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios presented at the Seminar II held yesterday, April 15, at the Central Campus of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Other presenters included the Asociacion Ak’Tenamit and Los Patojos about which I reported in previous blogs. This second seminar will be followed by a third seminar, which it will be held May 5 in the UVG campus in the Highlands, and about which I’ll be reporting later.


Education for Life and Work

This week’s post is dedicated to another model of education that I’m considering as a comparative case study in my Fulbright project in Guatemala. Earlier this month, I met with education specialists of the German Technical Cooperation (Deutsche Gasellschaff für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, GIZ) and learned about the Education for Life and Work (Educacion para la Vida y el Trabajo, EDUVIDA), a joint initiative with the Ministry of Education of Guatemala. As primary education enrollment has improved over the years in this post-war country , this program is the first attempt to contribute to the improvement of secondary education in rural, indigenous, and poverty-impacted communities. EDUVIDA aims at developing competencies for life and work around 2 pillars: citizenship and enterprise development.

The German technical cooperation in Guatemala started during the 1980s in the context of the Peace Accords. In July 2013, agency priorities were redefined to focus programs in rural regions with a high presence of indigenous peoples and poverty, particularly Quiche, Huehetenango, Alta/Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula (Jocotan), including areas populated by Chorti communities. Although, in the past, GIZ emphasis has been on primary education, significant advances have been done in enrollment in primary school. The major challenges are related to retention in the educational system, particularly on the number of students completing primary education and moving into secondary education.

Inequality in access to education by rural, indigenous communities is a serious social problem in Guatemala. Communities in GIZ geographical coverage areas lack secondary education because secondary schools are concentrated in the cities and departmental headquarters. Besides, there is a significant gap in the number of years of education between the overall population (6 years) and indigenous people (4 years), as compared to overall population (6 years) and indigenous women (2 years); this is in spite of the fact that the retention rate in all levels of education is better among women than men. A partnership of educators from the U.S. and Guatemala summarizes this problem in the following manner: The question, “Is education universal, equally accessible to all and of the same quality for all the children in Guatemala?” must be answered in the negative! (Asociacion Avivara). The U.S. Agency for International Development confirms the following:

In Guatemala, more than two million out-of-school youth between the ages of 15 and 24, including 600,000 in the Western Highlands, do not have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.  Youth face increasingly difficult conditions, including high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid urbanization, increasing crime, and lack of basic services.  Long-term, sustainable development and improved equity in Guatemala will only be possible if education of children and youth continues to improve (U.S. AID Guatemala – Education).

The Government of Guatemala has committed to implement EDUVIDA through integrated reform, which is contained in 12-15 regulations. The program involves the use of a participatory (bottom-up) approach with workshops with teachers, and giving voice to the youth through the school governance boards. The first congress of school governance boards with 180 schools was organized with the Ministry of Education and held in March 2016 with the participation of Jimmy Morales, the new President of Guatemala. Although expert knowledge is used, knowledge is socially constructed; so that, experts become facilitators of the knowledge formation process. The program has a logic of reflexive practice, and it aims at the formation of communities of learning and knowledge.

The GIZ recognizes that there is no labor market in certain regions of Guatemala, and thus the first phase of EDUVIDA emphasizes training young people to work collaboratively in creating job opportunities for themselves. The program is not about training youth to work for rich families Guatemala or to become “better” migrants -more qualified workers migrating. The program aims at strengthening the associative micro-enterprise model, which implies de-stigmatizing cooperative forms of work, and promoting producer associations. Enterprise development is not just the generation of economic profits, it is about cultural and recreational development, forging values such solidarity, partnership, and associative forms of organization.

