We are so proud of our shining stars at Starfish One by One and it makes us glow to receive reports of the spectacular things that these ladies and their mentors are doing. These young women in the Starfish One by One program are breaking the glass ceiling by committing to six years of a junior high and high school education and a brighter future for themselves and their families. Dedicated mentors (other Mayan women who have walked the same path and are among the one percent to reach university) support Starfish students throughout their six years in the program. These mentors run weekly peer support groups for fifteen Starfish girls, offer out of school academic tutoring, and work with student families to surmount traditional barriers that impede education and women’s empowerment. However, the institutionalized marginalization of Mayan women means that young women in the Starfish program face barriers that extend beyond poverty, access to schooling, and cultural norms. Family violence, combined with high rates of alcoholism, can all too quickly derail a young woman’s educational ambitions.
Many mentors in the Starfish program have faced situations in which a bubbly, engaged leader in the peer group suddenly disengages. Her group participation drops and her grades in school suffer. When the mentor approaches the young woman about this change in behavior, she sometimes learns about issues of domestic violence in the home. This domestic violence ranges from physical abuse by alcoholic mothers or fathers to sexual advances by other adult family members. Unfortunately, this scenario occurs far more often than it should. Violence is notoriously underreported, but one recent study asserts that 9 out of every 10 women in Guatemala has been a victim of some form of violence in the home.
Starfish mentors are well versed in academic support, financial literacy, and reproductive education, and skillfully confront cultural issues like lack of family support around education. Starfish mentors need professional and culturally appropriate training to confront the issue of domestic violence. Specific training is needed to provide each young woman with the skills to cope with and recover from the devastating consequences of violence. Training is also needed to teach young women in the program to recognize the signs of and prevent domestic violence.
In the spirit of collaboration and in order to not “reinvent the wheel,” Starfish has partnered with an expert in the field, the JUCONI Foundation of Mexico, to train Starfish mentors in how to effectively prevent and treat family violence. JUCONI’s internationally-recognized training program tailors its trainings to the specific cultural and programmatic contexts of its clients. Starfish has partnered with JUCONI to provide various training since 2009. This past week, JUCONI educators traveled from Mexico to Guatemala to provide valuable training to Starfish mentors and four other NGO groups in Panajachel, Guatemala. This hands on sharing of skills and ideas empowered our Starfish mentors to fully support the amazing girls in the program.
As Starfish continues to expand its impact – over 210 students are now enrolled for six years of intensive support and education — their ever growing staff must be trained to effectively deal with family and domestic violence. Through acquiring these new skills, Starfish mentors ensure that young women do not succumb to pressures and problems, but stay in school—and that’s a program we can all get behind.