I am young, I am a woman and I can! Testimony from Hope School in Guatemala 2

Orfany Veliz (18 years old) is one of three young female Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) Facilitators based in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. She is an alumna of the Esperanza (HOPE) Educational Project, an organization dedicated to working with youth of scarce economic resources, where she was trained as a facilitator when the School began integrating AVP into its school curriculum in 2013. Director and Founder Hilda Vasquez uses the workshops and other violence prevention techniques to empower students to become leaders.

“Before the workshops, I was a very violent person,” described Veliz. “I did not really care about how others felt. In reality, I was a brutal person. This workshop came and changed my whole way of thinking and my understanding of the way I should live my life. I thank Hilda… because she told me that I had the capacity to have another life and that I can change not just on the inside but also can change the outside reality where I live.”

School Director Hilda Vasquez with Elizabeth (Age 19) and Orfany (Age 18) at a Facilitator Meeting

After graduating, Orfany returned to her alma mater to co-facilitate her first AVP workshop in 2016 and inspire current students to be leaders. “It is very special to see how the future generations can change and be the change. If I can do it, they can too. We can be this influence, this change.”

Students complete six workshops over a period of three years. “We see the students every day so we see the problems that they come in with. Sometimes, facilitators may not see the impact of the workshops when they go and do a Basic, but we get to see the process of change,” said School Director Vasquez. “Some parents have changed their own behavior because they see how their children have changed. It is not a workshop, it is a process.”

When asked why it is important to have female youth leaders, Orfany responded: “It is important because if we see ourselves as leaders, it is going to motivate more youth to get involved. They are going to see this strength and capacity that we have. Often, people characterize us as not knowing anything because we are young, but that’s not true. We have a lot of potential and strength to go forward and a lot to give. And when we are passionate about something, we are going to do it well.”

“As a woman, my experience has been intense. There is still a lot of machismo. Many men think that women cannot do anything, but they are wrong. I am young, I am a woman, and I can. I believe that all women can overcome this and look to be better each day and continue preparing for something better. I truthfully would like to see more female leaders because it is not so common to see them. We need to show that we are capable of making change!”

Please consider donating to continue funding more workshops at the Esperanza Educational Project. 

A special thank you to Lancaster Yearly Meeting whose contributions have helped make this important work possible! 


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2 thoughts on “I am young, I am a woman and I can! Testimony from Hope School in Guatemala

  • Grazyna Bonati

    Wonderful testimony. I hope that many people can read it and realise the power of programmes like AVP to really change people’s worlds and their perceptions of those worlds. Well done!

  • Eleanor Hinshaw Mullendore

    I have wintered in Guatemala over the last 20 years and have had the opportunity to observe the growth of women in equal rights, in taking responsibility for their lives, in participating in many kinds of educational, leadership training and community service and development programs. I am not aware of the same kind of growth occurring for young men. I am presently in Panajachel for 3 months and I once again see a very big change in the lives of young women. It is a joy to see the growth and the vibrancy. I live in Nova Scotia where the Breaking the Silence Accompaniment program initiated by Katherine Anderson has had a huge impact on Guatemalans and Canadians. The consciousness raising has been immense. My closets are burgeoning with the lovely fabrics of indigenous weavers. Today there are new colors and styles which are just stunning on proud young women. Fast disappearing are the traditional traje worn by each community–and there is a melding of communities and cultures. Culture is obviously not a static thing–but living, changing, breathing new breath into the lives of caring people. I hope to be able to spend many more winters in the lovely country, whose brutal politics and history are beginning to resemble more and more the country of my birth–the United States. I am a Quaker educator and have worked in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Bolivia and Guatemala in economic development education and programs. I want to tell everyone who reads this article that visiting Guatemala and getting involved is the right thing to do! My family ad I own Duncreigan Country Inn and The Mull Café and Deli in Mabou, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This is also a place of incredible beauty and growth and I am excited to be a part of a group of people who are hoping to build a co-op eco community.