The program is organizing a national competition for youth enterprise development, which will provide grants to associative youth projects. Closing for submitting projects will be June 17, 2016; those selected (10) will get technical assistance as a form of accompaniment to the implementation. A second phase of EDUVIDA will begin July 17, 2016 and it will focus on citizenship development. The program components will be (1) education advocacy from the local to the national level; (2) curriculum development on citizenship; and (3) training in citizenship and professional development of teachers through a blended learning program. An E-learning program is already being implemented in coordination with the San Carlos University of Guatemala (USAC) through the Professional School for Teachers of Secondary Education (EFPEM), and scholarships are available to secondary education teachers to attend a Specialization Program for  Quality and Equity in the Formation of Educators of Secondary Education.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the context in which the vocational education program developed by the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) has evolved. That includes this innovative program that the Guatemalan official educational system is implementing with the support of the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ). I’ll be reporting more on this work since a representative from GIZ is scheduled to participate in the second seminar on youth at risk that I’m organizing in partnership with the UVG.

Vuelta Grande: A Model for Youth Education and Community Development

This week, I gained new insights on a rural community only 20 minutes away from where I currently reside in Antigua Guatemala. Vuelta Grande has become the attention of several national and international organizations, who have been working through institutional partnerships in the last 10 years. Two of the partner organizations are: La Unión Spanish School, based in Antigua Guatemala, and the Young Dreamer Network, based in Redwood City, California. This blog is a summary of what I learned about this emerging model of youth education and community development during interviews I conducted in my ongoing field research in Guatemala. I visited Vuelta Grande as part of the field program of the Guatemala Practicum Away course in January 2015 and January 2016, and plan to join one of the several groups scheduled to engage in volunteer work in this community in the coming weeks.

Many of the 4,000 inhabitants of Vuelta Grande are of Mayan origin, mostly Kaqchikel, one of the 23 ethnic groups in Guatemala. According to the young female leader I interviewed, men in the community commonly engage in agricultural activities for subsistence and work as day laborers. Besides doing house chores, women engage in occasional income-generating activities, such as cooking and washing cloth for others in the community. Most of the 300 families living in the community have up to 8 children, are low-income, and lack access to land and other family assets. Of the approximately 1,000 children in the community, only 80 attend primary education because many parents do not give priority to children’s education. Instead of sending children to school, parents put them to work in the fields or at home at a very early age. The community has limited social infrastructure and its health center lacks medical personnel, proper equipment and basic supplies, such as medicines. Parental substance abuse, domestic violence, early pregnancy among girls, primary school absentism, and limited job opportunities seem to be the major risk factors for child and youth development in Vuelta Grande.

La Unión Spanish School has been supporting the community organization since 2005 with a focus on securing the social infrastructure necessary for the community to achieve a threshold of community assets. Through service programs, volunteer groups from outside the community have tripled the number of classrooms in the primary school building, from 3 to 9, and equipped the school with bathrooms, common washers, and a soccer field. With the support of various national organizations, including the municipality, churches and Rotary clubs, families have benefited from the construction of permanent brick homes, and latrines, and received food supplies and clothing during times of scarcity.

The  Young Dreamer Network started educational scholarships for youth in disadvantage in Vuelta Grande in 2008 and is currently supporting 26 youth to  pursue education beyond primary school. The first cohort started with 5 students, of which only 2 graduated; the second cohort of 8 had only 4 graduates; and the third cohort of 3 had a 100% graduation rate. Currently, 33 students have some type of scholarship to complete secondary education (basico) and high school (diversificado) in Antigua Guatemala since these programs are not available within the community.

The young community leader I interviewed is one of the first beneficiaries of the scholarship programs in Vuelta Grande. After completing her studies as a bilingual secretary in a school in Antigua over a year ago, she was hired by the La Unión Spanish School  as a group coordinator. She is now doing what she dreamed of doing: giving back to her family and community. With her income, she is able to support a younger brother to complete his high school, and she is directly helping 16 families in her community through her outreach work. Through personal example, she and other graduates from the scholarship program have started to change parental perceptions regarding education. Many parents in the community view children’s education as a “waste of time” and think that “school is an expense [while] children’s work is a profit.”  During the interview, she told me proudly that she is supporting her mother, who no longer  has to go out of the home to support the family; instead, her mother stays at home caring for her 6 year old brother as he attends primary school.

