Voices of Change

Irma Vidalia Catu Tum: Gaining Skills and Opportunities in Guatemala

Abriendo Oportunidades (Creating Opportunities) is a leadership and empowerment program for Mayan girls in rural Guatemala. Irma Vidalia Catu Tum is an intern graduate who participated in the program from September 2004 to August 2007.

I am 19 years old and come from the pueblo of Las Mercedes in Patzun, Chimaltenango in Guatemala. I have three siblings and live with my parents. I dropped out of school when I was 15 years old and went to work part-time in a tortilla shop in Guatemala City. The other half of my time I spent working at home. My hope was to make enough money to go back to school.

I was 17 years old when I started participating in the Abriendo Oportunidades program. I was really interested in the program because I liked the idea of working with girls and women in my community.

When I started, I was very shy and lacked self-confidence. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t have many friends.

I learned about human rights and reproductive health and community organizing. I developed new skills, such as public speaking, training, and community mobilization.

I made new friends from different Mayan ethnic groups and was able to travel outside my community and see other parts of my country for the first time.

During the program, I had an unplanned pregnancy. There is a lot of discrimination in Guatemala toward single mothers. Surprisingly to me, the program directors and my peers did not want me to drop out. They supported me and motivated me to complete the program. Even though I was pregnant and had a baby boy, I was able to finish my internship.

I went back to school and became certified as a nurses’ aide. With my education and training, I was able to get a job in a hospital.

I know I want to go back to school and get a university degree in nursing. Then I want to work full-time in a hospital or clinic where I would be treated well and paid fairly.

At this point, I don’t think I want to get married. I want to provide the best possible life for my son. I want him to have warm clothes, healthy food, and a good education. I want him to have a better life than I have had.