By Christa Davis

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in PCI’s 2nd annual Women Empowered (WE) regional workshop in Guatemala. Over 50 members of our WE team from six countries gathered for two weeks to share best practices, visit local WE groups, and plan for the next phase of PCI’s women’s empowerment programming.

Since 2012, PCI has implemented the Women Empowered (WE) Initiative in Guatemala, an integrated economic and social empowerment program that organizes women into groups where they pool their own resources, engage in productive activities and discuss community and social issues of mutual concern.

On my first day in Guatemala, we met a WE group that is part of PCI’s Barrio Mío expansion community. Barrio Mío is a collaboration between PCI and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) designed to transform high-risk urban neighborhoods in Guatemala into a resilient, safe and productive communities. Barrio Mío uses a “Neighborhood Approach” – an integrated, participatory and consultative planning process that mobilizes local communities in identifying and addressing their own development needs based on available resources and local solutions.

We Guatemala 2

The WE meeting began with a discussion on social issues and the group members spoke about the need for implementing a stricter recycling system in their community. Together, they brainstormed ideas and developed a plan of action to encourage community members to take ownership of recycling and keeping the community clean.

Throughout the meeting, the women shared stories and laughter, as well as support and empathy for one another when discussing personal challenges. They shared how a group member had a difficult pregnancy with several health complications. The women banned together and provided a loan to cover her healthcare costs, deliver food and gifts, and visited her regularly. She delivered a healthy baby and is doing well now in her recovery.

Hearing directly from the women on how they were leveraging the WE program as a platform to pursue their dreams and make positive changes in their community was truly inspirational. Their bond as a group made me reflect on the impact of close friendships in my life and the value of a social support system when overcoming obstacles and striving for positive change.

WE Guatemala 3

Following a week of field visits, the four-day WE workshop began in Antigua, Guatemala. I was moved by the team’s enthusiasm and commitment to WE as we shared highlights about the program and discussed expansion opportunities including our WE youth groups, Wealth Generation Pathways and urban WE groups.

PCI staff shared similar sentiments about the workshop:

“It was absolutely wonderful to have the opportunity to visit WE groups, understand the challenges they face, especially those in very remote locations. We were received very warmly and often were invited to participate in fun “dynamicas” (activities). Both the WE group members and the workshop itself highlighted the incredible successes of the WE Initiative and the difference it has made in the members’ lives. I am very excited to be a part of such an exceptional program!”

-Panos Vagenas, Senior Technical Advisor for Research, Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation

“There is so much talent, spirit and dedication in our WE staff in Latin America – it was fun to watch everyone share perspectives, learn from each other’s experiences, create new ideas and get excited about their work. Thank you to all for continuing to give your time and energy to WE! It is an absolute privilege to spend each day with you!”

-Kaelyn De Vries, Associate Technical Advisor, WE

“I loved getting to know our field staff from across the region! I really appreciated that each person attending was able to share with us some of their experiences and knowledge on the different projects they implement because I have a better understanding of what each project is, but also because it highlights the similarities in implementing WE across the region.”

– Carolyn Kenney, Program Coordinator, WE

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Christa Davis is PCI’s Development Officer, WE