UMW professors and students significantly influence the lives of women and children in Guatemala
By SARAH GRAMMER
Associate professor of geography Dr. Dawn Bowen and members of her Grassroots Development class are hoping to make a difference in the lives of the rural indigenous women of Guatemala. The group is fundraising to donate an electric turbine for the Community Cloud Forest Conservation in Cobán, Guatemala.
The turbine will provide electricity for the community and the CCFC’s new agroecology center. The goal of the fundraiser was to reach $6000 beginning in March. In 22 days, the class has managed to raise $6,255 on their GoFundMe page.
While the class has succeeded in fundraising, Brown remains focused on what she thinks is a larger problem.
“The larger issue is educating young people, women in particular, of the importance of being good stewards of the environment, improving nutrition, and becoming leaders in their communities,” Bowen said.
The agroecology center’s purpose is to educate women and children about the environment and sustainable farming practices. The women are taught in a 25 day program where they study day and night at the agroecology center. Children may only stay for a few days at a time.
Senior geography major Scott Phillips was in Bowen’s class and traveled to Cobán to work with the women and children there. Phillips assisted his classmates in creating a video about the CCFC and the people involved in its program and learned firsthand in Guatemala why the need for education is so important.
“The turbine does much more than power a building,” Phillips said. “It provides kids the opportunity to learn more, the power will be used for light, for computers, and projectors, things that will 100 percent benefit the women and kids education. So investing in the turbine is really investing in education in Guatemala.”
The majority of Guatemala’s population is under the age of 19, causing many children to have to leave school and work in order to feed their families. Many women and children are missing out on the opportunity for education because it is expensive and the parents cannot afford to send them. This hurts Guatemala because an educated person has much to offer the country, according to Bowen.
“An educated woman makes a huge difference in her community,” Bowen said, “she becomes a leader. Educated women are better mothers and are more concerned with improving nutrition and sending their children to school.”
According to Bowen, malnutrition is a major issue among children in Guatemala because people are not getting a proper education in agriculture. If women and children can be further educated in farming practices, then they can produce food for themselves that will help combat malnutrition.
In Guatemala, the class was able to experience everyday life with the indigenous people, which made them realize how important the issue of education is.
Phillips, for example was inspired by a 9-year-old boy named Ronaldo.
“Seeing where Ronaldo lived, staying with him for two nights and seeing the conditions of his life made me want to intervene,” Phillips said, “Ronaldo and these kids deserve so much more, and at the least, they deserve a good education and the opportunities to define their own futures.”
In reference to the students’ experiences, Bowen said, “I have been told repeatedly that this trip changes their lives.”
“The indigenous Q’eqch’I of Guatemala found joy in the simplest of things, which made me realize often the rich are poor and the poor are rich,” Phillips said.