Guatemala,“the land of trees,” is a green and mountainous country located between the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans. With over eight major ethnic groups and almost 7 million people under the age of 18, Guatemala is home to an incredibly young and diverse population.
Though the country is rich with culture and diversity, Guatemala also has a long history of discrimination and mistreatment towards its indigenous population. As a result, indigenous Guatemalans often live in secluded rural communities and lack access to health services and education.
Tania and her family belong to the Mam Mayan ethnic group. Like most indigenous girls, Tania grew up speaking her native language and very little Spanish. Even though 41% of Guatemalans identify themselves as indigenous, only 22% of schools with indigenous students have bilingual programs. Because of this, girls like Tania have a harder time in school and tend to lose confidence in themselves.
“I was afraid to speak in front of others in Spanish, because I always speak Mam.” -Tania
Being a Girl
Despite challenges with speaking Spanish, Tania loved going to school. She enjoyed her classes and looked forward to seeing her friends every day. But in the middle of sixth grade, Tania was told that she could no longer attend school. Like many indigenous families in Guatemala, Tania’s family could not afford to support her education. Her father— a farmer—was out of work and her mother had fallen ill. Tania was forced to leave school so that she could work to support her family.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon story for indigenous girls. Guatemala has the highest prevalence of child labor in all of Latin America and indigenous girls, on average, attend school for a total of three years.
Tania and the United Nations
The United Nations recognizes that indigenous girls like Tania need support. That’s why, five UN agencies are working together with the local government in a joint program called Saqilaj B’e: A path to assert the Rights of Indigenous Adolescent Girls.
Saqilaj B’e is a holistic program designed to promote indigenous adolescent girls empowerment in Guatemala. Through this program, Tania participates in weekly workshops that inform her of her rights, give her the opportunity to express herself, and provide her with relevant information including gender-based violence and health issues. This joint UN program also offers girls the unique opportunity to educate their communities about these issues through radio and TV programs. Because of Saqilaj B’e, girls like Tania know their rights and their potential.
“The first day I was nervous…I didn’t know that we all, men and women, have the same rights. Now I know.” -Tania
The Future Depends on Us
The joint UN program helps ensure that indigenous girls like Tania are healthy, educated, safe, and positioned to become the next generation of leaders in their community.
Girl Up supporters are doing their part by speaking out and asking their elected officials to support the Girls Count Act. This bill would make it a priority in U.S. foreign policy to count girls by helping ensure they are registered at birth and have an official I.D. Having a birth certificate is critical for girls like Tania to go to school, visit a doctor, and be protected from child slavery.