The state of education in Guatemala is troubling. According to a 2012 UNESCO report, only 33% of youth in Guatemala who start middle school successfully graduate; in Chajul, it drops to 11%.
As distressing as this reality is, we are encouraged by our own results: 80% of youth that start middle school in the Limitless Horizons Ixil Youth Development Program successfully graduate. Even more promising are the initial results from our first four high school cohorts: of 60 scholars, 46 graduated, and 19 are currently attending university.
We work with youth who are motivated to study but are in great financial need. We recruit students as they graduate from elementary school, typically around age 12-15. We require that they complete an application for our Youth Development Program, pass a basic academic entrance exam, and participate in a family interview with our staff. We accept outstanding students who will embrace our support services and put themselves on a path to academic and personal success.
Our Youth Development Program scholars attend our partner middle school, Colegio San Gaspar, which we support in a number of ways. We work with the school administration to enhance the education they provide all their students, we organize workshops for teachers and students, and we bring in volunteers and resources to build and improve infrastructure such as a new classroom and bathrooms.
The program’s web of integrated support services works to ensure that youth in our program have the academic and professional skills to better their lives and community. Our program is based on the conditional cash transfer approach, an internationally recognized model in which cash (e.g. a scholarship) is given directly to families, conditional upon meeting education or health requirements. The model alleviates poverty in the short term through increased family income and in the long term through human capital development.
We go beyond the financial support to also provide youth the academic and personal support services they need to take advantage of their educational opportunity. The core elements of the program are:
Learning Resources: Scholars receive intensive Spanish language classes, weekly tutoring, membership to our community library, computer classes and access to our lab, and school supplies.
Personal and Professional Development: Scholars attend life-skills workshops, learn about career options, and participate in service projects throughout their community. Youth are mentored by our staff and they receive personal counseling and case management support when needed.
Financial Support: Youth receive a monthly scholarship to cover tuition and educational costs. Scholars gain income and work experience through our Work to (L)earn work-study initiative, and their mothers earn supplementary income and therefore decision-making power at home by weaving for our Artisan Program and by hosting sustainable tourism activities; for most, this is their first time receiving a paycheck.
Quality Education: Middle school youth are enrolled in our partner school, Colegio San Gaspar, where they receive the best instruction in Chajul plus resources that we provide the whole school community. Through test preparation, school visits, application support, and individualized guidance, we help our high school scholars to access the highest quality education possible, which often means attending schools outside of Chajul.
Family Focus: Supporting your child’s education can be daunting if you’ve never walked into a classroom. We support families so that they can support their children. Scholars’ parents attend trainings and discussion groups ranging from family planning to financial literacy. We counsel parents on family issues, just as we guide our scholars. As parents begin to value education more and become increasingly engaged in their child’s schooling, all their children benefit.
Alumni Support: To ensure that graduates have the resources and the support to excel after high school, we continue to provide services to youth following high school graduation. Our Internship and Training Initiative provides professional experience and training, wages, and mentorship to four interns each year. Our alumni established their own group called Triunfadores Sin Límites (Limitless Achievers) and elected an executive board to coordinate group activities and workshops, provide networking opportunities, and encourage our alumni to stay connected with each other and with current scholars.