Social justice leadership & scholarships

Students work with Voces y Manos' staff during their last year of middle school in an intensive after-school and weekend leadership training program. The program teaches students how to identify problems facing their communities, to recognize community assets and resources, and to organize community members to conduct projects.

Upon successful completion of their community projects, youth are awarded scholarships to study at local high schools. Since most high schools in Rabinal have a vocational focus, Voces y Manos staff help students select high schools that align with their interests and strengths. High school in Rabinal lasts three years. During this time, students receive academic tutoring, computer access, and psychological support from Voces y Manos staff. All scholarship recipients are also part of Voces y Manos’ Youth Leadership Association where students work together to advocate for policies that promote wellbeing and social justice in their communities.

Youth-led community projects

Youth-led community projects are a core part of Voces y Manos’ leadership development model.

Each year, students work in small groups to investigate a challenge their community is facing. Students design an project with the guidance of Voces y Manos staff. Projects address a range of important issues and help students become agents of change in the process. Past projects have included reforesting barren hillsides, planting community gardens, and lobbying local politicians to provide more frequent garbage collection services.

Youth-led advocacy

Youth-led advocacy is a core activity in Voces y Manos’ Youth Leadership Association. Students in the Association learn to conduct research and advocate for policies that will promote health and wellbeing in their communities.

The Association has played a critical role in Rabinal. In 2015, the 30 students in the Association recommended that the municipal government increase its funding for a local youth center. Taking advantage of the fact that 2015 was an election year, the youth then coordinated a community-wide forum to discuss these issues with local mayoral candidates. The work was featured in a recent UNICEF report on youth participatory action-research, and was detailed on UC Berkeley’s YPAR Hub website.

Higher education and employment

Upon graduating high school, the career objectives of Voces y Manos students are consistently clear: most want to gain university degrees so they can work as doctors, nurses, agriculture technicians, and teachers in their own communities.

Students face significant barriers to realizing their goals, such as poverty, discrimination, and a lack of employment opportunities. To help students overcome these obstacles, our college internship and scholarship program places young people in internships with local community development organizations.

These internships provide students with valuable work experiences, and a living stipend that allows them to fund their college education. Students pursue majors in fields such as education, agronomy, and nursing that equip them to provide critical services and work for social change. A majority of students who graduate from the  internship program obtain work locally in the community development sector.

Climate change resiliency

Finding a sustainable and equitable solution to extreme climate pressures is a task of global magnitude, but the fight starts here at the community level.

In Guatemala, the summer rains have always allowed for the abundant cultivation of maize – staple crop of the Maya and the basis for their rich 5000 year history. But in the last decade dry conditions during the rainy season have become severe and alarmingly persistent. Water is life, and without it, crop failures have become the norm, undermining the livelihoods of Mayan subsistence farmers. Families are often left with no choice but to send their loved ones on a perilous journey north to the US.

Voces y Manos’ Climate Resiliency Project is a youth-led effort to promote climate-resilient agricultural practices. The project begins with deep listening: Indigenous youth will interview their communities about ancestral practices, conduct a baseline survey to understand the needs of individual families, and lead capacity-building workshops to bring adaptation strategies to life.

Based on what youth learn from their elders, Voces y Manos interns and staff will begin working with families to expand agricultural practices that are culturally sustaining and ecologically sustainable. After three years, 250 families will have been trained in resilient agricultural practices including soil conservation, parcel diversification, and reforestation.

Empower youth