Unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are among the greatest health risks and barriers to education for indigenous Guatemalan adolescent girls. Between 2008 and 2012, more than one in ten Guatemalan women had given birth by the age of 18. Unfortunately, sexual and reproductive education is uncommon in schools and other institutions for indigenous youth, as it is considered a sensitive and often taboo subject from a religious and cultural standpoint.
The most recent Guatemala Reproductive Health Survey reports that 59% of young indigenous women surveyed (aged 15 to 24) had never received any type of formal talk or course in sexual health. Of those women who did report receiving some form of sexual health education, less than a third report receiving information on sexually transmitted infection or methods of contraception.
Mayan Families has a unique opportunity to reach middle and high school students who participate in our Student Sponsorship Program and empower them to protect their reproductive health and have greater control over their futures. The Ojos Abiertos ("Open Eyes") program incorporates a series of sexual health promotion workshops into the existing community service requirement for Mayan Families sponsored middle and high school students.
Our goals are to advance sexual health knowledge and prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among indigenous youth in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala. Our specific aims are to:
- Increase sexual and reproductive health knowledge. Among this target population, we will increase knowledge of sexual health concepts, specifically regarding sexuality, reproductive health, family planning, condom use, consequences and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and gender rights surrounding sexuality.
- Increase access to condoms. With instruction on correct condom use, we will inform students on where condoms can be obtained. We will also work with local health centers to supply the with condoms. Additionally, a limited number of condoms will be distributed to high school students during workshops.
- Increase access to local reproductive health services. During educational workshops, students will be informed of what reproductive and sexual health services are available at both community health clinics and the local national hospital.
Ojos Abiertos workshops
Students participate in educational workshops that focus on sexuality, family planning,contraception, sexually transmitted infection and HIV/AIDS. In addition, the health promoters discuss gender issues regarding sexuality and reproductive health during these sessions. This includes attitudes toward women and women’s rights concerning their sexuality and reproductive choices. Students are also informed of the family planning methods available locally including barrier methods (primarily male condoms), intrauterine devices, and hormonal contraceptives (oral, sub-dermal, and injected).
Workshops leaders use a variety of media and engaging activities to inform effectively communicate the importance of sexual and reproductive health among teens. Promoters lead short lectures followed by group discussions and activities in order to create an atmosphere of trust and to overcome cultural stigma surrounding sexual topics.
These workshops are given in Spanish and the local indigenous language of the area and are be led by Mayan Families health promoters trained by WINGS staff. WINGS is a 501.c3 nonprofit that has been operating out of Guatemala since 2000 and provides family planning education and increases access to reproductive health services.
The population directly targeted by this project is indigenous adolescent girls in rural Guatemalan communities. The program not only gives adolescents the information they need to take 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 these girls a chance to delay motherhood and finish their schooling, we allow them the ability to generate more income and achieve better standing in their families and communities.
Education of adolescent boys through Ojos Abiertos is another key aspect to improving outcomes for indigenous girls. Male-centered decision making persists as the norm in indigenous Guatemalan culture, so it is crucial that boys have a sound understanding of sexual and reproductive health. Informed young men can make relationship decisions that will benefit both themselves and their partners and are better equipped to understand and respect women’s rights.
How to get involved
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 blog to learn about our post-workshop evaluations as we look to expand the program in the future.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.