As a teenager still attending school, Modesta is a bit of a rarity in San Rafael. In 2010, there were just two junior high students in the village. A year before, there were none. But unlike the rarity of Guatemala’s national bird, the quetzal, secondary students are becoming more and more common in San Rafael, a welcome change for the community.
In 2013, a whopping 30 students enrolled in junior high—14 times the number just three years before. It’s an incredible gain, and a very good sign for the village. “It reflects the hard work we are doing with the families,” says Lesbia Marroquin, San Rafael Coordinator, “bringing educational games into the home, raising awareness of the importance of education among families, and maintaining open communication with the director of the junior high.”
Modesta’s drive to study makes her a leader in her own family, too.
A model leader
Modesta is a great example of the change young people are bringing to their community. When you first meet her, she seems a bit reserved. But behind her shy smile, you’ll find an ambitious student and a strong community leader. The 14-year-old speaks three languages, loves mathematics and history, and spends her free time teaching kids who never went to school.
Modesta’s drive to study makes her a leader in her own family, too. Modesta is the second oldest in her family but the first to attend junior high. Her younger siblings struggle in sch ool more than she, but Modesta prods them to finish their homework. Her father is a community organizer, helping people find better housing, but he relies on Modesta to manage the list of names, since he can’t read or write. There is a mix of ambition and aptitude that sets her apart, says Lesbia.
Growth in female leadership
Lesbia acknowledges it isn’t easy being a female leader in an indigenous community like San Rafael. Like secondary education, it is still a very new thing—but it is happening, and growing.
Lesbia cites the local vegetable cooperative as an example of women’s emerging role. In the past, the entire village would work to plant and harvest vegetables, but only the men would take the vegetables to the cooperative to sell them. Now, a group of 40 women are selling their vegetables and managing their own money. Says Lesbia, “This is a big step forward for the community.”