By Judy Bacon, Chapter Leader, WA, Spokane Valley-1
In Dining for Women we hear the word “impact” all the time. That word came alive for me the day our tour group visited the Starfish School in Guatemala and saw what impact truly means.
We had already enjoyed three amazing days of sightseeing and bonding in this gorgeous country when we set out by bus to visit the first of three DFW grantees: “Starfish—Her Infinite Impact” (formerly “Starfish One-by-One”). Along the way, we heard from Beth Ellen that this innovative educational project benefiting Mayan girls in rural areas near the town of Solola was first funded by DFW in 2012 and has recently been one of our Sustained Grantees. I remembered hearing about it in 2012 and was very eager to see it.
At the office in Santiago Atitlan, Laura and Yihemba from the U.S. gave us an overview of the day’s schedule. We would have some preliminary information, then a visit to the home of a Starfish graduate, then a tour of the school and some Q and A with school administrators. It all sounded great, but we were most excited about that home visit!
Staffers Laura and Yihemba told us that Starfish’s mission is to “unlock and maximize the potential of young women to lead transformational change” and that, after ten years of intentional and patient planning aided by authentic community involvement, Starfish’s empowering impact on students is now rippling through entire Mayan communities. We boarded our faithful little tour bus to see this impact in action in the small town of Conception.
We were split into two groups of seven for our home visits. My group had the great honor of visiting Starfish graduate Irma, her father Rosaleo, mother Isabelle, and Irma’s five younger siblings. The family welcomed us enthusiastically, first into the front room of the home and then, thanks to beautiful, dry weather, onto the patio. Introductions were followed by a community “thermometer” game during which we told our emotional levels (red, yellow, green) and learned to applaud by snapping our fingers. Luckily, Milva was with us to translate the Mayan language, Kaqchikel, into Spanish, and Yihemba to put the Spanish into English. However slowly, we were able to communicate!
We gathered into small groups of family members and guests to play board games based on “The Game of Life,” featuring successes and challenges common to the life of a Mayan girl. For example, players skipped ahead when their parents supported their school attendance, but fell behind when they chose not to study. We laughed more and more as the game progressed. Irma, our Starfish graduate, was winning handily until, alas, she landed on a devastating square: “You got married. Go back to the beginning.” Irma laughed with the rest of us as she ruefully returned to the beginning. (Sidenote: 97% of Starfish graduates delay marriage and pregnancy until age 25.)
In preparation for lunch, Isabelle had mixed up a huge bowl of masa and invited us into her open-air kitchen to help her make tortillas. She made it look so easy! We were so totally bad at it! She was very patient as we struggled to create even one flat circle to put onto the hot metal slab. No thanks to us, there were miraculously enough tortillas for lunch—an absolutely delicious chicken soup, which I learned later is traditionally served at Mayan weddings. What consummate hospitality!
As we finished up in a community circle, we could see that Irma’s parents were glowing with pride for their daughter, who now holds a job at the Conception City Hall and hopes to go to university some day. We could begin to predict the future. Her father will brag about her to his friends. Her mother will encourage her other children to stay in school. The younger children will see a path for themselves beyond dropping out of elementary school to work in the fields. The education of 300 students at the Starfish Impact School (50 per grade level, grades 7-12) will directly impact as many as 2,400 members of the Mayan community, changing attitudes and empowering women and girls. To us, the word “impact” now has a face—the face of Irma and thousands of others.
See www.Starfish-impact.org for detailed information about this remarkable school.