At WINGS, we believe the key to creating lasting change is empowering people at the local, community level. For this reason, we established our Voluntary Family Planning Promoter network back in 2006. Volunteer promoters are men and women who distribute low-cost short-term contraceptives and provide quality counseling and referrals to WINGS for additional services. As our promoters are locals, they have an intimate linguistic and cultural knowledge of the communities they serve. Currently, 60 women and men serve as WINGS´ volunteer promoters throughout 11 departments.
Lucy, 24 years old, was born in Santa María Cauqué, a small village located in southern Guatemala. She is one of five siblings, and her mother is a midwife. In Lucy´s community, health services are scarce, and as a result she helped with her first delivery when she was only 7. Though Lucy was exposed to reproductive health issues at a very early age, her family and teachers never taught her about her own reproductive and sexual health. When Lucy was sixteen, she had her first baby. She shared with us that at the time she felt like she was still a child herself, not ready to have a child of her own. With little to no money, Lucy worked hard as a farmer so she could make ends meet.
One day a staff member from WINGS came to Lucy’s village to offer counseling and sexual education talks. “It is like she came into my life like a mother, to talk to me about all the things I had never learned”. From there, Lucy became very interested in working with WINGS, and was trained to become a family planning promoter. She said at first only her cousin came to her for a contraceptive method, but slowly, word traveled throughout the community and more women started to arrive. Now, Lucy has been with WINGS for six years and provides counseling and contraceptives to more than 250 women each month.
Lucy explains that her role in her community is crucial to many poor people who cannot afford health care in a private health facility. Many pregnancies in her community are the result of lack of means to pay for contraception. When discussing her role, Lucy mentions that she sees about 60 women per week. She has a form that she fills out for each of the women, to keep track of when they are due for their contraceptive method.
“Without even reading my forms, I always know when each of my patients needs her contraceptive method. I know all the ladies by name!”
Personally, family planning has been challenging for Lucy. When she started working with WINGS, her husband and mother-in-law refused to accept that she only wanted to have two children. Her husband was raised in a family of many siblings, and he told her his mother had many kids, so she should do the same. At some point Lucy’s husband even told her that contraceptives were poisonous and that he would not give her permission to use them. Lucy’s mother-in-law said, “You are a woman; you have to keep as many children as God sends you”. Lucy bravely chose to use a Jadelle subdermal implant without her family knowing. She recalls what she felt making such a big decision; “I did it because I did not want to have the same life that my parents had, and for that I am proud. I can now say that I am in a much different situation than my parents were. There used to be so much ignorance, and now I feel like I’ve reached a very successful point.”
Lucy sees the change and successes in her community. Women never used to talk about family planning. Now, the majority of women ask Lucy when she’s coordinating the next mobile clinic, or when they can stop by for counseling. Now, many want to use long-acting reversible contraception, such as the IUD or the subdermal hormonal implant, which would have been unthinkable in the past.
When asked how working with WINGS has impacted her life, Lucy shared that before, she and her husband would not have been able to afford the most basic things such as water and electricity. That thanks to WINGS, she has an income of her own, which has empowered her in many ways. Together with her husband, she has saved up money to invest in the future of their children. Lucy is humbled by the trust her community places in her, but is most shocked by the change in her husband’s attitude. For a long time, he was reticent about anything that had to do with WINGS. Lucy shared with us that her husband apologized; “I am so sorry, because when you first wanted my support, I didn’t give you that. Now, you have been able to help yourself. You are free; you should do whatever you want to do. Support whomever you want to support. Fight.”
After six years with WINGS, Lucy is extremely happy to be making such a positive impact in her community and hopes to continue for years to come.
Happy Mother’s Day! Today, in celebration of all mothers who impacted our lives, we’re sharing another story from our series: 15 stories for the 15th Anniversary!
WINGS’ mobile clinics travel to remote areas of Guatemala, where access to health services is extremely limited. During the clinics, we provide contraceptive methods, cervical cancer screenings and cryotherapy treatment. In many Guatemalan communities, family planning or anything related to reproductive health is still much stigmatized, so it takes courage for women from these villages to go to our clinics. We have met strong women who have overcome many struggles, as is the case with Ana Maria.
25-year-old Ana Maria was born in Nicaragua. Both her parents died when she was a child, and without family or opportunities, she came to Guatemala, told by a prospective employer he would provide her steady work and a place to live. At just 14, Ana Maria was sold into the sex slave industry, and obligated to pay off her travel and housing debts. After 3 months living a nightmare, Ana Maria managed to escape with the help of a friend, now her husband.
