As She's the First's photographer, I've visited girls we sponsor in Guatemala and India. Meeting these young women has proven to me how powerful young people can be - both the students themselves, and the young Americans who creatively fund-raise to sponsor girls' education.Read More
'Daughters and Mothers' explores the emerging differences in the lives of indigenous Mayan young women and their mothers due to the teenagers' education. In a region of Guatemala where less than a third of the rural indigenous women are literate, this group of young women will be the first in their families to graduate high school.Read More
This post originally appeared on She's the First's blog, Aspire, after I returned from my first international trip with She's the First to visit their Guatemalan partner Starfish One by One.
As photojournalists, we hope that our images will inspire others to take a moment and reflect, and maybe, to act. But after spending time with the girls in our partner Starfish One by One’s program, I was the one who walked away inspired.
The girls we met are so passionate about learning — and not only about what they learn from their schoolbooks. One of the most exciting features of the Starfish One by One program is the mentoring the girls receive from an indigenous Mayan mentor who has gone through many of the same struggles the girls have. When we visited the girls at their homes and spoke to their mothers, time and time again it was the topics the girls covered in their mentoring sessions that had the greatest impact.
We met 16-year-old Mayra and her mother Eusebia Chuj Julajuj at their home in Buena Vista, Guatemala. She came home one day from her weekly mentoring session and spoke to her mom about what she’d learned about family planning. At 35 and a mother of eight, Mayra’s mom then went to speak to her daughter’s mentor about family planning for herself. After speaking with Candelaria, Mayra’s mentor, she decided that she was ready and that she would speak to her husband.
Mayra, who just started high school only a few weeks ago, has inspired her mother to take control of her life. And she’s not the only girl in the Starfish program to do so. Francisca and Brenda, whom we profiled on Aspire, sat down and had a frank conversation with their parents about sex education as well. And Maria’s father told us that his favorite conversation with his daughter about the mentoring program was when she came home and reported what she’d learned about violence against women. It lead to an open family discussion on the topic.
These stories only scrape the surface of the impact mentoring programs have on young women and their families – especially that of our partner Starfish One by One. But ultimately when you spend time educating a girl, you often end up educating her family as well.
As the photographer for She's the First, a not-for-profit that raises awareness about girls education and encourages young people to creatively fundraise to sponsor a girl in the developing world, I recently had the opportunity to visit one of our partner organizations in Guatemala. Starfish One by One works with indigenous Mayan girls in middle and high school by providing tuition costs and placing them in a unique mentorship program. Each girl is placed in a group of 15 and is lead by an indigenous Mayan mentor who has herself graduated high school and beyond. This support system encourages the girls to push beyond the education level that their families could have provided for them. Most of them will be the first in their families to graduate high school, many the first to be educated beyond the 6th grade.
I was asked by Starfish One by One to document one girl in particular - 18-year-old Francisca Chiviliu Quinac. In October, Francisca will be the first person in her family to graduate high school. Amid studying and attending her weekly mentoring sessions, Francisca helps her mother and little sister Brenda complete many chores around the house, from making 70 tortillas three times a day by hand to harvesting corn in the family's yard to washing clothes by hand. I've included a few preview photos from the project below, but will be producing a short photo/video documentary about her to be completed in the coming weeks -- come back to check it out!
I also had the opportunity to meet some of the other girls in the program and their mothers at their homes, and to attend a few of the mentoring programs. You can read more about my trip with She's the First on our blog and more about Starfish One by One on their website.