Empowering Girls Through Education in Guatemala

Young girls participating in the CARE Tres Pasos program in western Guatemala. (Photo: CARE)

In my time as a beauty editor, I’ve been on my share of press trips. They usually go something like this: chic hotel, unlimited spa treatments, five-course meals. These amazing trips provide editors with one-on-one time with everyone from brand founders to R&D teams in order to get the latest information on new products and emerging industry trends, with a little pampering thrown in. So when I was invited to travel to rural Guatemala by the personal-care brands at Hain Celestial and the humanitarian organization CARE, I was really intrigued. I’m not complaining at all about the five-star trips, but I knew that they were offering a very different kind of trip and I couldn’t wait to sign up. 

CARE is one of the largest humanitarian aid organizations in the world, working to fight global poverty and placing a special focus on helping marginalized women. The organization has been active in Guatemala since 1959 and is implementing a new program called Tres Pasos (“three steps to health”) in Nahualá, Sololá, a rural community in the western highlands. The goal is to create sustainable livelihoods through education, health, and nutrition. There is a large focus on women and, in particular, the indigenous women of the region, as there is a huge absence of services available to them.

“All of these programs work together seamlessly. We come in partnership with communities, so it isn’t about CARE coming in and saying, ‘Do this and do that.’ It’s about people living in the communities surfacing up a need,” says Amanda Bolster, senior manager of brand marketing at CARE. The program educates communities on everything from proper nutrition, to how to adapt farming practices to climate change, to how to start a personal savings plan. “With each skill that is built, the communities and families are rising up a little bit more, and with that, it becomes sustainable. These programs work so beautifully together to support everyone in the community.”

Children living in the Nahualá community. (Photo: CARE)

The Qach’umilal Girls Education and Leadership project is an overlay to the Tres Pasos programming and is focused on empowering and supporting young girls through education. The aim is to increase the number of girls that complete their primary school education (many girls are taken out of school to help their families during harvest season, which results in their repeating grades or not continuing at all), as well as strengthening their leadership skills and improving their self-esteem. The girls are brought together in an after-school program, where they are asked to give their opinions, often for the first time.

On my visit, the girls were asked to draw their hopes and dreams for the future. In walking around to their desks, I saw them drawing themselves as everything from doctors and teachers to the president. It was powerful to see these young girls with such big dreams for the future and to be encouraged as leaders in their communities. “It is really about building skills in girls that will soon be women who are encouraged to raise their hand and speak out,” says Bolster, who has visited Nahualá twice and notes that the girls have become more open in the time since Qach’umilal has begun. She hopes that down the road, the girls currently participating will become facilitators for the next group taking part in the program.

Beginning last year, CARE partnered with Hain Celestial, an organic and natural products company with a portfolio that includes a range of food and personal-care brands. Three of the company’s brands, JASON, Avalon Organics, and Alba Botanica, have joined together to support the Qach’umilal project with an initial donation of $25,000 and the creation of three limited edition products that feature drawings by young girls in the community and aim to raise awareness of the program’s mission. “Our personal-care brands went to CARE because they are very focused on women’s empowerment,” says Jessica Sobel, Hain Celestial’s senior director of sustainability. “We found this specific program because we wanted to be able to individualize it and measure the impact. We hope to expand that further in Guatemala or in other countries as the program progresses.”

Pascuala posing at her home with the JASON Body Wash featuring her illustration. (Photo: CARE)

While in Guatemala, I was able to meet Pascuala Guachiac Ixquer, a 12-year-old in the Qach’umilal program who drew the illustration that appears on the bottle of JASON Lavender Body Wash. She told us that she was excited to be a part of the program and wanted to do more to help change her community. Her entire family is active in the Tres Pasos program. Her mother, Antonia, participates in the savings program and is planning to use some of her savings to make sure Pascuala stays in school past the sixth grade, a point where many children stop because middle schools in the area are not easily accessible.

In honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, CARE and Hain are hoping to match the company’s initial donation and to raise greater awareness for the program through the release of Hain’s limited edition products. By supporting the young girls and women in these communities, Tres Pasos will continue to be sustainable and continue to change lives.

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