Since its foundation 20 years ago, La Unión Spanish School has partnered with over 100 community organizations in Guatemala to develop a wide range of social and humanitarian projects. These have included medical clinics and campaigns, schools and educational programs, community infrastructure, potable water and agricultural programs, among others. Through a personalized approach of 1 teacher-1 student, the school teaches the Spanish language to about 500-700 foreigners yearly, mostly high school and university students from the U.S. and Canada. The school’s curriculum also immerses foreign students in the culture, gastronomy, customs and history of Guatemala.  La Unión Spanish School  promotes a form of “tourism for development” in Guatemala by involving national and international organizations as partners in order to strengthen communities such as Vuelta Grande. Through its “transformative scholarship program,” the Young Dreamer Network seeks to support youth from Vuelta Grande so that “these individuals are equipped with the knowledge and opportunity to pursue their life dreams.”

The partnership of these organizations is an excellent example of how outsiders can engage with communities on youth education and community development. As part of my Fulbright research and to further learn more about this comparative model, next week, I will be facilitating a focus group with 6-7 youth involved in the various educational scholarship programs. I am looking forward to identifying some of the critical protective factors enhancing the ability of individual youth to succeed and how they contribute to building greater resilience in their community.

The “Street Children” of Guatemala

I write this blog as I finalize details for the second seminar with my colleagues from the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and RTI International for the seminar II: “Evaluation and feasibility of educational programs as life projects for youth-at-risk in Guatemala,” scheduled for Friday, April 15, 3-6PM CT. This seminar aims at learning from best practices in developing programs with youth at risk in rural and urban communities in Guatemala. Presenters will include representatives from the Asociacion Ak’tenamit — of which I wrote a February blog. Two other presenting organizations in this seminar are  Los Patojos and Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios. I dedicate this blog to the first organization after visited its founders and facilities; I will post a blog on the second one once I visit them in the near future.

Before introducing Los Patojos, let me address these questions: Who are the so-called street children? Why it is important to take them into consideration in my Fulbright research? Worldwide, an estimated 150 million street children constitute one of most vulnerable populations today.

Chased from home by violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the death of a parent, family breakdown, war, natural disaster or simply socio-economic collapse, many destitute children are forced to eke out a living on the streets, scavenging, begging, hawking in the slums and polluted cities of the developing world… Various categories of street children exist. There are those who work on the streets as their only means of getting money, those who take refuge on the streets during the day but return to some form of family at night and those who permanently live on the street without a family network (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO)

In an archive of a relevant literature review, Prof. Martin Patt (Street Children – Guatemala) depicts a  precarious reality street children face in Guatemala, where primary education is not yet universal and  where this vulnerable population is criminalized through police violence, widespread discrimination, social stigma, and the inadequate provision of human services. The articles and reports cited provide evidence on this regard:

Credible estimates put the number of street children at five thousand nationwide, approximately three thousand of them in Guatemala City. Most street children ran away from home after being abused [U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, 2006].

Thousands of children living in Guatemala’s streets have faced routine beatings, thefts and sexual assaults at the hands of the National Police and private security guards [Human Rights Watch, 2001].

Drug consumption, sexual promiscuity, extreme poverty, and low educational level place street children at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases [Solorzano, Arroyo, Santizo, Contreras & Gularte, 1992].

As of 2000, 55.8 percent of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5. Working children tend to complete only 1.8 years of schooling, roughly half the average years completed by non-working children [U.S. Dept of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 2005]

The Asociation Los Patojos: Dreams and Ideas in Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization (NGO) who aims at “giving hope and dignifying children and youth in Jocotenango, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala.” During my first field visit to Los Patojos last week, I realized that its director, Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes (who in 2014 was named a CNN Hero), as well as its educational and administrative staff, take that motto seriously. After all, Jocotenango is a municipality northwest of Antigua Guatemala that is best know for the high levels of crime and gang activity. Los Patojos founders insist in avoiding the criminalization of children and the “victim blaming” inherent in violence prevention programs by NOT considering as criminals the children attending preschool, primary and secondary education, even if they themselves and their families may have engaged in criminal activities.