A few years later, Ana Maria went to a WINGS talk about family planning and cervical cancer. The risk factors for cervical cancer really concerned her, considering her past. Ana Maria wanted to undergo a screening, but worried about the cost; her husband works on a banana plantation and some months they barely have enough money to feed their 3 children. WINGS nurse Alejandra heard Ana Maria’s concerns, and offered to waive the fee for the screening. Unfortunately, Ana Maria’s screening results came out positive for pre-cancerous cells. WINGS’ staff provided Ana Maria with immediate cryotherapy treatment that day, to prevent precancerous lesions progressing to cervical cancer. With tears running down her face, Ana Maria said: “I could never afford this treatment. Sometimes we don’t even have enough to eat. I thank God that there are organizations providing services to the poorest people.”
Ana Maria’s three children and her husband were also very grateful to WINGS. The children are still very young, and with their father busy working at the plantation during the day, Ana Maria is their main caretaker. Thanks to the cervical cancer screening and treatment, Ana Maria got the opportunity to be with her three children and see them grow up.
Ana Maria was very lucky. WINGS provided her with cervical cancer screening and cryotherapy treatment in time and she avoided developing cervical cancer. But what happens to all the women living in remote, rural area of Guatemala where access to health services is almost nonexistent? In many cases, these women have never attended a talk about cervical cancer and they don’t even realize they may be at risk. As a result, they do not get screened and there is a higher chance for cervical cancer to develop. If caught early, cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable. It should not be the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in Guatemalan women.
This is where we are asking you to step in. We are aiming to screen almost 4,000 women for cervical cancer this year and you can help us make this happen. Join our Mother’s Day campaign today and make a donation to WINGS in the name of the mother you wish to honor. We will send you a beautiful personalized card for her, explaining the impact her Mother’s Day gift is making. Help us save lives!
When we think of adolescence, we tend to associate it with a period of discovery and change: growing closer to certain friends, becoming interested in different hobbies, hitting puberty, and transitioning from childhood to adulthood. In Guatemala however, the reality for many teenage girls is sadly very different. Due to lack of sexual education, sociocultural norms, and limited access to birth control, 22% of girls in Guatemala give birth before the age of 18, forcing them into adulthood too quickly. Guatemala has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean and is the only country in Central America where teenage pregnancy is actually on the rise.
Through its Youth Program, WINGS seeks to prevent teenage pregnancies in Guatemala and enable girls and boys to decide about their health and futures. Our program combines youth led sexual education with free sexual and reproductive health services in remote communities.
In a recent mobile clinic in San Francisco Zapotitlán, on the country’s Pacific coast, we met 21-year-old Fabiola.
Born in San Francisco Zapotitlán, Fabiola is one of seven siblings. Her mother sold vegetables and fruit in the local market to provide for her children. While her mother was working, Fabiola was in charge of the house, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, despite being a child herself. As in many Guatemalan families, nobody ever told Fabiola about birth control. When she was 18, Fabiola had her first child. She struggled because on top of looking out for her younger siblings, she now had her own baby to take care of. At 19, Fabiola had her second child. Today, Fabiola is 21 years old and has three children. Raising her three children has not been easy: “Being a mother is a beautiful thing, but sometimes I feel like I can barely manage. I can’t afford to provide my children with everything I’d like to give them, and when they get sick, I can’t sleep because I’m worried about their well-being”.
Days before the mobile clinic, our Field Supervisor Mylin visited women in San Francisco Zapotitlán to talk about their family planning options and encourage them to attend our mobile clinic. Although Fabiola showed up, she was very scared about using birth control. In San Francisco as in many Guatemalan communities, birth control is highly stigmatized. While she was afraid that her community would judge her, Fabiola knew that she could not afford to have more children. After discussing which contraceptive options we could offer her, Fabiola chose the subdermal hormonal implant, which provides up to 5 years of protection. Fabiola said she is grateful to WINGS because now she does not have to worry about becoming pregnant again and she is ready to dedicate all her time to raising her three boys. “WINGS is one of the few organizations that has reached out to women in my community. Many of us do not have enough money to go to a big hospital and pay for expensive services. Once I told the nurses I did not have enough money for the implant, they gave it to me for free!”
