Bringing the school to the mountains

19 October 2015   |   Kyle Freund

Interest in farming is in steep decline among young people in many of the communities where Fairtrade works. A program in Guatemala provides young girls and boys with the opportunity to continue their studies.

Fairtrade celebrates gender equality and the efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all young people. We’re proud to highlight a unique program in Guatemala that’s expanding options for young girls and boys in farming communities.

The international Fairtrade system works closely with producer organizations to bring greater opportunities to young girls and boys, and to eliminate and prevent unacceptable forms of child labor. Learn more about child labor.

Huehuetenango is a far-flung, mountainous department in the northwest corner of Guatemala near the border with Mexico. Some of the finest coffees in Guatemala are grown along the slopes of the Cuchumatanes Mountain Range. While the area is well suited for coffee, the terrain also makes education beyond high school difficult for most students.

Miriam Chales de Martinez left school in 2002 due to high costs after receiving a certificate in accounting. She began working with the Cooperativa Integral Agricloa ‘La Todosanterita’ in 2003, eventually taking on the role of Assistant Manager in 2005. She participates in a cooperative training program through the University Rafael Landivar in Huehuetenango.

The program is a partnership between the university, Fairtrade and Irish Aid, along with support from the Coordinadora Guatemalteca de Organizaciones de Comercio Justo (CGCJ). Currently, 24 students from 11 Fairtrade certified small-scale farmer organizations are going through the program.

“I chose this career because it’s something I like, I like the way cooperatives work, I like to work in the cooperative and support my community,” Miriam said.

“I have been studying for a year and a half and thankfully I have finished three courses of the program. It is a bit difficult because I work Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm and I have to do my homework from the university at night and on weekends, but with the help of God, I will achieve my goal and graduate.”

The program gives young people an opportunity to return to school to further their education while still working for the cooperative. It is the first program of its kind aimed specifically at the development of talent in the cooperative and association sector in Guatemala. The program, builds on the success of a similar program in Honduras.

“In the remote areas of our department, there is a huge number of young people eager to continue their studies and since the only option would be moving to the capital, it is nearly impossible,” says Adela Maria Calderon, a professor at the University Rafael Landivar in Huehuetenango.

Students attend classes in Huehuetenango city for one week every two months, but most of their time is spent working on projects that directly benefit their respective producer organizations and its members. The program is run by the Faculty of Business and Economic Science of the University Rafael Landivar in Huehuetenango.

“We have had great results with this group, especially because many of them had a strong interest in improving their abilities and appreciated the opportunity to be part of this program,” said Calderon.

Educational opportunity for youth is key in creating a sustainable future for many of the small communities where Fairtrade farmers work and live. Students will graduate from the program in 2016 with a Higher Diploma in the Management of Cooperatives and Associations.  Upon completion of the program, students will then have the possibility of continuing their studies to earn a degree level qualification in the same subject.

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