"The single most effective investment you can make in a girl is mentorship" - Judith Bruce, Population Council

We spent a lot of 2014 working with our council of expert advisers to find the most effective and impactful way to invest in girls education. We are excited today to announce our partnership with the Red de mujeres indígenas Abriendo Oportunidades Aq’ab’al (Redmi) in Guatemala to provide education and crucial life skills mentoring for adolescent, indigenous Mayan girls.

Redmi is a formal NGO created by young graduates of the Abriendo Oportunidades (AO) program created and run by the Population Council to reach poor and at-risk indigenous girls, aged 8-19, in rural communities in Guatemala, with basic education and life skills mentoring. A 2004 survey documented that Guatemala's rural indigenous girls who are classified as extremely poor (1/4th of the total) had the worst education outcomes in the country: only 1/2 of the girls of primary school age had entered school; fewer than 10% of girls aged 13-24 who entered primary school completed it; and just 14% of these primary school graduates entered secondary school. The AO program was created to harness the power and potential of rural indigenous girls aged 8 to 19 by building their personal, social, health and economic assets and capabilities as a core strategy for keeping girls in school and delaying the age of marriage and pregnancy. Over the past ten years, the AO program has reached 10,000 girls in 150 communities and built a network of hundreds of young indigenous mentors. AO's program works with communities to develop safe spaces for girls, where girls gather with mentors for basic education, exchange of health and reproductive information, financial literacy training, and to build a network to support them in taking charge of their own futures. 

"At its core, the program was constructed on the hypothesis that strategic investments in the poorest girls from the poorest communities are not only good for the girl, but also they directly support the achievement of local, national and international development goals, including the Millenium Development Goals. The richness of the program lies in addressing the complex and inter-related transitions that occur during puberty and adolescence across all domains of girls lives, including education, family life and sexuality." (Scale Up Strategy, Population Council, April 2014).

We learned from Judith Bruce that early adolescence is the pivotal, and often invisible moment for girls - that is when their lives often go off track. Girls reach sexual maturity earlier than boys, and in many areas are withdrawn from society to preserve their economic and social value and for their own safety, just at the moment when they most crave a social network. One of the basic assets that the Population Council's programs for adolescent girls strives to achieve is that every girl has 5 friends and a place to meet them. That such a simple thing is an aspirational goal for so many girls inspires us to be part of this phenomenal program.

The AO program is evidence-based and produces results: sustained school enrollment (72% of AO girl leaders were in school at the end of the 2009-10 cycle); desire for continued education (52% of AO leaders want to complete university and 32% want to complete vocational training); delayed marriage (97% of AO leaders remained unmarried during the program cycle) and childbearing (94% of AO leaders remained unmarried during the program). These results show the power of simple investments in girls, in the context of huge challenges in Guatemala. In 2012 25% of the babies born in Guatemala were born to adolescent girls. Today 40% of those adolescent mothers are single; 60% are indigenous; 70% are living in poverty and 80% have abandoned school. These girls are denied the chance to decide for themselves what they want their future to be.

Program experience from AO over time has demonstrated that it is challenging to maintain the active participation of rural girls in the program beyond the age of 15, as the demand on them to contribute to the family economy increases, they marry and move in with their in-laws, and the lucky few must migrate from their rural communities in order to attend secondary school. All of these conditions have an economic underpinning and the bottom line is that young women in poor rural communities need to earn money. Upon “graduation” from AO, and as their reproductive, social and other risks continue to climb, the Guatemala team has been exploring livelihoods opportunities for young women, so graduates can be connected with viable income-generation strategies in order to continue pursuing their more ambitious life plans, which most often involve continued education and vocational training.

This is where Catrinka's partnership with Redmi comes in. Redmi is formed by AO graduates in their late teens and early 20s, who continue to be peer mentors to girls in their own communities. Catrinka and Redmi are working together to create a production coop, in which Redmi mentors will train AO mentors to support 30 girls in 3 communities in the AO program, aged 15-19. The collaboration provides these girls with the chance to practice and consolidate the skills and assets they have gained through participation in the AO program, by:

1) Providing girls with a reason to spend time in their safe spaces;

2) Giving girls the chance to practice their financial literacy skills by earning money through the production and sale of artisanal handicrafts (woven bracelets) to Catrinka;

3) Creating a collaborative social environment that gives AO mentors the opportunity to share information on reproductive health and other basic skills (because girls like to chat while they work); and 

4) Enhancing and strengthening the bonds among the girls to give them collective strength to take on their future challenges.

Verónica Pacheco, an AO graduate and Redmi leader in Totonicapán, Guatemala, says about the partnership: "As young indigenous women we always face the challenge of finding opportunities to develop our full potential. The partnership with Catrinka gives us that opportunity, and we will share it with the girls in our programs."

At Catrinka we could not be more excited about this program. "Catrinka is all about leveraging the potential of women and girls to invest in themselves, each other, and the future. Women pay it forward: women invest twice as much as men in their families, and girls invest in each other. The AO program has demonstrated the power of harnessing the potential of rural indigenous adolescent girls to take charge of their own future. Our partnership with Redmi allows us to harness the potential of AO's graduate mentors to train AO mentors to support girls in practicing and deepening their life skills, and creating their own future with real, practical skills and assets, including generating their own money to support their own education. This is the foundation of a sustainable program with the potential to scale in Guatemala and many other communities in the region and around the world." Catrinka plans to include a woven bracelet produced by the Redmi / Catrinka girls program with every product available in 2015. 

The proceeds raised by Catrinka sales in 2014 will be invested in providing basic education and life skills mentoring for girls in the AO programs through its partnership with Redmi. This allows us to consolidate and build upon the tremendous impact the AO program has, with a small but impactful program to deepen the AO experience for a pilot group of 30 girls, and create an environment for those girls to be self-sustaining and harness their true potential. That is what Catrinka is all about: women and girls working together to invest in each other and in the next generation, and to change the world.

Verónica Pacheco, Redmi leader, and her colleague Mayra









October 11, 2014 by Megan Reilly Cayten