In less than 10 years, Los Patojos has grown substantially in size and programming. Its office moved from serving the street children in this municipality out of a family home into a medium size facility where not only educational activities are developed but a wide range of services are provided to these children and their families. While meeting the educational standards of a regular public school, Los Patojos draws from Paulo Friere’s critical pedagogy to teach students through exploration and collaboration instead of using traditional forms of formal education prevalent in this country. The classrooms are organized as open spaces where children can learn while playing, interacting, and engaging in hands-on activities.

Although many of its students are street children, Los Patojos applies the principle of nondiscrimination in working with the youth “without regard to their family difficulties or problems so that they may live, enjoy and participate actively in the transformation of their contexts,” as per the organization’s website. Los Patojos not only promotes critical thinking among these youth but also their responsibility as individuals and citizens. In fact, some of the graduating youth are already “giving back” to the community and supporting the expansion of the organization into a Community Center, which is one of the Los Patojos dreams. The organization’s founders demand honesty from the children and youth attending classes, and they show what that by being transparent about how they do their work and they don’t. For instance, they promote Los Patojos in order to seek financial support from funders but don’t expose the youth to politicians seeking to use the organization as a platform for their personal or partisan agendas. Community education and cultural action, which are part of the emerging philosophy of patojismo, are considered a medium for “activating dreams and ideas” in order to forge a world that is more just and free, with gender equality.

Los Patojos founders are young Guatemalans applying the institutional values in the way they engage with public and other private institutions in the country and abroad, as well as in the way they develop their fundraising: with dignity, responsibility, and respect. They do it by not allowing colonizing forms of humanitarian assistance, which may compromise the institutional identity of the organization. Volunteers are expected to engage in Los Patojos not for charitable reasons but as allies and partners in the development of this community development program. During my brief visit, it was noticeable that students, staff and volunteers alike are expected to observe the values of dignity and responsibility highlighted in this blog.

During the March 2nd seminar on youth at risk, Dr. Wayne J. Pitts, Criminologist directing the Transnational Crime and Research and Justice Program at RTI International, presented some of the results of a recent study commissioned by USAID to answer the question: Can US Violence Reduction Programs Work in Northern Triangle? This question can be best answered by examining the work of organizations such as Los Patojos and the others presenting at the April 15th seminar. Thus, I am waiting to learn more about the Patojismo and the contributions of this program to the discussion on children education and vocational training of youth at risk in Guatemala. Now that my research protocol got approved by both the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and Elon University during this week, I am ready to move forward with interviewing some of these “Heroes,” who in spite of the adversity they have confronted and continue to confront, realizing their dreams and ideas while bringing hope to the street children in Guatemala.

Gender equality and Ending Violence Against Women: Themes of Early March

Girls’ education is a major topic of concern among the young women I have interviewed in the last few weeks. It is also a goal and desired outcome among those who are managing vocational programs for youth at risk in Guatemala. Institutional Violence Against Women (VAW) in Latin America undermines girls’ education and their full human development. This blog focuses on these themes as keystones of both, my Fulbright field research activities as well as other scholarship that I’m carrying out in Guatemala. The highlight of this week has been the launching of a book in Spanish that addresses the issue of a particular form of violence against women and girls: child abduction for inter-country adoption.

For my doctoral dissertation in Guatemala during 2011-2012, I developed a working definition of child abduction and documented the experience of Guatemalan women whose children were abducted from 2006 (when their babies and girls were stolen) to the time of the interviews in April-May 2012. My research took place after numerous  allegations of adoption irregularities in the old notary system of adoptions. Adoptions in Guatemala were suspended and a new adoption law in Guatemala was enacted in 2008. These irregularities were also documented in the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala 2010 report.

