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November 2019 - Newsletter

Two Co-partners board members, Teddi Ahrens and Archer Heinzen, attended the inauguration of the new Apastepeque center during a book research trip to El Salvador. Teddi is working on a book about Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort who died unexpectedly shortly after she interviewed him in 2018. Once she began writing, she found she needed additional information and was able to schedule time with the Llort family during the same week as the inauguration of the new center.

On the Saturday after the inauguration, the Association held registration for two eight-week classes, beginning in November, one in computers and the other in dressmaking. Full semester classes will begin in January.

The first picture shows the center with a new coat of paint and a stage; with a runway where members of the Association would later model the clothes, they had crafted in previous dressmaking classes. The mayor provided the stage and chairs. The second photo shows the crowd that attended the event.

Working toward Sustainability

For the last ten years Co-partners has worked with four women’s groups, three in El Salvador and one in Guatemala. Three of the four, have successfully attained legal status, the first step toward sustainability. Unfortunately, the group in Cojutepeque has not been able to do so and, unless they can make significant progress in the short term, will lose Co-partners funding. The other three groups are cognizant of the need to expand their funding sources beyond what Co-partners provides. One group asked for training in how to apply for a grant. Archer Heinzen presented this training in both countries for all four groups.

Group participants introduced themselves to a partner and then drew a picture of the other person as an aide in introducing the partner to the whole group, a technique that helps group members begin talking with each other.

Domestic Violence Workshop

A brief questionnaire asked members to choose three problems of most concern to them out of a list of seven possible concerns. The list included reducing:

· Violence against women and girls,

· The number of people who don’t have enough to eat,

· Inadequate sanitation and infectious diseases,

· Teacher absences,

· Trash in the streets,

· Lack of electricity, and

· Crime in the community.

The sample was small, but the trends were clear. All respondents ranked reducing violence against women and girls as the top concern. Thirteen of fifteen ranked trash in the streets as a top concern, while nine chose reducing hunger. Reducing crime and inadequate sanitation also received votes. Based on this response, during the July/August trip, Archer presented a training on domestic violence. Materials covered egalitarian relationships, cycles of violence and potential ways of extricating oneself from a violent relationship. The most moving moments of the training were the testimonials of women who had experienced violent relationships and had managed to escape safely.

Improved Monitoring and Evaluation

Co-partners supports women’s empowerment through the motto “Learn, earn and lead. Until now, we have not monitored progress toward achieving what is learned or how Co-partners has influenced women’s leadership and well-being. We have primarily evaluated course participation. Our only impact question has been about earnings. Using a guide on measuring women’s empowerment published by JPAL (The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT), Co-partners developed and tested a questionnaire that we hope to use annually to evaluate changes in empowerment. The questionnaire covered education, earnings, family decision-making, leadership, advocacy, self-confidence, optimism, and marital roles. This year’s testing of the instrument revealed that six of the 19 questions did not offer significant information and that others needed revisions for clarity.

Education: Results revealed significant differences between the Apastepeque and Ilobasco groups. The Apastepeque group has a higher educational level than the Ilobasco group, suggesting that membership is more urban than in Ilobasco. Everyone in Apastepeque had completed elementary education, while half of the Ilobasco group had not. (The number of respondents was not high enough to provide statistical significance.) For both groups the major factor in school dropout was money, with distance from the school the second most important factor,

Earnings: Half of the respondents reported having earnings, but not all were willing to reveal the amount. For those who did, earnings ranged between $75 and $100/month. Two-thirds of the respondents expected that their dressmaking training would provide future income.

Leadership: Respondents who reported taking on leadership roles most often mentioned community associations and the church. In a question that asked if people in the community sought their opinions on important matters, half of respondents replied affirmatively.

Self-confidence: In response to questions on handling difficult situations, being alone and optimism about the future, all but two individuals expressed confidence.

Family decision-making and responsibilities: Although the majority supported joint family decision-making, one-third favored males “having the last word”. All but two respondents thought that men should share in childcare and household tasks.

Gender: All thought that girls should have educational opportunity equal to boys.

Due to a lower literacy level in the Guatemala group, the instrument was not tested there, but will be introduced after revision.

Guatemala School Supplies Program

In January, members of the Chichicastenango Red de Mujeres will distribute school supplies scholarships in eight communities. Members of the Red identify out-of-school children and children at risk of being withdrawn from school.

They then speak with the parents to ask if a school supplies scholarship would allow them to keep the child in school. If the answer is affirmative, the child is enrolled in the scholarship program. The Red member in each community follows the child’s progress in school and works with families to alleviate any barriers that may arise.

Possible Dental Mission

An Arlington.VA dentist, Dr. Fernando Maravi, is interested in organizing a group of his colleagues for a dental mission to Guatemala in November 2020. Co-partners facilitated his trip to understand better the local facilities and the dental and medical backup he would have during the mission.

Fernando was pleased to encounter a functioning dental chair that could be used during the mission trip.

He was surprised to learn that the local health center’s only dental service is extraction, but was pleased to identify two facilities in the municipality of Chichicastenango that would be appropriate for his mission. For communities close to the municipal capital, he plans to work in the offices of the Asociación Centro Maya para la Educación, Bienestar y Asistencia Rural (ACEBAR). To serve communities on the other side of the department, he hopes to work in a school located in Las Trampas. After a day of investigation preparatory to the proposed mission, Fernando and fellow volunteer, Jeremy Smith, worked with Guatemalan children for two days.

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