Becoming a role model: Aracely uplifts women in her community

A person holding a brightly colored piece of clothing they made by hand.
Aracely honed her savings and financial management skills by selling handicrafts in Panimatzala, Guatemala, and used her savings to pay for her university tuition.
04 March 2024

Growing up in the highland town of Panimatzala, girls and women often feel like they have limited options outside of working in the home and taking care of one’s family. Aracely, who is the fourth daughter of eight children, was tasked with responsibilities like helping to raise her siblings. She says that women are often expected to marry young, have children, and aren’t encouraged to find and develop their careers.

It was through caretaking for her own siblings that Aracely realised her sensitivity for others and how to help people grow and develop into their own whole selves. She had initially studied to become a teacher after she completed high school and eventually decided to pursue a university degree to become a psychologist.

“Based on my studies and what I learn from myself and some other friends we created an association called Conecta,” said Aracely. “I have a clinic where I can help my community since I know they need mental health [support].” The local clinic provides counseling services for women and teenage girls.“We provide therapy,” said Aracely, “and we work with women about self-love, resilience.”

A person smiling for the camera.
Aracely is pursuing a degree to become a psychologist and currently provides therapy for women in her community.

In 2016, Aracely participated in Mercy Corps’ AgriJoven programme, which helped her to save money to pay for her education towards becoming a psychologist. Aracely had received a scholarship that covered most of her tuition, and her friends cheered her on to keep working and saving to fund the rest of her education. AgriJoven works specifically with young people and offers financial and business training that will improve their access to job opportunities and improve their  livelihoods. By taking part in AgriJoven, Aracely learned critical skills toward achieving her goals and she is now inspiring and encouraging other girls and women in her community to look beyond prescribed gender roles.

Although Aracely had experience in earning income by producing handicrafts, through domestic and farm work, and selling food like tamales, she did not have access to learn savings skills and financial management. After her participation in AgriJoven, Aracely went on to join another Mercy Corps programme in 2022. She joined with members of her community to learn crucial savings and financial management skills, and went on to develop a community-wide loan system.

Mercy Corps programmes like AgriJoven have supported participants to increase their livelihoods and financial inclusion. In turn, this has helped community members to create new opportunities for themselves—like pursuing higher education and leveraging their expertise to uplift their own communities from within.

For many of the women in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, access to economic opportunity remains a barrier, and credit associations provide an opportunity to practice self-agency, business skills, and financial management to support a more gender-inclusive society. Since many men in the area have migrated to look for work outside of their small town, the women who have remained in Panimatzala are seeking ways to improve their lives in their hometown. “Women are motivated and are more driven,” Aracely said of the women in her town.

“My family has grown with me,” Aracely reflected about how expectations on women have evolved in her community. “There is no pressure from society or families to tell the women to get married at a specific age.” Aracely is proud to be a role model, showing future generations of what is possible.

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