NEW STUDENT ORGANIZATION SUPPORTS ENTERPRISE AND EDUCATION IN GUATEMALA
When Guatemala emerged from a 40-year civil war in 1996, the country was plagued with widespread poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy among its citizens. The conflict had left many women widowed and unable to pay for their children’s educational costs; as a result, half of all children between the ages of five and 14 could not attend school. Now, some dedicated Haverford students are working with an equally dedicated group of Guatemalan women to remedy this problem.
Haverford’s chapter of the International Humanitarian Foundation (IHF), begun in the fall of 2004, supports the mission of its parent organization, which helps at-risk populations worldwide by cooperating with local grassroots organizations. The Haverford chapter focuses on the municipality of Santiago Atítlan, where the economy is largely dependent on agriculture and tourism.
Heidi Jutsum ’06, founder of Haverford’s chapter, was inspired after accompanying Associate Professor of Political Science Anita Isaacs’ class to Guatemala in the spring of 2004. “When we visited Santiago, I fell in love with the community,” she says, “knowing that somehow I had to come back.” Her boyfriend had become involved with the Dartmouth College branch of IHF: “As he was telling me more and more about it, I knew that the two ideologies and organizations would fit perfectly together. All I needed to do was to be the facilitator of that partnership.”
The students of IHF have teamed up with El Grupo Ixmucané, an organization of widowed women who began meeting for support 25 years ago and are now intent on providing solid education for their children. IHF backs the women’s sustainable business growth through the sale of their handicrafts, and wants to help them expand their current after-school program to include 250 children.
“After taking a development class with (Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science) Susanna Wing,” says Jutsum, “I came away with the idea that development had to come from the bottom up with some sort of top-down support. I was inspired by the amazing adversities that this group of women, mostly widows of the internal armed conflict, had overcome, and really wanted to find a way to support them. The idea was that I knew I could never tell them what they should do, but rather they would tell me where they needed support.”
Through publicity, fundraising drives, and word of mouth, IHF attracted like-minded students such as current chapter co-chairs Andrew Garza ’08 and Linden Elder ’08.
“I spent last year in Mexico,” says Garza, “and I’m interested in helping with sustainable development throughout Latin America.” He also admires IHF’s philosophy of serving as equal partners with the women of Grupo Ixmucané.
“Being part of IHF is integral to the experience I want to create for myself at Haverford,” adds Elder, whose parents both work in international development.
Throughout the year, IHF has been preparing for its first major event: this summer’s trip to Santiago, where 10 participants will assist with children’s music and sports projects, computer training, and English teaching at a local school. They will also work with the women to teach them basic accounting and Spanish language skills (continuing a program Jutsum began this spring) and show them how their clothing and crafts can appeal to American consumers. “We want to bring back some items to sell and show to fair trade organizations like SERRV, hopefully partnering with them in the long term,” says Jutsum.
“We are also researching the possibility of establishing a relationship between Grupo Ixmucané and a micro-lending firm,” says Garza. “This could be another way of providing the women with more money to start their businesses.”
IHF has used various outlets to raise funds and gather equipment such as laptop computers and sewing machines for Grupo Ixmucané and the summer trip. Holiday donation drives have been particularly successful; one of this winter’s drives helped the women buy corn to get them through the season’s hardest months. Members have also enlisted the help of churches and service organizations, and each IHF student has worked on creating his or her own network of donors. In addition, Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship has offered Jutsum a stipend for her spring and summer travels.
Local businesses have also gotten in on the act: Students worked with Avon to sell perfumes and cosmetics, and came together with Baja Fresh to cater an evening of Mexican food—“the most popular on campus,” says Garza—with 15 percent of profits going toward IHF’s efforts. Next year, IHF wants to approach more regional businesses, such as Wawa and Starbucks, to form partnerships. “After this summer, we’ll be able to speak from personal experience and make compelling sales presentations,” says Garza.
“We are really just beginning this venture in hopes of finding a more sustainable way to fundraise,” says Jutsum, “with less work by the IHF volunteers so that they can focus more on project design and research.”
To find out more about Haverford’s chapter of IHF or to make a donation, visit the organization’s Web site at www.students.haverford.edu/ihf.