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CFCA stories

Sponsored girl values education in Guatemala

April 27, 2012

Ortencia, 14, lives in a Guatemalan village miles from any major city. She was sponsored through CFCA as a small child.

Although she and her family live in poverty, she enjoys her village — the slow pace, the fresh air, fields and forest. There are few cars and little pollution.

Ortencia, CFCA sponsored youth in Guatemala
Ortencia prepares for school outside her home in Guatemala. She is
sponsored through CFCA and is pursuing her education in a
country that has one of the lowest education levels in Latin America.

Ortencia and her family work the land growing vegetables — some to keep, some to sell. It is hard work and unreliable income. She lives with her parents and three siblings, an older brother and two younger sisters. Her mother weaves blouses for extra income.

And yet, even though she loves her home, she wouldn't hesitate to leave it for the chance of an education and a better life for her family.

Educating girls

Education is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty, but there are many obstacles.

People living in poverty — especially in rural areas — often lack quality educational facilities so they must travel to a larger city. However, adequate transportation is expensive, as are uniforms. Even basic school supplies may be financially beyond a family's means.

Education facts from Guatemala

  • Only 35 percent of Guatemalan teens
    attend middle school, and even fewer
    attend high school. (UNICEF, 2009)
  • Students in the CFCA program are
    able to attend high school through
    a combination of sponsorship, family
    contributions and in some cases,
    CFCA scholarships. High school costs
    in Guatemala range from $600 to $1,200
    a year. (Information from CFCA's
    Hermano Pedro project)
  • An estimated 12 percent of Guatemalans
    ages 18-24 are enrolled in universities.
    (El Periódico, 2011)
  • More than 51,900 girls 18 years
    or younger are sponsored through CFCA.
    CFCA requires that sponsored children
    attend school regularly. (Information from
    CFCA's Hermano Pedro project)

But sometimes the obstacles come from within.

Many Guatemalan parents think girls should not attend school since they should be preparing for motherhood. So girls often stay home while their brothers go to school.

Isabel Santizo, CFCA coordinator for the Patzun region in Guatemala, has seen this prejudice often in her 13 years with CFCA.

"Parents [mainly fathers] believe school is not important for girls because they just don't see many graduating from college or high school," Santizo said. "Parents see education for girls not as an investment for their future; they see it as an unnecessary expense."

The 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) showed that only 15.6 percent of Guatemala's female population is educated to at least a secondary level of schooling (think junior high), compared to 21 percent of males.

Working to change opinions

CFCA has trained its social workers to raise awareness about the importance of education and encourage parents to allow children to continue with their education.

Many parents cannot afford to send all of their children to school and prefer to pay for the educational costs of boys instead of girls. A typical family in the CFCA sponsorship program earns $150 to $200 a month.

In addition to financial pressures, there is also a concern for the safety of girls traveling between home and school.

Family in Guatemala
Ortencia, right, with her father, Joel, her younger sister,
Lucy and her mother outside their home.

Ortencia's father, Joel, believed it was unnecessary to educate girls, his daughters included.

Ortencia's sponsorship has made all the difference for her. Not only does her family benefit from the monthly sponsorship funds, but they also receive the advice and support of the social workers.

Ortencia begged her father to allow her to go to school, but he was immovable to her pleas until Rocio, their CFCA social worker, visited with him.

"One day Rocio came to our home. We had a long chat, and she made me realize that I was making a mistake," Joel said. "I still remember her saying, 'Don't be unfair with your child.' This opened my mind and touched my heart."

So Joel gave his blessing. Today, with CFCA and her sponsor's support, Ortencia attends a boarding school in Patzun.

She is the best student in her grade, and Joel dreams of seeing her graduate from high school and attend college.

"I don't want to see Ortencia living the kind of life we have lived; we suffer working in the fields," Joel said. "I ask God to give my children wisdom; I want to say this to my girl, 'I encourage you to pray and ask God to give you strength and wisdom. I will be proud to be by your side on your graduation.'"

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