14-year old Brenda is from the small city of Santiago, Atitlan. Santiago the epicenter of the Tzutijil Mayan group and is also the largest indigenous-run city in Central America. Brenda’s first language was Tzutijil and she learned Spanish in school.
Brenda’s mother Maria is illiterate and never attended school. She recalls how her parents would hide her under the bed during door-to-door school recruitment campaigns. Brenda’s maternal grandfather believed that an education would be wasted on his daughters and that they were better off working to support the family. Maria worked as a domestic servant from the age of 9 to help support her poor parents, and was severely mistreated on several occasions. Maria was a teenage bride and mother- yet she still vowed that her daughters would get an education to avoid a similar fate.
Brenda is the youngest of 7 siblings. Her father, who studied until the 3rd grade, makes a meager living repairing school uniforms. Her mother does some embroidery work on the huipiles, the traditional Mayan blouse that women use. In addition to working in the family’s corn field, Brenda helps her mother and sister with embroidery.
However, Brenda and her mother’s dream for an education beyond the 6th grade was in jeopardy. Two of her older siblings were in high school, and the family told her that she would have to wait until they finished to resume her studies. Brenda learned of Starfish One by One when the organization contacted the director of Brenda’s primary school to see which girls were likely unable to continue onto secondary school. Brenda was accepted, and started both secondary school and the Starfish program in 2010.
The Starfish One by One program addressed Brenda’s more immediate economic need via a partial academic scholarship totaling $250/year. This funding comes via a sponsor in Olympia, Washington. However, Starfish also recognizes the critical need to provide Brenda with more personalized support to confront and overcome the other obstacles that indigenous girls face when trying to secure an education. Starfish’s way to address this is by providing Brenda with the personalized support of a community-based female mentor. Brenda’s mentor is named Wendy.
Brenda has a quick smile and is one of the leaders in her 15-member Starfish group. This group meets weekly, and they call themselves the Estrellas Marinas (Sea Stars). Wendy, the mentor, facilitates these sessions and ensures that each girl receives the Starfish Empowerment Curriculum. This group met during the course of 2010 and as a result, Brenda received training on financial literacy, reproductive health, leadership, community service, and critical thinking. She now has her own savings and email account, is one of the top students in her class.
This funding will be used to ensure that Brenda continues to participate in the Empowerment component of the Starfish One by One program.
This funding goes to support the mentor that is responsible for ensuring the education of Brenda as well as equipping her with the Starfish empowerment curriculum.
24 SEP 2011Brenda has been making steady progress since she was awarded with a Starfish scholarship. She was initially failing three classes when she started 7th grade and was very down about her schooling, but her mentor has worked closely with her and each semester she has passed one more class. As of the most recent exams in August, Brenda not only passed all of her classes, but she was making good grades and has learned through her mentorship important study skills so that she can keep them up. She now feels empowered and is excited about school and her self esteem has improved. You can read more about Brenda and leave comments for her to respond to on her group blog .
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