During the mobile clinic, we also met Berta, a 19-year-old girl who carried her 10-month-old baby in her arms. Berta too had never learned about birth control – not even in school where teachers are legally required to provide sexual education. When Berta was 5 years old, her mother passed away. She was raised by her aunts and her father. Her family is very religious, and she was not allowed to ask any questions related to sexuality. She was very surprised when she got pregnant, as was all her family. A friend of her late mother told Berta about the mobile clinic, so Berta came in to get a subdermal hormonal implant. Berta may want to have one other child in the future, but she is happy that she now gets to choose when she is ready for that.
When asked whether she was excited about Mother’s Day, Berta’s face lit up and a huge smile spread across her face. “Yes! You know, once my own mother died, I lost all hope of ever being able to say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ again. But now, for the first time in my life, people will be saying that to me. Even though I didn’t plan to be a mother this early, I love my son and I want to be the best mother in the world for him.”
This Mother’s Day, you can support women like Fabiola and Berta by donating to WINGS. Give a meaningful gift to a special mom today and save lives!
Visit www.wingsguate.org/mothers-day-2016 to learn more about our Mother’s Day Campaign.
In Guatemala, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths among Guatemalan women. While the disease is preventable and highly treatable if detected early, in countries like Guatemala where healthcare is largely inaccessible, it’s a grim story.
Inadequate health centers, lack of knowledge, and geographic barriers make it difficult for women to get screened for cervical cancer in Guatemala. Ten years ago, WINGS developed its Cervical Cancer Prevention Program to overcome these challenges by providing visual inspection with acetic acid and immediate cryotherapy treatment for pre-cancerous cells. We continue to offer these life-saving services in stationary clinics in Sololá, Cobán and Antigua, and through our mobile clinics, which travel to the most remote areas of the country to reach underserved women. We have provided lifesaving services to improve the lives of thousands of women in Guatemala, even within our own team!
41 year old WINGS’ Nurse Rosy was born in a rural community in San Cristobal, located in northern Guatemala. Rosy travels every month with our mobile team to provide family planning information and contraceptives to the most remote areas of the country.
Like many of the girls and women we serve, Rosy has faced many challenges in her life. When she was only 15 years old, her family forced her to marry a man who turned out to be abusive. Sadly, in Guatemala it is very common for young girls to be married off without their consent. Rosy suffered through her marriage because, similar to many women in her situation, she didn’t have a say in any decisions. Although Rosy was finally able to separate from her husband, the difficulties persisted. As a single mother, Rosy had to figure out how to make ends meet so she could feed her four children and send them to school. Luckily, her former father-in-law was very supportive and encouraged her to go back to school.
Rosy and her family had never received any information about reproductive health and prior to resuming her studies, she knew very little about her own health in general. As a child, she lost her mom and aunt to cervical cancer. Neither had ever been screened and Rosy was terrified that the she would face the same health burden.
However, as an Assistant Nurse providing these important services throughout Northern Guatemala, Rosy decided to undergo a screening with our team. Unfortunately, our staff discovered abnormal cell growth which could lead to cancer, but our team treated Rosy immediately.
As Rosy shared with our team that day, “I am truly grateful to WINGS for supporting me and allowing me to keep being a mother to my children. I now have my nursing diploma and I am so proud to be able to help people who need it. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with WINGS; I love every part of my job. I give educational talks to different communities in my native Mayan language; I provide different birth control methods; and I screen women to help prevent cervical cancer. This work is so important and I hope that I can keep doing it forever.”
Like Rosy’s aunt and mother, there are thousands of women in Guatemala who do not know about the causes of cervical cancer and how to prevent it. WINGS has worked endlessly to change this and provide information and reproductive health services to Guatemalan women in need. In 2015, we surpassed our cervical cancer screening projection by 141%, ensuring that 3,062 women were able to undergo preventive screenings. And in the first three months of 2016 alone, we have already provided 496 cervical cancer screenings. Moving forward, we will continue providing these imperative services, thanks to your unwavering support.
To support women like Rosy, make a donation to WINGS today.
Elma grew up in Chiqueleu, a rural village in the highlands of Guatemala. Having grown up in a remote location with scarce access to education or health services, Elma never learned about contraceptive methods or reproductive health.
She became pregnant at a young age. It came to Elma as a big surprise, mainly because she didn’t understand how one becomes pregnant. She shared that in her community no one ever talks about sex or family planning. Even though 69% of the population in Guatemala is less than 30 years old, sexual education still hasn’t reached most public schools, and HIV prevention programs have been focused on sexual abstinence and delaying first sexual intercourse.
