Four young women are making education a reality for indigenous girls and women in Guatemala

Two UNESCO Malala Centers, established in Totonicapán, Guatemala, are empowering indigenous adolescent girls and women through education. Supported by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education, the educational programmes offered by the Centers are implemented in indigenous languages, draw on indigenous culture, and build skills for personal and socioeconomic development including health and well-being, and financial autonomy.

With the help of committed coordinators like Juana, Lucero, Magdalena and Sandra, the Centers are ensuring that local communities are making education a reality for indigenous girls and women in Guatemala. This interview shares more on their efforts.  

What do you like most about your work at the UNESCO Malala Center?

Sandra – I enjoy all aspects of working at the Center. In particular, I enjoy the visits to the communities, speaking with women and informing them of the learning opportunities through the Centers, identifying those interested and helping them register, keeping in touch and supporting them to succeed. For example, even what may seem like a simple act, such as writing their name, means a lot to these women.

What changes can you see among women participating in the activities of the Centers?

Juana – For me a major change has been how negative stereotypes, such as ‘women do not study,’ are evolving. Mothers who were not able to get an education themselves are accompanying their daughters so that they can pursue their education. Women are also now taking their own decisions, and slowly becoming more self-aware and independent. The workshops are changing their way of thinking.

How did becoming an educational coordinator change your life?

Lucero – I became a role model to my family. My grandmother, who took part in the activities of the Center, encourages other family members to take my example; to continue their studies and help girls and women in our community do the same. My sister, who married at 14 and has seven children, is now motivated to learn. I teach her to read and write. She plans to register for the courses once her child is no longer a baby. I always wanted to help people around me, so I am really happy to be able to help girls and women from my community to further their studies.

What are your plans for the future?

Magdalena – I would like to continue doing what I am doing now: support girls and women in the community. Although girls and women have shown a high interest in the Centers, there are many more to reach, especially those who live in remote areas. There must be opportunities for everyone. Young men have also approached us with their interest to learn. Including boys is important because it can help to change the negative social norms and gender stereotypes around girls’ and women’s education.

Magdalena Cox and Sandra Alvarado work at the Center in San Andrés Xecul, and Lucero Chivalán and Juana Ajpacajá work at the Center in Santa María Chiquimula.

The project, led by the UNESCO Office in Guatemala, facilitates the right to education for indigenous adolescent girls and young women, especially those marginalized from education because of gender, ethnicity, rurality and poverty. UNESCO is working with the National Literacy Committee (CONALFA), the Ministry of Education and organizations such as the National Institute for Radiophonic Education (IGER) and Fe y Alegria, in alliance with the participating municipalities.

More information: