She could either yield to her mother’s wishes and marry, or follow her own heart and dreams, and pursue her education.
Since 2017, girls in Guatemala must be 18 in order to legally marry. As recently as 2015, however, the age of marital consent was just 14. And in rural areas, the actual age at which families marry off their daughters is often even younger. Like many girls in the state of Sololá – the area where we do our work – in Angelica’s case the drivers for this are largely economic.
Indigenous Guatemalans face some of the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy in the world. This grinding poverty can sometimes push families to marry off their female children so as to simply have one less mouth to feed, or to pay off debt.
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Angelica Chose to Walk Her Own Path
Taking a job Monday through Friday and attending middle school on the weekends, Angelica worked hard to help her family make ends meet, and to keep up with her studies. But because the cost of attending public school is so high – more than half an average Mayan family’s annual income – it quickly became apparent that this was not sustainable. Angelica was working herself to the bone.
Then came Reading Village to help pay for her high school education.
Angelica enrolled in our Leaders and Readers Program, which provides teens with a full, four-year high school scholarship, along with mentoring and leadership development workshops.
They also have the opportunity to read to eager young children, helping to ensure that the NEXT generation has the literacy and leaderships skills – plus the passion for change – to improve their lives and communities.
After graduation, this education empowers them to get a good job – often doubling their families’ incomes.
For an indigenous young woman like Angelica, graduating high school is a transformative opportunity, granting her access to real health care and family planning for the first time in her life, empowering her to move to the city for a professional job, or simply allowing her to recognize her own self worth.
After graduation, Angelica chose to stay in her hometown, working to help improve life in her community.
When Angelica graduated from our program, she chose to remain in Concepcion, working to improve her community by taking jobs in several departments at City Hall. It hasn’t always been easy.
Angelica had little experience in the work she was asked to do, and so was forced to learn on the job, overcoming persistent feelings of being overwhelmed, abusive bosses, unsupportive coworkers, and low wages. Because Mayans are often paid less than the minimum wage, one job paid so little that by the time she took out her transportation and lunch costs, there just wasn’t enough left to make it worthwhile to continue.
But Angelica persevered, telling us how the skills and confidence she gained through Reading Village’s leadership and mentoring programs helped see her through her professional difficulties. Applying her drive, ambition, and hard work allowed Angelica to exceed not only the low expectations set for her by her bosses, family, and coworkers, but her own higher ambitions as well.
And while the recognition of her bosses and coworkers has been gratifying for Angelica, realizing the depth and breadth of her own skills opened her eyes to her self worth and potential.
Angelica now has a small store in her hometown and works as a part-time intern with Reading Village, while she studies social work at University on the weekends.
As she said to our Founder recently,
I am so grateful for my experience with Reading Village. Without it I don’t know where I’d be. Probably poor and married with too many children.
You can help other young people like Angelica access the power and inspiration of education.