When Elma told her boyfriend that she was pregnant, he said that the baby wasn’t his, and disappeared from her life, never to be seen or heard from again. Elma was devastated. Sadly, this is a common occurrence in patriarchal countries where gender roles are still very traditional. Guatemala is one of the most gender unequal countries in the world. Men are not typically held accountable and many people believe that solely women are responsible for their pregnancies. In Elma’s case, most of her community and family shunned her, launching her deeper into depression.
“Once I saw the results, I couldn’t stop crying, plus my boyfriend had just left me completely alone. I honestly came close to committing suicide because I could not find a solution. Luckily, I made the right decision and I’m still here.”
Elma says that 4 years ago, nobody in Chiqueleu had access to or knowledge about contraceptive methods. Now, WINGS has impacted her community tremendously by making contraceptive methods available and providing reproductive health education. Thanks to this, Elma has had the opportunity to further her education; she only has 2 more semesters left to finish nursing school! “I am going to continue seeking advice from the WINGS volunteer promoter so that I can continue to plan my life, finish my studies and move forward”.
Did you know that 1 in 3 indigenous women in Guatemala have no access to health and family planning services? Along with that, only 14% of indigenous girls in rural areas complete primary school. Guatemala has the highest fertility rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has among the highest rates of adolescent pregnancies, and one of the highest rates of unmet contraceptive need. Twenty-two percent of women give birth before the age of 18. One big issue is that once adolescent girls become mothers, they are far less likely to re- enter the education system. In fact, 40% of adolescent mothers in Central America never finish their education.
Education is positively associated with contraceptive use by increasing awareness, acceptability, and utilization of family planning services. It is critical that people learn about contraceptives so they can choose if, when, and how many children to have. It is equally as important to raise awareness and increase acceptability to sexual health so that these topics stop being a taboo in Guatemala. This will result in people not being afraid or embarrassed to seek counseling and information regarding their reproductive health. Reproductive health services are important so that all Guatemalans have the opportunity to complete their education, pursue their goals, and break the cycle of poverty in this country.
To support women’s empowerment and to break the cycle of poverty, WINGS has various different programs that have a direct, cost effective impact on education, poverty, health, and gender inequality.
Though we have stationary clinics in Antigua, Cobán and Sololá, we are aware that there are many women in need who are living in very remote areas of the country. For this reason, we also have mobile clinics that go out to those areas, to provide both short-term and long-acting reversible contraception, cervical cancer screenings, and treatment for the most commonly occurring STIs. We do cervical cancer screenings and same-day cryotherapy treatment for pre-cancerous cells that may lead to cervical cancer. We also offer affordable tubal ligations and vasectomies; the donation cost is typically Q50, roughly $6, but we cover the costs for those who cannot afford it.
We offer community-based counselling and distribution of low-cost short-term methods through our network of volunteer family planning promoters, who have an intimate linguistic and cultural knowledge of the communities they serve. They provide quality counselling, low-cost contraceptive methods and referrals to WINGS for additional services.
We also train young women and men (ages 14 to 19) as Youth Leaders who provide accurate reproductive health information and service referrals to their peers through community-based activities. We improve the quality of information and services by training staff members of women’s rights and youth organizations, public health service providers, and partner organizations.
In Elma’s words, “Here in my community, we had no contraceptive methods in the past. Women here have wanted access to these methods for a long time now. It was very hard for me to tell you my story, but I thank you so much for visiting me, for the advice you have given me, and for strengthening our families through reproductive health.”
Use the arrows above to look through the image gallery from WINGS Youth Leaders’ training.
WINGS’ Youth Leaders program trains young men and women from ages 14 to 19 so they can provide accurate reproductive health information and service referrals to their peers through community-based activities. Our methodology incorporates the topics of gender equality and power.
In Guatemala, many children do not finish their education; most only go up to third grade and then start working in order to support their families. Some sell fruits and vegetables in “mercados”, some work with crops in the fields, and others shine shoes for a living. In this environment with scarce opportunities or access to schooling, children grow up knowing little about their own rights and their health. For children who do continue their education in the public school system, the picture does not get much better. Though Guatemalan legislation states that public schools must teach family planning and reproductive health topics, the culture remains very conservative and sexual health is still taboo, hence in most schools, these topics are not even mentioned. Not knowing much about reproductive health or contraception options, many girls become pregnant at 15 or earlier.
Additionally, Guatemala is a very patriarchal society where women’s voices are frequently silenced, especially in rural areas, where traditional gender roles are still very prevalent. Sadly, violence against girls and women is common. There are many pregnancies that happen as a result of rape, sometimes by girls’ own relatives.
