Starfish Mentors Future Women Leaders of Guatemala



In a country ranked among the worst in the hemisphere in extreme poverty, illiteracy, disease, and gender inequality, Starfish sees potential for change among the women of Guatemala. Starfish is empowering a generation of Mayan women to become economic, political, and cultural leaders. They call their participants Generation 500. They are 500 carefully selected girls who demonstrate unique academic aptitude and promise. The girls will be provided mentorship and intensive education in order to become catalysts for lasting change in their communities and across Guatemala.

In rural communities, educating and empowering girls has a dramatic impact on every socioeconomic indicator. To intensify this “girl effect,” Starfish has chosen to provide a large amount of support to a select number of girls so they can become highly effective leaders and have the maximum impact possible. The goal is to break the cycle of poverty that has resulted in more than half of Guatemalan women becoming mothers by age 18 and averaging less than two years of formal education. The method for overcoming these deeply entrenched realities rests heavily on getting a better education, but even more heavily on the integration of that education into the daily lives of these 500 Girl Pioneers.

Because the Mayan culture of Guatemala emphasizes tight-knit families, placing their advanced education into a culturally sensitive context will determine the success of each Girl Pioneer. They cannot succeed in isolation from their families, and for lasting change to permeate through the entire country there must be success along with the family, not in spite of it. Starfish uses a mentorship model that pairs each girl with a Mayan woman who is herself a pioneer. Each have at least a university level education, but were also the primary breadwinners of their families. Most had mothers with less than two years of formal education and have long confronted cultural and social resistance on a daily basis. With their experiences, they can offer authentic empathy for pushing the paradigm of women in Guatemala.

Starfish mentors visit the girls in school and at home to assess academic, economic, and emotional needs. Mentors work with the parents to help them understand what kind of support each pioneer will need and the vital role the family will play in her success. During these visits, the mentors help address and prevent issues that might undermine the process of empowerment. By fully integrating families into the educational journeys of their daughters, Starfish mentors help their girls fashion a system of support that extends far beyond the classroom.

Mentors also integrate with the educational experience. The mentor’s presence in the school environment helps model ways of celebrating indigenous identity while empowering the girls in non-Mayan spaces. Exposure to non-Mayan professional and social spheres enables each girl to pursue a choice-filled life beyond the dogmatic rules of her country’s history.

Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to support Starfish’s Girl Pioneers program as they lay the groundwork for strong leaders to change the future of Guatemala through education, mentorship, and empowerment.