Blog > Education Living On One Dollar > Rosa’s Legacy: Marisela Advocates for Mayan Women through Education

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Rosa’s Legacy: Marisela Advocates for Mayan Women through Education
Livvy Runyon

“Ever since I graduated high school, I had this longing to keep going, but with the resources I had, I couldn’t do it. I always had that in mind, though, to continue. That one day, I have to go. I have to go.”

(Photo by Livvy Runyon)

Marisela speaks of higher education with fervor in her voice. Sitting outside of her home in El Barranco, Guatemala, her words strike a contrast with the dusty corn fields of the surrounding rural community. Marisela, the oldest child in her family of six, studies social sciences in the nearby town of Sololá. She dreams of becoming a teacher.

“To be able to talk about stories, to talk about productivity within the community, teaching children about politics and the history of our country - I love this. Nowadays there are teachers that have this opportunity to work but many of them don’t take it seriously, and so I want to be the difference.”

Photo by Livvy Runyon

Like most indigenous Guatemalans, Marisela has struggled to find the resources to continue studying. Only 53% of indigenous Mayans in Guatemala complete primary school, and by the age of 16, only 25% of indigenous girls are enrolled. With a lack of schools in rural communities like El Barranco, students must find a way to travel to larger towns, adding the cost of transportation to other expenses like tuition, shoes, and school supplies. With the average household income well below the poverty line, the majority of indigenous families cannot cover the cost of sending their child to school. If the resources are available, families with multiple children often must choose which one will receive an education. In the end it is almost always the son.

Marisela has found support from her family and now, from many others. She was recently chosen as one of the 2017 recipients of the Rosa Scholarship, an award specifically to cover the school costs for high-achieving, young indigenous women who are pursuing higher education. Now in her last year of university, Marisela describes this scholarship as a great fortune, “because now I am fulfilling my dreams.”

As a young, indigenous woman, Marisela’s opportunity to receive a degree is one that her mother’s generation never saw. For decades, Mayan women have faced discrimination by society and government alike; lacking even the most basic rights to work and participate in their communities. Even today, these obstacles persist in the daily lives of indigenous women across the country, and it is something Marisela aims to change.

“Many times they see us as Mayan women who aren’t capable of doing productive things. We have few opportunities and we hope that in the coming years this changes, that the opportunities change for us as women. Thankfully, the peace accords were signed* and this opened up the field, but we are hit once again with this situation of a lack of opportunities. Discrimination against indigenous women still exists.”

At 27, Marisela is on the brink of completing a university degree and beginning her career, traversing the difficult landscape of a poor economy, unsteady work opportunities, and a lack of educational and health resources that plague Guatemala. Where most might shy away from the progress still needed, Marisela’s eyes shine bright when she speaks of the future of her country.

“We have to make the changes. We have to think of what we can do. To have a different vision so that those who come after me have that access. We should see that the government is looking forward to the future of indigenous communities and guarantee the same rights not only for us, but also for the Garífunas, Xinca, ladinas, and mestizos. That we all have the same rights without discrimination against anyone.”

Photo by Livvy Runyon

For Marisela, the chance to attend university unlocks the door to her future and the future of many others. It is overwhelmingly evident that she holds a strong spirit and a burning fire to begin the work to change things, starting with her own education.

“If there isn’t education, there are no opportunities. But I believe, for me, it is the foundation and the best inheritance we have been given,” she says softly and powerfully.

To read the full interview with Marisela, click here.

The Rosa Scholarship was established in 2015 in partnership with Living on One. Inspired by Rosa Coj, a young indigenous woman featured in the Living on One Dollar documentary who was able to return to school to become a nurse, the scholarship helps other indigenous young women who are pursuing their dreams through higher education. To learn more about the scholarship, and support this year's Rosa Scholarship recipients, visit our page

Written by Livvy Runyon, Mayan Families Videographer

*The Guatemalan Agreement on Firm and Lasting Peace was signed in 1996 following thirty-five years of brutal internal conflict. The Agreement recognizes widespread discrimination against indigenous women and pledges to establish legislation for the protection and promotion of their rights. (http://www.guatemalaun.org)



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