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!

Launching the project

A transformative evaluation (explained in the methodology tab above) requires holding multiple consultations with actual and potential stakeholders (those affected and interested in this project). One has to keep in mind that this type of research is conducted with many other actors currently or potentially involved in the research topic. Keeping them actively engaged in the research and being open to their suggestions are necessary steps in the project design, while launching the project. Essential elements are enhancing one’s cultural competence, assuming an attitude of respect, and being willing to introduce adjustment, as needed. Most of the period of January 29 through February 5th has been focused on planning preliminary fieldwork and following up administrative procedures with the faculty, staff and students of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), which is my main partner organization in this project and my host academic institution. This first posting is about the preparation phase of what is going to be an intensive experience of research and teaching in Guatemala!

Today, I finished a quick review of my academic knowledge of the Spanish language with a great teacher at La Union Spanish School. This review will constitute an important foundation for my future writing of field notes based on transcripts, reports of data analysis and presentation of results as well as the drafting of manuscripts in Spanish. Although I have a wonderful research assistant, a doctoral student of the PhD program in Applied Psychology at the UVG, who will keep me in check with my grammar and language composition, I feel responsible for becoming more proficient in the language. The brief Spanish refreshment program unveiled my shortcomings, and gave me more confidence in the ability to do what I’m set to do in this particular cultural context.

As a scholar engaged in international research, I have to be sensitive to the approval process of the research project I’m set to do. Clarifying all aspects of the proposed research with members of the Ethics Committee of UVG’s College of Social Sciences is the most critical building block for meeting the appropriate standards in conducting research with human subjects in Guatemala. This Central American country has had a long history of violations of bioethics with the STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, which is now used as a negative case study when one completes the CITI requirements for research with human subjects. Once the UVG has approved my research plan, Elon University’s Institutional Review Board will consider it. Once that is done, I’ll be set to go in full steam with the proposed interviews and focus groups.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to study the context in which the UVG’s program for youth-at risk I’ll be assessing situates. As part of that, next week, I’ll be examining the experience of programs that have made a difference in the lives of children and youth who have been adversely impacted by war, violence, abuse and neglect, and historically-related trauma. I’ll look, beyond the literature, how vocational training programs have made a difference in the lives of many children and youth in Guatemala. I’ll begin to understand how this population has found the resilience to confront adversity personally and collectively…