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Women in Guatemala suffer from the largest gender gap in the Western hemisphere. Indigenous women represent almost 25% of Guatemala’s population and are particularly marginalized. Only 5% of rural, indigenous women even complete primary school. Human development data for indigenous Mayans reflects the depth of this exclusion: the highest fertility rate in Latin America, highest infant mortality in Central America, and 6th worst in the world regarding child malnutrition.

Young women in the Starfish One by One program are breaking the glass ceiling by committing to six years junior high and high school education and a brighter future for themselves and their families. Dedicated mentors, other Mayan women who have walked the same path and are among the 1% to reach university, support Starfish students throughout their six years in the program. These mentors run weekly peer support groups for fifteen Starfish girls each, offer out of school academic tutoring, and work with student families to surmount traditional barriers that impede education and women’s empowerment. However, the institutionalized marginalization of Mayan women means that young women in the Starfish program face barriers that extend beyond poverty,
access to schooling, and cultural norms. Family violence, combined with high rates of alcoholism, can all too quickly derail a young woman’s educational ambitions.

Many mentors in the Starfish program have faced situations in which a bubbly, engaged leader in the peer group suddenly disengages. Her group participation drops and her grades in school suffer. When the mentor approaches the young woman about this change in behavior, she learns about issues of domestic violence in the home. This domestic violence ranges from physical abuse by alcoholic mothers or fathers to sexual advances by other adult family members.

Unfortunately, this scenario occurs far more often than it should. Violence is notoriously
underreported, but one recent study asserts that 9 out of every 10 women in Guatemala has been a victim of some form of violence in the home.

Starfish mentors are well versed in academic support, financial literacy, and reproductive
education, and skillfully confront cultural issues like lack of family support around education. Starfish mentors need professional and culturally appropriate training to confront the issue of domestic violence. Specific training is needed to provide each young woman with the skills to cope with and recover from the devastating consequences of violence. Training is also needed to teach young women in the program to recognize the signs of and prevent domestic violence.

In the spirit of collaboration and in order to not “reinvent the wheel,” Starfish has partnered with an expert in the field, the JUCONI Foundation of Mexico, to train Starfish mentors in how to effectively prevent and treat family violence. JUCONI’s internationally-recognized training program tailors its trainings to the specific cultural and programmatic contexts of its clients. Starfish has partnered with JUCONI to provide various training since 2009.

Starfish One by One seeks the support of the Givology community to train Starfish’s ever growing group of mentors in effective family violence prevention. In 2012, mentors from Starfish will visit the JUCONI Foundation in Mexico to receive training on how to properly address this otherwise devastating situation. Mentors will travel from Guatemala to Mexico and accompany JUCONI educators as they perform transformational family visits to the homes of street-involved children. Starfish mentors will bring these skills back to the Guatemalan context through applying these proven-practices among some of Guatemala’s poorest families. JUCONI does not charge for its training, Starfish is seeking support for the travel and administrative costs of JUCONI’s trainers.

As Starfish continues to expand its impact – over 210 students are now enrolled for six years of intensive support and education - our ever growing staff must be trained to effectively deal with family and domestic violence. A well-trained staff ensures that Starfish’s girls receive the most effective, personalized support in the most challenging of situations.


Starfish One by One was founded in 2007 to unlock the “Girl Effect” among indigenous Mayan girls in Guatemala. Starfish recognized that money was not the lone impediment that kept impoverished young women from continuing their education. Deep social and family pressures also play a significant role in derailing the educational aspirations of young women. To address this fully, Starfish launched an integrated program that combines partial academic scholarships with the support of a mentor and a positive peer group. In 2011, Starfish added another layer of support for young women in high school: a job training and internship program to build career skills these young women can use after graduation.


Starfish seeks out girls that would otherwise abandon their studies after the 6th grade –only 5% of rural, Mayan females complete primary school – and provides the support to keep girls in school through high school graduation.

2011 marked the graduation of the first four Starfish students, the first to complete the entire program. These women are the first in their families to graduate high school. One is employed by the city government, while another runs a small business. And one is a new Starfish mentor. Over 210 students are now committed to walk the six year path of empowerment and education. The current average years of schooling among Starfish students is 10 years (and climbing!). The average years schooling among their mothers is 1.5 years. 95% of the students in the Starfish program successfully pass their grade and remain in the program.

Team Credentials

Starfish One-by-One’s program is guided by a team of experienced female professionals in Guatemala, all of whom have overcome the same obstacles that the young women in the program face today. This unique team ensures an extremely high cultural relevance and sensitivity- a critical feature when addressing sensitive issues like family violence in Guatemala.

Guatemala Operations are led by Norma Baján Balán, in-country director. Norma is the youngest of 9 children from a small village in the province of Sololá. She is the first in her family to graduate from university (in accounting) and has over 9 years experience working for poverty-alleviation programs in Guatemala. Norma is indigenous Katchiquel and resides in Panajachel, Guatemala.


  • October 2015 Update

    At Starfish, we are dedicated to providing educational workshops and trainings that aim to increase knowledge of reproductive rights and prevent domestic violence and sexual assault among our staff and students. To this end, we continue to partner with a wide range of organizations to provide high quality trainings to our mentors and staff with information that can be integrated into our mentorship curriculum. This year, we partnered with JUCONI, the Trauma Resilience Institute (TRI), ADEMKAN, WINGS Guatemala, Population Council, and Dr. Beth Osnes and Chelsea Hackett to integrate a wide range of courses into our curriculum. These workshops are adapted to our unique cultural context in order to effectively reach the students and families in the Starfish program. In the Spring of 2015, Candy, a Starfish graduate and New Horizons participant, started working as a mentor for an organization called Population Council through their Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) program. ...
  • The importance of mentorship

    [font=arial, sans-serif]Mentor Vilma explains more about her work and how she is able to work with families. Mentors training on domestic violence directly relates to how they work with families[/font]