For most young women in the rural villages of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, education beyond 6th grade is out of reach. Facing limited resources, many parents send only their sons away to school.

Over the past three years, your donations have helped build a partnership with Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC), an organization that alleviates poverty and protects forests through education, reforestation, community development, leadership scholarships, and ecological improvements to agriculture. More and more of you are even able to visit this beautiful and important work through transformational travel to Guatemala.

In March, researchers from the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, Va.) and the SIT Graduate Institute (Brattleboro, Vt.) published a paper in the International Journal of Educational Development about CCFC’s “Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conserviation” (WALC) program. This is a program you help support through Lutheran Partners.

Here are a couple highlights of their research:

Education is fundamental to achieving long-term sustainable development.

Dawn S. Bowen and Amy Leap Miller write:

Access to education — both formal and informal — provides opportunities for skills to be acquired, new agricultural practices learned, improvements to nutrition and health advanced, and young people to have a voice in their future. This is even more true for indigenous females who live in isolated villages where many perceive education to have little value.

Olga and sisters

Adolescent girls in Guatemala can participate in the WALC program through CCFC. Your gifts to LPGM help empower girls like these through education.

The WALC program builds self-esteem, promotes empowerment and keeps girls in school

In addition to teaching young women about conservation and agroecology, there are bigger lessons learned. When girls finish the 25-day program, they earn scholarships that help them stay in school for another year.

Our participant observation revealed a sense of pride among young women because they are earning their own tuition; by taking ownership of their education, they become more motivated and confident to make decisions about their futures. This focus provides them with an opportunity to become empowered young women with the skills, self-esteem, and networks to become leaders in their villages, equipped with tools to improve situations in their homes, and enabled to inspire change for younger siblings, friends, and neighbors.

What girls learn positively affects their entire community

Most of the young women in the WALC program come from farming families. These families almost exclusively rely on corn and bean crops at a basic subsistence level. So the WALC program introduces fruit trees and heirloom crops to help supplement income and improve environmental factors. And when fruit prices are low because of surpluses, girls learn how to make jam and dried fruit.

[Girls in WALC] were learning from one another how to stand up for themselves and how they could take the WALC experience and replicate in their homes and communities. We are cognizant of the fact that saying and doing are two very different things, but when we visited a small sample of WALC participants’ villages, we saw that about ninety percent of the homes had fruit trees and heirloom crops in the gardens. While these young women come from rather remote villages, they learn from one another that their experiences and challenges are similar and that through participation in WALC they can work together to promote change in their households and in their villages.

These girls have an important voice

Listening to the voices and needs of the people we serve is core to LPGM’s work around the world. Here are a few quotes from girls themselves:

We have the right to study just like boys do. My grandma and mom didn’t study and we see what that means for them. We, this generation, see what they endured and we don’t want [that] and so we want to study and have a better life. – Vilma, age 18

The first year I was in the program… opened a path for me. The hope [I have] as a leader is that it will have a ripple effect on other people in my village. What I can do, other people know they can do. – Marta, age 17

Asking who I am, understanding it and how that effects [sic] my self-esteem is really important. It is the basis for me to move forward in life and it starts with my self-concept: how I feel about myself and how I see myself. – Lidia, age 16

Thank you for making this empowering work possible. Your gifts to CCFC help educate and empower more and more girls in Guatemala!

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Learn more about LPGM’s work in Guatemala»

Read the abstract, or purchase the entire journal article»

Author Dan Ruth

Dan Ruth is the executive director of LPGM and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

More posts by Dan Ruth