“When I was aware of my rights, I realized that I didn’t have to accept the violence anymore,” Hilda, one of the participants of Abriendo Opportunidads in Totopicatan shared with me. Abriendo Opportunidads, which means “Opening Opportunities,” is a program run by UNFPA and supported by Girl Up. Prior to learning about her rights, Hilda accepted violence because she thought it was the norm. Now, as a student leader, she teaches other women that they should not accept any violence and teaches them about their rights that protect them against violence.

Hilda told us a story about a woman who was participating in this program whose husband was abusive. One day, this woman’s husband approached Hilda and was angry that he could no longer hit his wife because his wife had learned to stand up for her rights. He threatened to kill her, but Hilda was strong. She told him that everyone should be treated equally and no one should have pain inflicted upon them. He was filled with anger, but Hilda’s words and her strength had an effect on him. Now he puts both of his daughters in Hilda’s class and congratulates her on the work she is doing when he sees her. Hilda stood up for change and made it a reality in her community, and her work is an example of how progress can be made when a community is educated.

                             Annie with girls from Santa Maria Chiquimula in a Girl Up-supported program (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson)
In Chiquimula, Totonicapán we visited the Familias Fuertes program led by UNICEF and supported by Girl Up. The program hosts workshops where girls learn about self-esteem, and the staff promote intergenerational dialogue within families on topics such as reproduction and aspirations, which are considered taboo in many Guatemalan cultures. The goal of the program is to prevent violence and child marriage by helping girls increase their self-esteem, aim high and hold respectable positions in their communities.

Vivian, who is in 6th grade, told us about her dreams. “I want finish high school. I want to be a great leader, I want to speak with girls, and I want to continue my life after 15,” Vivian said. Many girls in her village are married or have children around that age, but Vivian embodies the positive change that the workshops are trying to spark within girls.

Other girls I spoke with such as Maria Susana wishes to be a teacher, and Amalia hopes to become a doctor. These are the same goals my friends and I aspire to achieve. In fact, Amalia and I have the same dreams!  This demonstrates how similar girls are all around the world. Regardless of where a girl is born, she should still have the same opportunity to pursue her dreams.

One of the girl’s mothers noted that she wishes for her daughter to become a professional and then get married once she’s in her twenties. Most of the mothers at the workshop had their children at around 15 years old.

The change is already beginning to happen.

To learn more about Girl Up’s trip to Guatemala, visit GirlUp.org. You can also get updates from the trip by following Girl Up on Twitter and Facebook.