Several of the youth at risk education programs that I have learned about during this past month, emphasize the participation of girls in these educational program and some of them only support girls. The programs do it as a form of affirmative action to address the severe gender inequality historically prevalent in Guatemala, to prevent early pregnancy among girls, to promote the education of girls and young women and to enable their empowerment to address violence against women in a country with high levels of femicide (killing of women) and feminicide (institutionalization of violence against women, specially within government institutions). The long-term impact that these programs also seek is to promote gender are parity in society, particularly within government, which is one of the issues of debate in the Guatemalan Congress during this month.

According to a 2011 study, El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide, or gender-motivated killing of women in the world. Guatemala is third and Honduras is close behind at sixth. These rates have been increasingly alarming in recent years. In El Salvador, the rate of femicide has increased from fewer than 200 reported cases in the year 2000, to over 600 cases in 2011. Similarly, reported cases of domestic violence in El Salvador have increased from around 1,500 cases in 2000, to over 6,000 cases each year in 2009 and 2010. Guatemala and Honduras have also experienced significant increases in the past decade. (Center for Gender and Refugee Studies)

Because prevention of VAW is one of the top priorities among the educational organizations and communities with whom I have interacted in implementing my Fulbright research on at-risk youth in Guatemala, the launching of my book in Spanish becomes another resource and forum of discussion of VAW, as well as gender equality. The book is titled “Implications of Child Abduction for Human Rights and Child Welfare Systems: A Constructivist Inquiry of the Lived Experience of Guatemalan Mothers Publically Reporting Child Abduction for Inter-country Adoption” and it was launched at an educational event in Guatemala City. Gender equality and parity were the main themes during the closing of this seminar and book presentation held on March 7th in Geneva House. The Women’s Institute of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, (IUMUSAC), offered the program in occasion of International Women’s Day. The event was sponsored by the Commission of the National Association of Action for Children, Youths and Families (ACONANI), with funding from IBIS and the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner – Guatemala.

Speakers of the seminar and book presentation included Lic. Patricia Borrayo, Executive Director, IUMUSAC, who gave opening remarks and welcomed participants; Dr. Guisela Lesbia López, Project Coordinador, Instituto Universitario de la Mujer de la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (IUMUSAC), who moderated the event; and Lic. Miriam Maldonado, Coordinator of the Department of Teaching of the USAC and IUMUSAC advisor, who wrote the foreword of the book, and facilitated the collaboration between the IUMUSAC and the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)’s School of Social Work during the dissertation work I conducted in Guatemala. As a Assistant Profession of Elon University, a Guest Lecturer of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala (2015-2016), I presented the voices of the interviewed mothers and research contributions of my dissertation research. The Lic. Norma Cruz, Consultative Director, Fundación Sobrevivitentes spoke about the pending cases of children stolen for inter-country adoption –this was the gatekeeper organization for my dissertation work. In addition, Dr. María José Ortiz Samayoa, General Director, Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (CNA) talked about the state of national adoptions in Guatemala after the suspensions of international adoptions –the CNA is the governmental organization entrusted with the implementation of the Hague convention on child protection and intercountry adoption that I studied for my dissertation research. The seminar and book presentation event was attended by about 50 participants from women’s groups, universities, social organizations and municipalities from Alta and Baja Verapaz provinces.

After this successful event, I spent part of this week pursuing the possibility of holding other forums/ book discussions in Guatemala. A presentation is confirmed for April 12 during a regular weekly meeting of the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club held at the German Club. Two other seminars/book presentations are scheduled at the Central Library of the Universidad of San Carlos of Guatemala (USAC) in late April and the San Andres USAC historical facility at Antigua Guatemala in early May. These events will be sponsored by the IUMUSAC, DIGI (USAC’s research institute) and hopefully the Schools of Social Work and Law at the USAC. The Center of Mexican and Central American Studies (CEMCA) will also support these events, as I’m also a CEMCA associate researcher since January 2016.

The forum discussions and book presentations that I report in this blog have become another vehicle to locate possible partner and gatekeeper organizations for my Fulbright research on youth at risk. This is because most of the individuals and organizations attending have a particular interest in the welfare of children and youth in Guatemala. I’ll be posting additional information regarding these events in future blogs!


