The ABC's of Empowerment
Literacy is changing the lives of women in Guatemala

When Mayan women in the villages of rural Guatemala learn to read, everything changes.  Like their mothers and grandmothers, they still grind corn, hand-wash the family laundry, and care for their children.  But once they can read, these women can understand signs at the local market, recognize the medications prescribed for their children, read a contract — and they have the tools they need to improve life in their communities.

That's why literacy training is a top priority for Seva's Community Self-Development Program (CSD).  With these essential skills, Mayan women are finding new opportunities to participate in civic life. 

Only about 30% of women in rural areas of Guatemala where Seva works can read or write, which is one factor perpetuating the cycle of poverty.  Lacking literacy skills, the women are unable to effectively advocate for their basic needs.  A strong literacy program can help change that.  For example, women in the program are now mobilizing around the need for clean, safe drinking water for their families, an issue that has been overlooked by others.

One Generation Teaches the Next

"It is exciting to learn together as a group," says Margarita Che Xo, 27, a literacy student from the village of Tulia, near Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, in the center of Guatemala.  The program is run by ACODEF, the local community organization, with support from Seva. ACODEF works with another Guatemalan organization that broadcasts literacy instruction on the radio and produces literacy materials in the local language, Q’eqchi; and Seva helps purchase the materials for the women.

When Margarita completes her classes, she plans to get involved with the local women’s association, COMCASMA, another group supported by Seva. “My husband and children are so happy that I am learning to read and write in Spanish and in my own Mayan language, Q’eqchi. And I’m already going to COMCASMA meetings and finding out what I can do in my community.”

As women learn, the whole community benefits. Concepción Seb Ax, 21, joined the literacy program because she wanted to read and write, and now she plans to become a teacher. “I'm already getting started. My brothers and sisters, can't go to school, so I'm teaching them to read and write.”

Confidence Comes with Literacy
Julie Rinard, Director of Seva’s CSD Program, visited one of the literacy classes earlier this year. "It was amazing to see. There were about 40 women there, and the teacher asked each of them to come up and write something on the blackboard. You could tell they were so proud! It’s something we all tend to take for granted, but the self-confidence that comes along with literacy is really a powerful thing."

Julie says the classes have value beyond just reading and writing. "Watching the women gather in small groups around the books they had, I could see that it's not only about literacy — it’s also a community-building opportunity for the women. They spend so much time at home doing domestic work that this is like a breath of fresh air where they have an opportunity to connect with other people. It was neat to see that."

Working With Community Partners
Seva is working to bring literacy instruction to more people. "This year, we're going to build a new radio transmitter in the town of Poza del Danto," says Julie, "so the literacy training will extend further into the rural parts of Guatemala. And now we're expanding into Chiapas, Mexico, and there are some exciting literacy programs developing there."

“We see Seva as the facilitator rather than the designer of the literacy programs in Guatemala and Mexico,” Julie continued, explaining how CSD does its work. "For example, we're supporting a group that is developing a unique curriculum for the literacy programs in Guatemala so it works for native Q’eqchi’ speakers and is more specific to local culture and issues. There's no way we could do that on our own — it has to come from the community."

You can help empower indigenous communities by supporting Seva's Community Self-Development Program with an online donation.




Women as Leaders

Seva is helping Mayan women in Guatemala get the training and support they need to become leaders in their communities.

CSD Program
Literacy is just one part of the work being done by Seva's Community Self-Development Program (CSD).  Read about other CSD projects

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