At WINGS we believe in promoting equal rights and we know it is imperative for youth to receive an education. Unintended adolescent pregnancies can be avoided through reproductive health education and access to contraceptive methods. By informing youth about their reproductive rights, we can reduce teen pregnancies, increasing girls likelihood to continue their education, and pursue their future goals.
Just in January, we have already held two Youth Leader training sessions, one in Cobán and the other in our Antigua office. In total, we trained sixty young men and women. Both sessions were a huge success; the adolescents asked great questions, gave important feedback, and were willing to participate in all our fun activities. Even those who were shy at first warmed up to the topics and to their peers. WINGS’ staff taught the youth about the contraceptive methods we offer. To make sure that the youth understood, they got into smaller groups to make presentations about each method, with banners and demonstrations about how to use each. To keep the activities fun and dynamic, we held rallies so that the youth could run outside and play while learning. In addition to talking about contraceptive methods and how to use them, we also talked about reproductive rights, gender equality, and sexual orientation. We are aware that Guatemala is still a very traditional society, so it is important that from a very young age, our youth learn to respect all types of diversity. It was great to see that despite having been brought up in a conservative culture, the youth readily accepted these topics.
This past year, we noticed some very important numbers. Out of all the 14-19 year old adolescents we work with, 81% chose short term contraception, while only 19% choose LARCs (long-acting reversible contraception), even though the latter are the most effective.
This year we implemented the LARCs First methodology. We explain all available birth control methods in terms of efficacy: beginning with the most effective (IUD and subdermal implant) and ending with the least effective method (condom). There are numerous misconceptions about LARCs in Guatemala: it is believed that they are only meant to be used by married women or women who have already had children, some think that they can make women infertile, or that they are permanent methods. For this reason, during our training program we strongly emphasize these contraceptive methods can be used by women regardless of whether they have had kids or not, and that they can be removed after 5 years (in case of the implant) or 10 (IUD), or earlier if the person decides to.
Our Youth Leaders program is made up of many intelligent, determined youth who bring such positive energy and hope to the work WINGS does.
* Click on the “CC” button to watch with English subtitles
Here is an interview with one of our newest Youth Leaders, Samuel. Samuel talks about why youth are embarrassed to talk about sex, why adolescent pregnancies are so frequent in Guatemala, and what his dreams for the future are.
It is thanks to your support that WINGS Youth Leaders Program became reality. Please continue empowering youth in Guatemala by making a tax-deductible contribution to WINGS.
In January 2015, WINGS launched a pilot of its youth peer education program (#WINGS4YOUTH). 144 young men and women from rural villages in the Alta Verapaz province received training in reproductive health and rights and are now active leaders in their communities.
Last month, with support from our partner organizations, we organized a 3-day leadership camp to celebrate the accomplishments of our bright, young leaders. Through games, team-building activities, and thematic workshops, the 50 attending youth leaders demonstrated their sexual health knowledge, strengthened their leadership skills, and boosted their self-confidence.
During the camp, our youth leaders also had a chance to experience parenting – by looking after electronic babies! The electronically simulated babies which cry when they need to be held, changed, or fed, eventually calm down and coo when their needs are met. Nevertheless, their spontaneous crying day and night was a challenging experience for our youth leaders! Here’s what the parents for one day had to say:
On the last day of the camp, after having received their ‘diplomas’, our wonderful group of youth leaders posed for a photo:
We were thrilled to hear how happy the youth leaders are to be part of our program. For many of these young men and women, this has truly been a life-changing experience. They admit that their newly acquired knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights has not only impacted how they think about their personal lives, but has also had an important impact on the lives of their peers and community members. They feel proud and empowered to continue helping other young people avoid teenage pregnancies and build a healthier and stronger Guatemala.
To support WINGS’ youth program, please consider making a donation to WINGS.
For World Humanitarian Day 2015, WINGS is celebrating one of our dedicated team members. A true humanitarian who provides reproductive health education to thousands of youth, women, and men in some of the most underserved communities in Guatemala, and never loses her enthusiasm and motivation! We don’t know what we’d do without her and we know that countless families throughout Guatemala feel the same.
Meet Ana Lucia…
How did you start working with WINGS?
I started volunteering with WINGS in 2007 after having participated in a reproductive health workshop. I was so inspired by what I learned that I joined WINGS to teach other young people about sexual and reproductive health. I accepted a formal position as a Youth Educator in 2011 and since 2013, I have supervised our promoter network as a Family Planning Educator.