Violence Prevention Program (VPP) in the UVG’s Highland Campus

Besides holding the first seminar: “Youth at risk and violence prevention programs in Latin America,” on March 2nd, during this first week of March, I visited the Highland Campus of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Thus, this week, I was able to further my learning about the Violence Prevention Program (VPP) developed in this campus. This blog summarizes that field experience.

Sololá, where the UVG Highland Campus is located, a city known for having an indigenous legal and administrative system, besides the mainstream city government. Sololá is located near the Atitlán Lake, a known tourist destination. The municipality of Sololá is mostly populated by people of Kaqchikel and K’iche’ heritage, and the student population of the UVG Highland Campus is mostly Mayan.

Ninety three percent of students in the UVG Highland Campus are supported through some type of scholarships, including tuition waiver, housing accommodations with host families, food assistance, and the provision of educational and personal materials. The campus also provides a wide range of psycho-social services ensuring that students are able to thrive in the academic educational system, overcoming a history of malnourished, marginalization, and social exclusion experienced by indigenous families throughout Guatemala. The U.S. Foundation of the University of the Valley of Guatemala promotes fundraising for the several scholarship programs implemented in the UVG Highland Campus.

Of the 70 youth benefited by the Violence Prevention Program (VPP) financed by RTI International with USAID funds, 10 youth were originally placed in the UVG Highland Campus. Two of them dropped from the program during the first year but 8 of them successfully graduated from technical programs in ago-forestry or tourism. Two of them pursued higher education and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences during the graduation that the study research associate, Marco Saz, and I attended this weekend.

With the study research associate, Tannia Castañeda, we had the opportunity to discuss the study with the VPP coordinators. They were a psychologist and a social worker who managed the program and provided psycho-social support to the youth placed in the UVG Highland Campus. I was also able to meet with administrators, faculty and other staff involved or knowledgeable about the program, and some of the students involved in the program, and even the parents of one of them.

Through this 3-day field visit, the research team was able to establish the necessary rapport with potential participants of the proposed transformative evaluation, especially for the development of the future interviews and focus groups. One unexpected outcome of this visit was the conceptualization and planning of a 3rd seminar with the VPP coordinators. The 3rd seminar will be focused on the VPP program and will be held in the UVG Highland Campus, hopefully with virtual participation of the Central and South campuses. This May seminar will involve more fully the local actors, including the youth benefited by the wide range of scholarship programs in the UVG Highland Campus. More to come!


Seminars on youth at risk

During the last 2 weeks of February, I have been involved in two main activities related to the Fulbright Project (1) finishing the interviews with youth who have graduated from the Ak’tenamit program (refer to previous blog), and (2) organizing the two seminars that will bring together national and international academics, practitioners, donors, and students to discuss the situation of youth-at-risk in Guatemala and Latin America.

The seminars are organized with the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, and endorsed by RTI International and CEMCA  The topics, dates and URL for YouTube live transmission of the seminars are below:

Workshop I: “Youth at risk and violence prevention programs in Latin America,” scheduled for Wednesday, March 2nd, 3-6PM CTS

Worshop  II: “Evaluation and feasibility of educational programs as life projects for youth-at-risk in Guatemala,” scheduled for Friday, April 15, 3-6PM CT

The first seminar will conceptualize violence not in the strict sense of security but in the broader sense of human development. Thus, speakers will talk about gender-based institutional violence, as well as poverty as a structural form of violence. The program order and speakers will be the following:

Moderator: Tere Ligorria, Specialist of new business development in Guatemala, RTI International

Opening: Andrés Álvarez Castañeda, Dean, Social Science College, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG)

Panel 1

Aldo Miranda, Director of the Regional Office for Latin American and the Caribbean, RTI International

Wayne Pitts, Criminologist of the Center for Justice, Resilience and Security, RTI International

Emily Kephart, Program Coordinator, Guatemalan Child Return & Reintegration Project (GCRRP), Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)

