Story and Photo By Gesler Castillo
Women are effective agents of change in their communities and families, and through our Women Empowered (WE) Initiative we’ve seen firsthand how important economic development and social capital is to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Since 2012, PCI has implemented our WE program in Guatemala, an integrated economic and social empowerment program that organizes women into groups where they pool their own resources, engage in income-generating activities and discuss community and social issues.
Milena de Jesús Martínez belongs to a WE savings group called Las Damas del Ahorro or “The Savings Women” in the municipality of San Antonio Huista in Huehuetenang, Guatemala.
Originally created through PCI’s PAISANO program in the community of Nojoya, Milena’s WE group shared that the savings training has helped increase self-confidence for the women to assert their rights and take ownership of resources, allowing them to excel at the community and municipal levels.
PAISANO continues to promote the economic, social and political strengthening of women, by developing their leadership as a group and as individuals.
For Milena, her WE group has provided many growth opportunities for not only herself but also for each of the group members.
“We have developed skills for organizing ourselves, promoting a sense of independence, self-esteem and autonomy,” said Milena.
When Milena would go home after the WE savings sessions, her 13-year-old daughter, Damari, always asked her about the WE meetings.
Milena shared, “My daughter asked why we women met together, what we did, and why we save money.”
When Milena answered her questions and explained the purpose of the WE group, Damari also wanted to participate and be involved in WE activities like her mother.
In time, Damari joined her mother’s WE group and participated in the income-generating activities. Between her own savings and the earnings from food sales, Damari has saved $52.
“I want to save money so that when I finish middle school I can continue studying for a better future,” said Damari.
Milena feels very satisfied to have been an example for her daughter.
Through WE, the group of women has seen their opportunities continue to grow in ways they never expected, like gaining influential positions at the community level.
The group was invited to apply to participate in the local election for positions within the Community Development Council, which is comprised of community representatives of authorities that govern the municipality.
With uncertainty and nervousness, the group chose two representatives to participate in the community election.
Milena and a fellow WE group member, María Díaz, were chosen to represent the group, and then were elected to be part of the council.
Both women are very proud to represent their WE group and women in general in these important community decision-making platforms.
Damari feels very proud to watch her mother be recognized as a leader in the community, with her leadership journey beginning with PAISIANO.
Milena said, “Participating in this group has shown us that as women, we are as valuable as men. We have the right to participate and to be heard.”
Photo and Story By Gesler Castillo, PCI’s Field Supervisor, PAISANO, Guatemala