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!


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