Were Headed To Guatemala

October 30, 2012 · By Sloane Davidson, Founder and CEO, Hello Neighbor

Taylor and I have really exciting news to share. We are headed to Guatemala through She's The First to visit and volunteer at the Starfish One By One School in Solano!

We are going over Thanksgiving week, which is a big deal. We always spend Thanksgiving with our family and love spending time with them. So why is this year different?

You have to make time for the things that are important to you. If you try to find the time, it will never come.

Last year, I fundraised at my birthday for this same school. With your help, we raised $5,000 which was enough to support 15 girls in after-school education and mentorship. At the time, Taylor and I talked about going to visit the school and volunteering for a few days there. However, it was a busy year! With work, planning a wedding, going to friends' wedding and celebrating life, a whole year went by.

We didn't want this opportunity to slip by. I had talked to Tammy and Christen (She's The First Founders) about this trip and was trying to find a time when the girls were in school and when it made sense for us. Still, time went by. Finally almost immediately after the wedding, Taylor and I talked about it and decided it was priority to make this happen and that we would make it work to go over Thanksgiving.

A few important things to note about this trip...

1) It's completely self-funded. We would never take money we raised and put it towards travel. That's just crazy talk. I found a good deal on flights a few weeks ago, researched reasonably priced places to stay and are doing it because we want to do it.

2) We are building in a few days of sight-seeing and a few days of mentoring the girls. Neither of us have ever been to Guatemala and we want to experience the country and the people and help the girls. It's just a couple days at the beginning. It's important for us to feel like we really experience the places we go, so I didn't want it to come off like we're flying in to work with girls in a small village and then jetting out. We're of course better travelers than that and looking forward to a little adventure and exploration.

3) We have decided to teach a photography workshop. We are going to take down a few (inexpensive) cameras, a camera printer and teach a few sessions on photography. It combines Taylor's and my passions and we've been actively talking to people in this space who have done this before for tips, tricks and best practices. More on this to come, we're very excited about this part (obviously) and very focused on making it valuable for the students and long-lasting for the school and the community.

More to come! The dates are set for November 21-27. If you have ever been to Guatemala or have any advice for us, please let us know!

More Details On The Starfish Program:

• In Guatemala, age 12 frequently coincides with the start of secondary school and puberty. It also represents a crucial crossroads for a young woman in Guatemala. Without an intervention, the vast majority go down the current path: withdrawal from the social sphere, abandoning studies, and restricted access to any services and opportunities that may otherwise prevent them from breaking out of the intergenerational cycles of poverty. As a socially isolated and uneducated young woman, her probable future entails an arranged marriage at a young age, frequent childbirth and above all, extremely limited decision-making power in her own life and the lives of her children. Only 5% of Mayan girls complete primary school.

• Through extremely personalized support via the comprehensive 6-year program, SF1by1 empowers young women to take a highly empowering path. In 2011, 180 students are in the SF1by1 program. The program consists of a three-fold, integrated focus:

  1. Partial Academic Scholarships that cover roughly 75% of school-related costs (fees, transportation, materials). Families cover the remaining 25% of the school costs. This allows and incentivizes the family to stay involved and supportive of the young woman’s efforts.

  2. “PODER” (POWER) Program to empower young women and ensure that each has the capacity to overcome the powerful social and familial pressures that constantly push against her schooling. This is accomplished through a unique mentorship/peer support program that equips her with the powerful information she needs to be a leader in her community.

PODER entails weekly sessions with a 15-member peer group of SF1by1 scholarship recipients.

Sessions are facilitated by a mentor who plays a central role. Mentors are university-level role models who are from the same geographic region, language group and socioeconomic circumstances. The mentor’s role is to identify and strengthen the unique talents of each young woman. In addition to providing academic support, Mentors guide their groups through the SF1by1 curriculum that includes the following subject areas: • Women’s rights • Proactive communication • Financial literacy • Reproductive education and health • Environmental stewardship • Social responsibility/volunteerism

Mentors conduct regular monitoring visits to schools to discuss the progress of SF1by1 students. Additionally, Mentors visit the families of each young woman on a continual basis to promote and monitor familial support for her ongoing education.

  1. “PUENTE” (BRIDGE) Pilot Program ensures that upon graduation from High School, each young woman is prepared to confront the challenges ahead and continue her personal and professional development.

Sponsorship Breakdown:

Full sponsorship: $1,000 $250 Academic scholarship. This represents roughly 75% of the actual school-related costs, and families contribute the remaining balance. $300 Empowerment scholarship (see below) $300 Participation in weekly positive-peer support meetings (transport, snack, rent, materials, internet access) $150 Methodology Development, Supervision and Monitoring and Evaluation

Empowerment Scholarship: $300 An Empowerment Scholarship provides each young woman in the program with the consistent support of a female, community-based mentor who ensures that the student effectively overcomes familial, social and structural obstacles that would otherwise derail her from her path to education and empowerment. The role of the mentor includes: · Facilitating the empowerment curriculum during the 3 hour peer-support group. This often entails the Mentor first receiving training from other NGOs in Guatemala on specific topics (such as reproductive health or financial literacy). · Being available for “drop-in” academic support during the week, acting as a tutor for extra academic support. · Advocating for the girl in her school, as most girls in Starfish come from families where the parents are illiterate and speak no Spanish. · Breaking down invisible barriers. Mentors ensure that each girl accesses and utilizes the community resources that will help make her a difference maker in her community. · Advocating for the girl in her home. By conducting regular visits to each girl’s school and family, mentors are able to intervene on behalf of their students when families lose motivation to continue to allow their daughter to study, or when external factors jeopardize her academic future (natural disasters, family deaths, etc). · Encouraging sound financial management. Mentors also serve as co-signers on individual bank accounts where each girl administers her scholarship funds. This provides mentors with a tangible training format that ensures that each girl acquires personal finance skills.

If you want to support Starfish One By One and the other programs supported by She's The First, make a donation today!