Growing a new generation of changemakers in Guatemala

Young woman sitting in corner of room, in front of two doors.
March 04, 2020

Just over two years ago, life for Olga had almost gone in a drastically different direction.

She was 16 and grappling with a daunting decision. Feeling trapped by the lack of opportunity in her hometown of Solola, Guatemala, she felt she had no other choice but to leave her home, parents and little brother behind and make the 85-mile journey to Guatemala City to look for work.

Many who take the same journey never make it to Guatemala City, according to Olga. They leave behind families and debts, “it’s regrettable,” she says.

Thankfully, Olga never had to make the trip to Guatemala City. She’s still in her hometown of Solola, living with her family, working on their farm and weaving to make extra money. The reason she stayed was AgriJoven. One month before she was supposed to leave, her friend introduced her to the Mercy Corps program.

AgriJoven is one of our youth development programs, which focuses on connecting young people in rural communities with resources, support and tools to create economic opportunity and a bright future in agriculture.

Without support, it’s difficult to build a future in rural Guatemala

Education and career opportunities for youth in Solola were few and far between. To succeed, many young people felt that they had no other choice but to move elsewhere.

Before joining AgriJoven, Olga couldn’t see a path forward for building a life in Solola. She had to leave school after finishing primary school, because she needed to help out with her family’s expenses. Her brother continued his education until the 6th grade, when his family’s financial hardship impacted his ability to continue his schooling.

Olga’s mother explained it like this in 2017, “When people have money they finance their kids through school. But we are poor and we need a way to get money. My daughter Olga wants to continue to study, but we don’t have the money to do so. She wants to study, but how can she?”

With the right support, opportunities for young people are limitless

Young guatemalan woman reading a book.
After getting access to savings and lending groups through AgriJoven, Olga was able to return to school and is now in 7th grade. She wants to one day be a teacher and inspire the next generation of young people.

In Olga’s first few months of involvement with AgriJoven, she joined a local savings and lending group. There, she not only learned how to effectively save money but also became a part of the group’s leadership. In addition, she learned new farming techniques, which she shared with her parents to help increase their harvests and their income.

Today, Olga is in the 7th grade. She wants to study to become a teacher, with hopes of inspiring the next generation of young people.

She and her parents now have triple the farmland they did in 2017, and her family’s farm is flourishing. They have enough crops to sell and feed themselves.

A vision for a stronger community

When she’s not studying, weaving or working on the family farm, Olga is helping forge a path forward for herself and her community. She edits videos that highlight how young people in her community can find work while staying local.

The message of her videos is simple: young people can be change agents by building futures for themselves in Solola. Olga doesn’t get paid to edit the videos. She and her friends in AgriJoven make them to inspire other young people to stay and build success within their communities.

“We are motivated to do it. We want to motivate more youth to fight for their dreams,” Olga says.

The confidence Olga has gained from being involved with AgriJoven is apparent. Before the program, she says, she was introverted, didn’t go out much, didn’t share ideas with her peers and didn’t consider herself a leader. Now, over two years later, she reaches young people in her community and advocates for them to stay in their communities, showing them the opportunities that are right in front of them.

Olga adds, “I want to have a country with less migration, a healthier country. That there is more youth with dreams, goals and visions.”

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