Overcoming Gender Inequality in Guatemala

Born and raised in Ixtahuacán, Huehuetenango, a town very close to the Guatemala-Mexico border, Silvia’s childhood was very hard.

Beautiful green mountains, fresh air and a quiet small town were the landscapes that surrounded Silvia throughout her childhood and adolescence. But Silvia had to make her best efforts to break many barriers that tried to stop her from becoming a successful woman in a culture that often sees and treats women as feeble.

smiling woman outside of building

My dad always said that we (girls) were only good to be a housewife and to stay at home. I did not value myself due to my father’s constant comments.

At the age of 5, Silvia entered school and she also was enrolled in our Child Sponsorship Program.

“I think it was a kind of gift … I just really loved to study and to learn new things. Before going to school I had to do the house’s chores because it was something my mom required from me.”

Being sponsored gave Silvia hope despite the painful circumstances she often faced at home.

“I remember my father being very kind to me when I was very little, especially when I used to come from school. My father asked me what I learned that day (which was how to write) and used to help me do the homework since my mother doesn’t know how to read or write.

“But I don’t remember positive things after this stage of my life, especially when it comes to the [core] things a child needs: love.”

Silvia’s parents met each other while working in a coffee plantation when they were very young. They used to harvest the coffee for it to be sold later, something that was utterly different by the time they had Silvia and their other daughters.

“My dad sometimes still regrets that me and my sisters don’t have to go and work the way he did, like if he wanted us to probably suffer in a way, like he maybe did.”

Married when they were only 14 and 12 years old, something once normal in Guatemala’s countryside, Silvia’s parents have had a very hard relationship. Silvia’s dad, who is not Christian, mistreated his wife.

“We never saw my dad hitting my mom, but we knew what was going on. I was 7 years old when my dad started to be unfaithful with my mom … domestic violence is still a problem we have to bear even to this day.”

Being the oldest of four sisters placed Silvia in a position in which her sisters “found a shelter and someone to look up to.”

Once she finished sixth grade, Silvia’s dad wanted her to quit studying for good.

“My dad thought I reached something that was more than enough for me [and for any girl] and started looking for excuses to not let me continue studying. I had to beseech him with tears to let me study more.”

It was very hard for Silvia to overcome the utter lack of support from her father, but her persistence paid off: Silvia graduated high school.

“All those hard years of my childhood, I was highly encouraged by my sponsors, who sponsored me from the very beginning until I graduated from the Leadership Development Program (LDP), by praying for me and for my family since they knew about the situation we were going through.

“I shared with them everything that happened to me and I could see God’s hand using them to let me know that I wasn’t alone.”

The Leadership Development Program offers a great opportunity to students from Compassion programs who have exceptional scholastic potential and show servant leadership character. Silvia embraced the challenge when the director of her child development center approached her about the program, and with an outstanding effort, she began to fight for something new for her: to begin dreaming.

“I remember that day: 80 people gathered! I felt very discouraged since we knew that just 20 were going to be accepted into the program.

“To my surprise, I got a phone call days later that let me know I was selected! I really could not believe that.

“I knew I did not have the support of my parents at all … I did not know if I should drop this great opportunity that God was giving me or not … I did not tell my parents about it because I knew I was not going to find in them the support I needed.”

Bravely, Silvia chose to accept to become part of the Leadership Development Program, fearing hard consequences at home. She studied social work, and she also received Christian leadership training.

She demonstrated servant leadership everywhere she was — at church by being a Sunday school teacher and youth helper, at school being class president and one of the top students in her class, in the Leadership Development Program by being a group leader, in her community through service, and in her family by being an example to her sisters.

The college years were not easy for Silvia, she had to travel about one hour to school, she did not own a computer, and she had to bear all the countless problems at home. However, with God’s strength and her passion and resilience, she was able to stay strong and overcome every hindrance that came her way.

Because of that brave spirit, Silvia obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University Mariano Galvez in Huehuetenango. She had the highest score on the graduation exam in the whole graduating class!

As part of her passion to serve others in her region, Silvia is currently working in a gender-focused nongovernmental organization (NGO) that looks for equity for women in the family and in society.

This NGO, supported by Norway through the European Union, works to compensate victims of the civil war in Guatemala and is working to change the macho culture in Guatemala’s countryside, a deeply rooted custom in the whole country.

“Changes are not seen right away, but we hope that with time, things will change for the sake of an equal society.”

8 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Juli Jarvis May 27, 2010

    Beautiful! I just returned from the LDP graduation in Thailand, and from visiting my LDP correspondent in the Philippines — so proud of ALL of you!

  2. JD May 26, 2010

    What an uplifting and inspiring story, one that also demonstrates the importance of our encouragement to our sponsor children…

    SO proud of you, Silvia for honoring God with your life in ways that inspire us all. You are a hero!

  3. Melissa May 26, 2010

    Silvia’s story is an amazing feat of faith. It really shows how much these types of Christian programs can do. It reminds all of us that we have to stay focused on maintaining the standards of God when running programs like these. It’s an awesome story of preserverance and focus on the doors God opened for this amazing woman. It makes me very happy to see the fruits of a great program showing!

  4. Amy Wallace May 25, 2010

    Way to go, Silvia!! Not only was she able to beat poverty, but she was able to beat gender stereotypes, and is now helping others to do the same. You make us proud 🙂

  5. Marci in MO May 25, 2010

    Sylvia, what a blessing you are. Many people would have given up in the face of adversity, but you did not. What a wonderful example you are to others who struggle.
    Blessings to you,

  6. Sherry W. May 25, 2010

    Silvia is what the LDP program is all about. You’re a hero, Silvia!

  7. Lindy May 25, 2010

    What a brave, humble, amazing young lady Silvia is! I love her story, and I wish I could give her a big hug!

  8. amy May 25, 2010

    What an achievement Silvia- congratulations. Thanks be to God.

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