It’s a little-known fact that in our early years we piloted a mentorship program for boys. Mentorship is an integral part of MAIA’s success. The program was designed to present topics that are not traditionally discussed in school or at home but that we see as being vital to youth development. Our team of mentors coach students and their families on topics that will benefit their socioemotional development and provide them with the skills they need as they transition into empowered adults.
The boys received scholarships to public school during the week and attended their mentorship group meetings on Sundays. Participation in these mentorship groups was low, and many boys were expected to work on weekends to contribute financially to their families. This meant that many boys missed the meetings so, as a result, they did not form strong connections within the group. All of these factors led to a high dropout rate, and some of the boys ended up starting families of their own.
While the program did not yield our desired results and was ultimately wound down, it did bring us Hector, who is now an accountant working with our operations team at the MAIA Impact School. Hector was one of the few who stayed in the program and graduated from high school. Hector is just 22 but is already proving his potential. He is well on his way to achieving MAIA’s four goals: lifelong learning, economic autonomy, a family on his terms, and empowered to empower.
MAIA’s first goal, lifelong learning, encourages students to achieve 15 years of education. This requires that they continue learning, either formally or informally, for three years after graduating from high school. At 12 years old, Hector knew he wanted to continue studying. Hector’s parents, a gardener and a housewife, knew that with seven children to feed, they could not finance Hector’s studies past sixth grade. Hector planned to work on the weekends to pay for his schooling. One day, two selection mentors from MAIA (then Starfish) arrived at his house and started asking about his goals and plans for the future. Fifteen days later, they returned and offered him a scholarship. With his schooling paid for, Hector and his family could participate in the mentorship program on the weekends.
Hector attended middle school in his hometown, then went on to a commercial sciences high school in Sololá. He specialized in accounting and graduated in 2015. With a thirst for knowledge, Hector enrolled in a degree program in 2017, this time to focus on auditing. He currently attends classes on Saturdays and has three years left until he finishes. Hector will then have surpassed the 15-year education goal.
MAIA scholars come from rural communities with high levels of poverty. Our second goal is that each MAIA graduate will be formally employed and achieve annual earnings that facilitate their upward mobility. In March 2016, Hector joined the MAIA team as an accountant. On his first day, Mercedes, the director of finance, advised, “Do your part and learn. MAIA is growing every day, you need to keep growing as well”. Hector enjoys the encouraging environment of MAIA. Indigenous Guatemalans are frequently discriminated against due to language, appearance, and resources, but within MAIA, they find a welcoming community. “When I see my female coworkers, I feel happy for them,” says Hector.
Although MAIA’s staff is 90 percent female, Hector is not alone. In fact, he currently works alongside his former mentor, Virgilio. As a mentor, Virgilio was understanding and patient and encouraged the young men in his mentorship group to not give up on their goals. Although they are coworkers now, Hector said that it was strange when he first started working with Virgilio because he felt like a student still. He had to learn how to organize projects, distribute the workload, and use his empowered voice to say “this isn’t good, do it again”. Hector puts his salary towards his degree and supporting his family.
A FAMILY ON HIS TERMS
MAIA’s third goal is that each student will delay marriage and pregnancy until they are at least 25 years old and in a stable position to support a family. Although Hector has a girlfriend, starting a family isn’t part of his plans right now. He is focused on gaining work experience, getting good grades, playing sports, and making the most of his time with friends and family. At 22 years old, he knows he has time to decide if and when he wants to start a family.
EMPOWERED TO EMPOWER
The fourth and final goal is that each student will develop the internal strength, skills, and emotional intelligence they need to be leaders. Hector believes that MAIA is a fundamental part of the progress being made in Guatemala by starting conversations, breaking limits, and creating a culture of education that older generations didn’t have. When Hector explains MAIA’s work to his friends, they ask why boys aren’t included anymore. He explains that while the entire indigenous population faces discrimination, indigenous women also deal with sexism and have less access to resources than their male counterparts. This sort of self-reflection and critical thinking is vital to changing the culture of education and status of indigenous Guatemalans.
In addition to his work with MAIA, Hector also serves as a role model outside of the organization. He is on the board of directors at his church and on Saturdays helps lead worship with other youth aged 12-25. Although this is his first year, he plans to stay involved because he believes “God gives us wisdom, and with it we can do good things.”
HIS INFINITE IMPACT
Hector has demonstrated excellence in achieving MAIA’s four overarching goals, but his impact does not stop there. His community now sees the benefits of studying, and he has inspired his younger siblings to stay in school. Once he finishes his degree in three years, Hector wants to further develop his country by stopping corruption and promoting women’s rights. He says that leaders in Guatemala just look to get rich, but as an auditor he will keep politicians accountable by tracking spending and account balances. We can’t wait to see how far he will go!