GUATEMALA: Salesian missionaries collaborate with Mesoamerican University for new courses targeted towards indigenous women
(MissionNewswire) In July, the first four students from a newly-established Mesoamerican University, located in the municipality of San Pedro Carchá, Guatemala, graduated with degrees in educational administration. The university was established four years ago and has been growing rapidly. It started with just 44 students and has grown to 564 students in 2018.
Given the rate of growth and need for advanced education opportunities, Salesian missionaries with Talita Kumi Foundation, an organization that focuses on education for indigenous women, developed a partnership with the university. Father Jorge Puthenpura, a Salesian from India, developed a model of female religious life within the local indigenous Q’eqchi’ culture. His goal was to work with the university to offer religious studies courses for this population.
The Mesoamerican University has launched a new course of study each year since it has been in operation. First came a teaching training program, then educational administration and educational sciences followed by social work and bilingual primary education. The most recent degree program launched in 2018 was agronomic engineering. A new Salesian religious studies program will be the fifth program offered by the university.
The philosophy behind this innovative religious studies program is based on the Salesian mission to provide education and workforce development services to poor youth. The program will focus on the methods of human and Christian formation in the spirit of the Salesian founder, St. John (Don) Bosco, an Italian Catholic priest who devoted his life to fulfilling the needs of orphans and vulnerable children.
The Mesoamerican University will play an important role in the Talita Kumi mission to promote leadership and empowerment of thousands of indigenous women. The broader Talita Kumi project provides services to women and young children. Children attending Salesian community centers in the Guatemalan departments of Quiché, Izabal, Petén and Alta Verapaz receive pre-primary education that is facilitated by volunteers from the community with the help of Salesian staff.
At the end of each day, the children receive a serving of rice and a cup of cereal cornflower drink. Their mothers are also able to bring rice home as an incentive for their participation in a training process. The project works with mothers to educate them about values, children’s rights in education, health, strengthening children’s self-esteem and early learning. Young women also have access to training programs and workshops that provide skills for employment.
“Salesian missionaries around the globe empower young girls and women through education and social development services to ensure that they have equal access to school and are able to gain the skills needed for later employment,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Young women and girls face many disadvantages and barriers to accessing education and achieving financial independence despite their huge potential. Those who are able to access education are more often able to achieve financial independence and make better and healthier choices that affect not only themselves, but their families and communities as well.”
Rural poverty hasn’t changed much in Guatemala during the last 20 years, according to the World Bank. While 70 percent of Guatemalan citizens live below the poverty line, the number is as high as 91 percent for its indigenous population. Many rural citizens in Guatemala have only completed a 6th grade education. This is largely due to the expenses required to send children to schools which are often far from their homes.
Salesian missionaries working and living in the country have been providing for the basic needs of Guatemala’s youth while helping to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. They work extensively with poor youth and their families at youth centers, orphanages, parishes and primary and secondary schools as well as operate technical schools, vocational training workshops and two universities.
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World Bank – Guatemala