CAMY Fund visits Women’s Justice Initiative
By Gloria Díaz Jaso, CAMY Fund Fellow
On October 2, 2015 Emily Barcklow and myself, together with members of the CAMY Fund’s Grants Advisory Committee, traveled to Patzún, Chimaltenango to visit with one of the CAMY Fund’s new grantees: Women’s Justice Initiative, WJI.
Patzún has a population of approximately 50,000 people of which the overwhelming majority are indigenous Kaqchikel-speakers.
Women’s Justice Initiative is an organization founded in 2011 that empowers indigenous Guatemalan women to address inequities and enhance their lives through access to legal counseling, education and gender-based violence prevention.
We arrived first at their offices where the organization’s staff explained their four different programs and services: Community Advocates, Legal Services, Women’s Rights Education and Girls and Adolescents. WJI has two project leaders with the CAMY Fund: Elvia Raquec is the Program Coordinator for the Women’s Rights Education & Community Advocates Programs while Sandra Cocon is the Assistant for the Women’s Rights Education and Girls and Adolescents Programs. Both of them explained what activities have been carried out to date for the project. Among the most relevant is a community mapping that they carried out in six communities to identify out-of-school girls and invite them to the girls club that they have formed in each community. They currently have begun the girls clubs workshops with 166 girls, the majority of whom are not in-school.
Over the years WJI has gained the support of community leaders from the villages where they are working. At the end of the presentation of their programs, four community leaders arrived and spoke about the importance of the project that WJI is carrying out with the CAMY Fund and their interest in girls not being forced to marry early and to continue to go to school.
We were very excited about the project’s advances and to see what competent leaders Elvia and Sandra were. We observed a strong and consolidated team with support from the community.
After the presentation we shared a delicious meal and then traveled to Chuiquel, a nearby community to observe one of the girls club’s workshops. Chuiquel was about 20 minutes outside of the municipal seat of Patzun though access was complicated by the dirt road leading in. The community’s population mostly work as small-scale farmers on rented lands. The desolation and poverty of the community were quite stark.
We arrived a little late to the club’s meeting place, which is the local school, and there were already 30 girls waiting for us. The entire workshop was carried out in Kaqchikel with Sandra interpreting the most important points for us while Elvia facilitated.
The girls, between 11-16 years old, were a little shy and nervous because we were there but Elvia did a good job of relaxing them and motivating them to participate. The topic for the workshop, which was the second one they have had, was self-esteem. Elvia explained what self-esteem is, why it is important and how it helps us, among other things.
Afterwards, Elvia gave each girl a sheet of paper with a flower drawn on it and explained the exercise which entailed writing their strengths on the petals and their weaknesses on the leaves. Some of the girls presented their drawings before the group and in doing so overcame their weaknesses, since the majority had put that they were afraid to speak in public. During this exercise Elvia linked self-esteem to early unions in girls by encouraging girls to value and love themselves and not be misled by romantic promises from older suitors. It was clear that Elvia has strong skills in facilitating groups of girls and promoting self-reflection.
It was wonderful to meet the WJI team and see their work first-hand. It was inspiring to see the conditions in which the girls live and at the same time their enthusiasm and initiative. We congratulate Elvia and Sandra and their entire team for their excellent work!
Fortunately we had the opportunity to see Sandra and Elvia again on our visit since they attended the crowdfunding training that we organized the following week.