Growing up, Ester was shy and reserved. She did not interact much with the kids in her neighborhood; she preferred the comforts of playing with her brother. Since starting at the MAIA Impact School, she has blossomed with confidence, excelled in her classes, and cultivated a network of friends. Last November, Ester presented at an inclusive marketing event in Guatemala City. She spoke with such eloquence that she caught the attention of Norma, MAIA’s Guatemala Executive Director. That same week, the Impact School had been selected as a finalist for the Zayed Sustainability Prize for a school garden project proposal. Three members from the MAIA team were invited to the United Arab Emirates to represent the Impact School at the week-long sustainability conference and awards ceremony. Norma and the team thought it would be an incredible opportunity for a Girl Pioneer to join our two school directors, Vilma and Lidia, at the ceremony. Given Ester’s strong academic performance and her demonstration of vocal empowerment, she was the perfect candidate. She is the first Girl Pioneer to represent the Impact School internationally, and she is the first in her family to travel outside of Guatemala.
When Ester found out she would be making the transatlantic journey, she was stunned. She had always dreamed of traveling but thought it would happen “some day.” When she excitedly told her parents the news, her enthusiasm was matched. Her mom was proud, and while her dad was happy for his daughter, he was also concerned about her leaving the house and flying. Ester, who had never spent a night away from her family, not even for a sleepover, would be gone for ten days.
After getting her passport, planning the trip, packing, and saying goodbye to her family, it was time to fly. Ester had never flown before and wasn’t sure how she’d react. Luckily, she was able to trade seats with a kind stranger so she could sit next to Lidia on the plane. Ester’s fear was short-lived; once they were in the air, she was able to relax and even get a few hours of sleep.
Upon landing in Dubai, she noticed a stark difference from the lush green landscapes of Guatemala. As they drove to Abu Dhabi, Ester was mesmerized by the slew of skyscrapers rising up out of the desert. The further they got from Dubai, the closer they got to what would become a whirlwind adventure full of press conferences, photo opportunities, and interviews during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week..
The morning of the awards ceremony, Ester was overcome with happiness and pride when the MAIA Impact School was announced as the winner of the Global High School category for the region of the Americas. “As a new school, we are just starting out, but we are already accomplishing a lot and showing our potential. This is a tremendous honor for us, as indigenous women from rural Guatemala. Our families are farmers, they have this knowledge, and involving girls in the farming ties them to their parents, to their families, to their culture. It helps our health and knowledge. We are putting knowledge into practice, unlike other environmental science classes. We will be able to see the results,” shared Ester.
In their remaining days, Ester, Lidia, and Vilma had time to explore Dubai. They learned more about their host city, which has transformed from a port town to a sprawling metropolis in the last 40 years, and how the UAE plans to produce 50 percent of the nation’s energy through renewable resources by 2050. Ascending 125 stories in 17 seconds, they reached the top of the Burj Khalifa, which at 2,772 ft (830 m) is currently the tallest building in the world. The trio even got lost in a mosque, much to the chagrin of their tour guide. But what Ester, a nature lover who back home enjoys basking in the tranquility of nature, enjoyed most was visiting the desert. In just two hours, they went from being in the middle of a city to the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand dunes. Ester rode a camel with Vilma, got covered in sand after hitting a rock while dune surfing, and ended the day watching the sun set over the desert sands.
Throughout the entire trip, Ester was busy networking with the other finalists. Ester shared aspects of her Mayan culture (such as traje, her traditional clothing) with girls from Croatia. She taught women from Morocco la licuadora (the blender), a vocal empowerment exercise. After chatting with girls from India, she realized that every country in the world faces challenges and corruption, but by collaborating with others, we can implement new solutions to keep progressing as a global society. Due to the fact that they all speak Spanish, the MAIA Impact School team spent most of their time joking around and eating meals with the representatives from Chile (a 2019 Global High School finalist) and Paraguay (the 2018 category winner). In particular, Ester formed a quick friendship with Jessica, a 17-year-old from Paraguay. Jessica also studies in an all-girls school; however, hers is located on a nature reserve. Both girls are interested in politics and the environment, and they discussed how they could make a difference with the problems plaguing their respective countries. Ester has grown her support network significantly and keeps in contact with Jessica through Facebook.
Although Ester is now back in Guatemala, her adventures with the Zayed Prize are not over. She is a member of the Impact School’s Garden Committee, a group of Girl Pioneers leading the school garden project by learning more about permaculture. Stay tuned next month as we share updates about the project.