Saturday, January 17, 2015
Introducing Our Ojos Abiertos Program: Educating Youth on Reproductive Health and Family Planning in Rural Guatemala
Did you know that more than one in five Guatemalan young women have babies before their 18th birthday (UNESCO)? According to the World Health Organization, indigenous women in rural Guatemalan communities have an average of six children, one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Many of these women are from poor families and are unable to feed themselves, let alone six children. In fact, Guatemala also has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the entire world, especially among children under five in indigenous communities. We can give you plenty more statistics describing the dire reality of impoverished families in Guatemala, but instead, let us tell you what we are doing about it.
We believe that the lack of education regarding issues of sexual and reproductive health is a root cause for many of the problems faced here in rural Guatemala. Young people are simply not exposed to crucial information about sex and its life-changing consequences, which leaves them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and sexual abuse. Most indigenous people never get the chance to have any kind of formal education on sexual and reproductive health, which is why we are very excited to be launching our Ojos Abiertos (Eyes Open) program next week.
Through Ojos Abiertos, middle and high school students in our Student Sponsorship Program will learn about a wide variety of topics including gender roles, sexual rights, reproductive health, family planning, and sexually transmitted infections. It will be the first time many of these students will have formal education and an opportunity for open discussion regarding family planning topics, so the workshops will cover everything from puberty to family planning and reproductive rights. We aim to create a safe space for learning and understanding topics that are often seen as taboo among local people.
We are thrilled to introduce this new program to our students, and in order to be able to provide the most accurate information possible we partnered with the experts of ALAS (WINGS), a reproductive health organization based in Antigua, Guatemala. In October of last year, we were lucky to have ALAS staff members train over twenty of our Guatemalan staff so that they can run the upcoming workshops.
The Ojos Abiertos project is intended not only as a means to give indigenous girls control over their reproduction and sexual health, but also serves to increase their educational and professional opportunities. In Guatemala, pregnancy is one of the leading reasons why adolescent and teenage girls abandon their studies. At Mayan Families, we have seen several of our most promising students leave the student sponsorship program due to unwanted pregnancy, sometimes as young as 15 years old. By allowing these girls to delay motherhood and finish their schooling, this allows them the ability to generate more income and achieve a higher status in their families and communities. Higher levels of educational attainment also lead to increased awareness of their rights as women.
Education of adolescent boys through the Ojos Abiertos project is another key aspect to improving outcomes for indigenous girls. Male-centered decision making persists as the norm in indigenous Guatemalan culture. Therefore, it is crucial that boys have a sound understanding of sexual and reproductive health in order for indigenous couples to make informed choices.
While educating youth on issues of sexual health in an area where religious and cultural norms make it hard to learn and ask questions about such topics, we believe it will be well worth it. We believe we can help indigenous Guatemalan teenagers make informed decisions and take control of their own bodies and their lives. This educational program will provide a small but critical first step toward a more informed generation of young indigenous people in rural Guatemala.
Supporting the Student Sponsorship Program or our General Education Fund allows us to keep providing all of our students with tuition and materials they need to succeed in school and gives them access to programs like Ojos Abiertos in the future. Be sure to follow our blogs to learn about our post-workshop evaluations as we look to expand the program in the future.