The Population Council, along with partner organizations, created a program entitled Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) in order to support the development of young Mayan girls. To date, it has reached 8,000 young girls.

These young girls often live in more rural, isolated regions where access to school and health services is limited. This particular subset of the population in Guatemala tends to marry early without finishing their education.

Abriendo Oportunidades was designed to connect Mayan girls with mentors and provide them with leadership training and life skills. Locally trained professionals often facilitate the program in community girls’ clubs. Gender-based violence is also discussed in a safe setting to provide young girls with the knowledge and tools to stay safe.

An evaluation of the program in 2007 has demonstrated great success in opening opportunities for Mayan girls. All girls in the program have completed sixth grade, 97 percent of the girls did not become pregnant and 88 percent of the girls were able to open bank accounts. These achievements are important because these girls will have greater opportunities open to them in the future. For example, with financial security and education, they can better plan for the timing of children if they wish to have them later in life.

The program results also reveal a change in the attitudes of these young girls. Over half of the girls now wish to complete university and over 90 percent want to wait until later in life to have children. With greater confidence and leadership, these Mayan girls feel an increase in freedom and respect from their fellow community levels. The confidence these girls now have is one of the most important indicators of success. If young girls believe they can achieve education and important careers, they are more likely to be able to do so.

Abriendo Oportunidades has been adapted for communities in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua. Researchers have also further developed the program to be used with adolescent boys who need to learn just as much about gender-based violence and female empowerment.

Iliana Lang

Sources: The Population Council, CNN
Photo: The Population Council