In an effort to help break the poverty cycle and enable Guatemalan girls to reach their full potential, the Population Council, in collaboration with a range of local and international partners, launched Abriendo Oportunidades ("Creating Opportunities") in 2004 to increase Mayan girls' social support networks, connect them with role models and mentors, build a base of critical life and leadership skills, and provide hands-on professional training and experience. The purpose of the programme is to provide marginalised and disadvantaged girls with opportunities to build their social, health, and economic resources. It works with 7 Mayan ethnic groups (Kiche', Kaqchikel, Tzutuhil, Mam, Q'eqchi', Poqomchi', and Chorti) in more than 40 rural communities in 6 geographic regions of Guatemala.
Abriendo Oportunidades is a leadership and empowerment programme that uses interpersonal communication strategies to teach girls life, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills and to provide information about reproductive health. It revolves around community-based girls' clubs, which are meant to be safe spaces in rural communities where girls come together to gain skills and build their social networks. Girls are divided into age cohorts (8-12 and 13-18) and participate in a life-cycle-specific programme of activities. In each annual girls' club cycle, new peer mentors/girl leaders are identified and trained; some older girls also apply for one-year paid professional internships with local institutions in the public and private sectors. In turn, the girl leaders are supported to form and run clubs in rural communities. Girl leaders are also supported to establish and maintain collaborative relationships with local authorities. Each young female mentor leads a club of approximately 40 girls per cycle. Workshops conducted with girls and their mothers include sessions on self-esteem, life skills, developing aspirations and planning for the future, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS prevention. The programme has connected the rural girls' clubs by establishing the Guatemalan Indigenous Girls Resource and Empowerment Network (GIGREN), which serves as a platform for indigenous girls to advocate for their needs and rights at both the community and the national level.
As of 2011, the emphasis of the programme is on the prevention of violence against girls and young women. Abriendo is working with the public sector and local non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners to train girl leaders to address violence at the community level. The girls' clubs are used as a base to educate and promote the right to safety and security and to equip and support girls and young women to break cycles of violence in their homes and communities. Specific activities include: training and placing young female leaders as interns with service providers addressing gender violence in rural communities; designing strategies with them to mitigate risks; and "safety mapping" with girls to understand where, when, and with whom they feel safe and unsafe. With regard to the latter activity, the girl leaders use global positioning satellite (GPS) technology to plot every household, building, and route to produce maps that show where girls and women feel safe or at risk. The idea of the community safety maps is to catalyse discussions about violence against women and girls, along with ways the community can come together to prevent it.
According to the Population Council, Mayan girls are Guatemala's most disadvantaged group, leading lives characterised by limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing, social isolation, and chronic poverty.
As of 2011, Abriendo Oportunidades has reached more than 3,500 indigenous Guatemalan girls ages 8-18. The father of a Mayan girl in rural Guatemala said, "Thanks to Abriendo Oportunidades, girls and families see the relationships between health, education, and work. Girls used to drop out of school because they didn’t think their education would help them find jobs and live a better life. Now we see the importance of education for girls." Results from an evaluation of the programme determined that:
100% of Abriendo girl leaders had completed the sixth grade, compared to 81.5% of girls nationally. In addition, more Abriendo girls were in school at the close of the 2009-2010 programme cycle (72%), compared with the national average for indigenous girls (53% of those aged 13-15 and 29% among 16-17-year-olds) (USAID, 2007);
97% of Abriendo girl leaders remained childless during the programme cycle, compared with the 78.2% national average for girls in their age range (15-19) (Segeplan, 2010);
94% of Abriendo girl leaders reported experiencing greater autonomy and feeling more comfortable expressing their opinions, and 84% said their role at home had improved during the programme cycle;
88% of girl leaders reported having a bank account and 44% had obtained paid employment when the program cycle finished.
Asociación Renacimiento, Cooperativa para el Desarrollo Rural del Occidente (CDRO), Defensoria de la Mujer Indígena (DEMI), EngenderHealth, Federación de Salud Infantil y Reproductiva de Guatemala (FESIRGUA), Centro de Información, Capacitación y Apoyo a la Mujer (CICAM) Kiej de los Bosques, Mercy Corps, Pies de Occidente, Proyecto para el Desarrollo Sostenible de las Comunidades Ak’aba’al (Prodesca), Asociación Ajpatnar Chorti.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID), Nike Foundation, Partridge Foundation, Research Triangle Institute/Alianzas/USAID, Summit Foundation, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Trust Fund (UNTF)/United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.