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When the Starfish Team first met Elena, she was a painfully shy girl who would not make contact with even the local indigenous staff. After two years in the Starfish program, her confidence is growing, but so are her challenges.

Elena lives in the small city of Santiago, Atitlán. As an urban Tzutujil Maya family, they have no access to land and subsist on the beadwork of Elena and her mother. Her father’s welding work is infrequent and the family struggles with alcoholism. As the oldest of four children with a 17 year age difference between her and her youngest sibling, Elena represents the classic “double burden” scenario. Her family is faced with her lost labor while she is at school and must pay the portion of her school expenses not covered by her academic scholarship. At the age of 17, Elena is a very capable young woman who cooks all of the morning meals and often cares for her very young siblings. Elena’s ability to perform so many tasks at home makes it difficult for her family to support her in her studies, especially when her mother never attended school.

Elena is trying to surmount these obstacles with the help of her Starfish mentor, who actively supports Elena’s academic and career interests. This year, Elena faces big decisions. She must decide what to study in high school and she will rely on her mentor to help her make an informed choice. Without this critical mentorship component, Elena would have to climb this high mountain alone.


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