Comments & questions via Twitter: Dr. Maria del Pilar Grazioso, Professor and Director of PhD program in Applied Psychology, UVG

Panel 2

Carolina Castrillo, Director of the Regional Office for Latin American and the Caribbean, Oxfam America

Irena Palma, Executive Director of the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies (INCEDES)

Comments & questions via Twitter: Dr. Carmen Monico, Assistant Professor, Elon University

The second seminar will explore not only vulnerabilities but also how programs in Guatemala are strengthening youth resilience and achieving human development goals. Tentative representatives include:

Joel Reyes, World Bank’s specialist in education in global development, with an emphasis on resilience.

Invited are representatives from Asociacion Ak’tenamit, Los Patojos, Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios and Abriendo Oportunidades, which are Guatemalan community-based groups developing mostly vocational programs with youth in disadvantaged communities in rural and urban areas.


Asociación Ak’ Tenamit: A model of vocational training for youth at risk in Guatemala

The week of February 8-14, 2016, I have been in Livingston and Rio Dulce, department of Izabal, in the Atlantic Coast, examining more closely the educational, community-based model of Asociación Ak’ Tenamit. I was also interviewing students and graduates involved in its vocational training program. In this blog, I provide a preliminary report of what I learned about this model relevant to the Universidad del Valle (UVG) program I’ll be assessing as part of my Fulbright Project.

I arrived to Guatemala in early January with a group of 10 Elon University students, who were completing their professional practice in Winter Term 2016. This was the fourth course I teach of the HSS 382 Practicum Away in Guatemala. It was also the second year I have coordinated with Fundacion Guatemala, a feminist group committed to the advancement of women, including a girls’ empowerment program, and a certificate program for women assuming leadership in their own communities. This was the first year I collaborated in a joint project with Asociacion Ak’Tenamit. The project in which my students and I were involved was the painting of the girls’ dormitories, which we did together with 15 female students undertaken vocational training at the high school-level programs.

Since 2014, I have been collecting data from my students in the context of an ongoing study I have in place, Elon protocol No. 14-079, which is titled “The ‘Guatemalan Way’ of delivering human services to special and vulnerable populations: Experiential learning from field professional work in Guatemala.” As part of that study, this year, I have been interviewing Elon community partner organizations in Guatemala, including Fundacion Guatemala and the Asociacion Ak’Tenamit.

This week, I was in Izabal learning about the operations of the Asociacion Ak’Tenamit and interviewing youth who are currently in the program or have graduated from it. I met and talked to several program administrators and I conducted seven semi-structured interviews. I talked to youth aged 16-20 who were undertaking “diversified” studies (equivalent to high school) or were graduated from the program, most of them self-identified as Q’eqchi’ and involved in the Specialization in Sustainable Tourism. These youth-at-risk talked about their personal background (as individuals, their family, ethnic group, and communities of origin), reasons for entering into the program (how they learned about it and why they applied), about their experience of being a student in the program (aspects of it that they enjoyed the most and the least), and what they were planning to do or doing upon graduation (goals, as related to their choice of studies). In addition, they made important suggestions about how to improve the program.

Themes emerging from the interviews with these youth-at-risk included the following:

  1. Education for girls is a right; it is essential for their self-fulfillment as youth (to reach their dreams) and to support themselves (by getting a job).
  2. By undertaking the program, they have better chances to get out of poverty, prevent them from falling into destructive paths, and as a way to support their families.
  3. Giving back to the community is their responsibility, and they plan to do it upon graduation; while studying, through group projects and internships.
  4. The Asociacion Ak’Tenamit is giving them the chance to do the above, and to appreciate the environment, engage in team work, and to serve with excellence.
  5. Suggested to strengthen educational components (English, history, physical education), improve sustainment (food, water, housing facilities and classrooms), means of communication (with family members, particularly during the first months), and direct practice (through relevant internships).

This and other models of vocational training programs, some of which I’ll be visiting in the next few weeks, will be the topic of discussion at a series of 2 seminars that will be held at the UVG facilities. More to come!