Tell us about the work of WINGS in Guatemala.
WINGS works to improve the lives of Guatemalan families through sexual and reproductive health education and services. We strive to reach the most remote and underserved areas, helping women decide on the number of children they want and giving them the tools to space pregnancies, with the goals of alleviating poverty and reducing maternal and infant mortality.
What are the biggest challenges facing Guatemala with regards to reproductive health?
Sexual health is still a taboo here: religion is barrier to accessing services and the education system does not help – reproductive health and family planning are not given enough attention within the education system.
What do you enjoy most about working for WINGS?
I love seeing a woman leave our clinics with the contraceptive method of her choice. It might seem like a small thing, but behind her ability to choose is a lot of effort. Our team provides information and education across the country, enabling women to make informed decisions about their own bodies; we raise funds so that we can buy and provide subsidized contraception; we work with municipal leaders and decision makers to organize numerous clinics in the communities and our team of nurses, educators, drivers, and volunteers provide their services to make these clinics a reality.
When I see women happily leaving our clinics , knowing that they can now take control of their lives and give their families a better future, this makes me really happy and proud of the work we’re doing.
And the most important part of your job…
Helping Guatemalan women. I love visiting communities, understanding the needs of women living there and then being able to help them to improve their lives through family planning. I think the most important part of my work is understanding that women have the right to freely decide if/how many children they want to have and then ensuring that they are able to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.
Why are the reproductive health services that WINGS provides so important in Guatemala?
They are important because women are dying. They are dying because they are having many children, they are not spacing their pregnancies, and have very limited access to health services. It is crucial that we continue to provide education and services and work towards a better Guatemala and a better life for future generations.
Do YOU have a question for Ana Lucía? Just ask in a comment, she will be very happy to respond!
To help Ana Lucía and WINGS reach more underserved women, men and youth and provide reproductive health education and services, please make sure you spread the word about our work with your friends and family.
To donate, follow this link: www.wingsguate.org/donate
The invisible girl lives in rural areas, seldom attends secondary school, marries early and has little control over how often she becomes pregnant and how many children she has. She escapes national data because she is hard to reach and expensive to serve. Yet, she is expected to raise her children free of malnutrition, stay healthy, and contribute to the overall well-being of her community. She appears in brochures to fundraise or promote tourism, provided she’s smiling.
This girl exists to the State up to the age of two, when she’s taken for vaccination. She reappears at the age of six or seven, or whenever she gets a chance to attend elementary school. Once she completes sixth grade, she would only be counted if there is a census, or as a member of a household in one of the national surveys. She will again be eligible for a State-run program when she becomes pregnant. Sometimes the gap between leaving school and marriage is a year; sometimes it is a bit more. In the meantime, she will work at home, collaborate in agricultural production or help her family sell these products. She will be courted and will marry and move to her husband’s family home.
This persistent pattern is often labeled “inevitable” or “part of the culture” and thus relegated in the list of official priorities. Yet, we cannot claim that girls “choose” to marry and bear children early if they are not aware of other alternatives. Racism and ethnocentrism play an important role in keeping these girls invisible, and therefore irrelevant. Ignoring their needs is equivalent to planning poverty.
THE COST OF INVISIBILITY
Programs that target these girls have demonstrated that well contextualized, girl-centered planning works. Girls respond well to programs that focus on building self-esteem and skills, are rights-based and focus on their health and family planning decisions as part of a process that remains girl-centered. Girls recognize the challenges of marrying early and the hardship of having little control over their fertility. Attending school and skills-based programs constitute a protective factor that allows them to postpone their transition to adulthood.
Guatemala will not change overnight but working to make girls visible is a step in the right direction of reaching them. However, there is an ongoing bias in favor of in-school, urban youth. In Guatemala, it is easy to make a case for almost every segment of the population and rural girls have historically “lost” when programs make choices based on cost and accessibility. Today, ⅓ of rural adolescents aged eighteen and younger are pregnant or already mothers. There are services that, if minimal, are available to them. The other two thirds are home, working for little or no pay, most likely in the informal sector. Fewer than 15% will be enrolled in high school. Their chances of participating in programs, governmental or not, will decrease once they are married and have children. There is not much choice in this.
Alejandra Colom is a Senior Program Director with the Population Council, managing program activities in Guatemala, and a WINGS’ board member. You can learn more about her and her work at the Population Council.