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SOS Children's Villages began working in Guatemala in 1976 following an earthquake which totally destroyed the Indian town of San Juan Sacatepéquez, 30 km from Guatemala City. Five wooden houses were built to provide homes for children who had been orphaned. Today, SOS Children's Villages has five Villages in the country … more about our charity work in Guatemala

Steps towards gender equality in Guatemala

Isabel, a beneficiary of the SOS FSP in Sololá
Isabel, a beneficiary of the SOS FSP in Sololá

For over five years, the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Sololá, Guatemala, has been empowering women and encouraging them to participate in their communities. The programme has made a real difference, as one participant, Isabel, describes.

Established in 2005, SOS Children run one social centre and eight community centres in Sololá, Guatemala, which benefit around 350 children in 240 families through the Family Strengthening Programme (FSP). Over 90% of the families on the programme are female-headed households and the programme has been developed taking into account the cultural and social background of the three Mayan communities in the local area.

From childhood, under the Mayan tradition, women have been prepared for their future roles in the household. In general, girls do not go to school, or if they do, they will only go for two years of primary school. They spend the majority of their childhoods learning about housework, leaving the majority of them illiterate. Because they start their families at such a young age, Mayan women have a much higher than average number of children. These circumstances have prevented women from Mayan communities taking a role in public life, and positions of authority are consistently held by men.

SOS Children have initiated a literacy programme in Sololá, to empower women and help them to develop their skills as well as their confidence. Information is available on human rights, self-esteem, and sexual health. The programme has had a significant impact on the women involved, and has begun to change perceptions of their role in the community. They are increasingly participating in public tasks and getting involved in decision-making at the community level. The centre operates a day-care centre, so that mothers have the time to participate in the courses and take part in public life.

Isabel’s story

Isabel, 51 is a mother of twelve and a grandmother of three from Sololá. She has worked in her household her whole life, raising children, and had never attended a day of school in her life. She explains “my father told us that women would not have the right to learn anything. All my brothers went, but us girls did not”. When the SOS community centre opened in 2005, Isabel joined the literacy classes run by the programme. Isabel can now read and write; skills which have encouraged her to play a part in her local community. “I am old, but I have never been taught anything" she explains "participating in those talks awakened my mind.“

Her two youngest children Ilsia and Gamaliel and her three grandchildren joined the day care at the centre. Isabel appreciates the fact that they learn something new everyday. “They come home after class and sing the songs they learned there. At the centre, the children play, dance and sing”, she says. It is important to her that her children have the opportunity of going to school “I tell all my kids that they have been given time to learn things, that I will provide them with understanding and support.“

SOS run several projects in Guatemala supporting women to improve their skills and become active in their communities. Read more about our five SOS Children's Villages and our ten SOS Social Centres in Guatemala here.