Mayan Women Get Training Needed to Build a Better Life
Like many indigenous Mayan women, Hermelinda Cantí Xol works long hours grinding corn, preparing food for her family, and hand-washing the laundry. She is also a hardworking primary school teacher and a widow who cares for her mother and daughter. Because of these rigorous demands, she never dreamed of taking a leadership role in her community — until now.
Recently, Hermelinda joined The Women's Commission of Santa Maria (COMCASMA) a newly formed association of 48 women representing 24 indigenous Mayan communities living in remote areas of Guatemala. COMCASMA is one of the community groups supported by Seva's Community Self-Development Program, which provides funding, training and mentoring.
Hermelinda is now a vice-chair of COMCASMA, an experience which has opened new doors for her. She now attends community meetings and speaks in public — something she never dated to do in the past.
“Before, the women here didn't think they had the right to work, or the right to participate in any kind of meetings," she says. "Now, we are keeping in mind that we as women are moving forward! We won't just stay in the house all the time. We are ready to participate.”
Empowering Women and Communities
COMCASMA is supported by Seva's Community Self-Development Program (CSD), which has worked side-by-side with indigenous Mayan groups since 1986 to provide training, tools, financial resources, and networking opportunities. A core principle of CSD is that local people should define their own needs and build organizations that will support their own vision for social change.
This is precisely what's happening with COMCASMA. With support from Seva, the group has developed workshops for women on a variety of topics: domestic violence, women's rights, micro-enterprise and leadership skills. The hope is that laying this critical groundwork will empower women with the skills they need to bring healthcare, educational opportunities and other essential services to their communities.
"When I was young, nobody spoke of these things with me, so I didn't know what was possible," says María Cucul Tzalam, 32, who lives in Tulia and is a co-chair of COMCASMA. "But I'm teaching my children a different way, and I hope someday they'll get involved and participate in the organization, too."
Crossing the Gender Divide
Rural women in Guatemala and Mexico work incredibly hard and are expected to stay in the home; many girls drop out of school by second grade. These factors make it extremely challenging for girls and women to develop the skills they need.
Promoting gender equity is a cornerstone of the CSD Program. "It takes a long time, but I think that we'll start to see some changes with the next generation as education becomes really ingrained, says Program Director Julie Rinard. “Then mothers can reinforce the idea to their daughters that they don't have to be limited to the role of domestic caretakers."
Creating Informed Citizens
Seva's programs empower women to participate in all levels of societal decision-making. Workshops and mentoring programs are designed to educate women about the workings of local government and how to submit proposals for community projects.
A better future is certainly part of Hermelinda's vision. "I think that my participation in the association will have a good impact on my daughter because I will transmit ideas that will help her learn a better way," she says.
Seva's support of the women's association may seem like a small thing, but not to the women who benefit. "I think it's really hard to overstate what a huge difference a few dollars can make in these communities," says Julie. "Everywhere I go, the women tell me how much they appreciate Seva's support. It means so much to them to know there are people far away in the United States that care.”