The MAIA Impact School’s Holistic Approach to Education

© Courtesy of MAIA Impact

By Raye Mocioiu

In Guatemala, one in 10 girls will graduate from high school. This harrowing statistic is a symptom of a larger issue: schools in the country are inadequately funded, leading to severe gender educational inequalities. But one organization in Guatemala is making a difference.

The MAIA Impact School is the first secondary school in Central America that is designed to empower young Indigenous women through a holistic education model. The students are called “Girl Pioneers,” indicative of them being the first in their families to pursue continued education. Moreover, through the connections the Girl Pioneers make at the MAIA Impact School, they can pursue opportunities that will help them break the cycle of generational poverty—pioneers, indeed.

The school is the principal program of the MAIA Foundation, an organization led by Indigenous women for Indigenous women. The poverty rate amongst Indigenous women in Guatemala stands at 66 percent, with only 20 percent graduating from high school, less than one percent continuing their education at a post-secondary institution, and nearly 57 percent becoming mothers by age 20. MAIA seeks to give Indigenous women a chance to take control of their futures and build a better life for themselves and their families.

Since 2017, the organization has been spearheaded by women. Martha Lidia Oxí, Co-executive Director of External Relations at MAIA, shared that one of the focuses—and wins—of the organization is local leadership. Who better, after all, to make a difference in communities than the community members themselves?

maia impact
© Courtesy of MAIA Impact

MAIA’s mission is to provide a better education for Indigenous girls, with mentorship, support, and a holistic approach to learning that involves parents and students. The organization works with communities that do not have access to secondary schools, and without MAIA, many of these girls would not have the opportunity to continue their education. The school started with a focus on providing and improving education in areas where it was underdeveloped. Since then, MAIA has evolved to offer many classes and programs that allow girls to choose their paths.

What makes MAIA unique is that their programming goes beyond teaching the students: the families are involved in every aspect of schooling. Students are committed to the program for six years, and parents also commit to supporting their child throughout the program and attending regular meetings throughout the process. This is significant because it allows parents to learn alongside their daughters and, more importantly, understand how best to support their children through schooling.

On top of that, MAIA’s holistic approach to education includes more than just academics. The organization takes a vocal empowerment approach, fighting against discrimination issues in Guatemala and empowering girls to speak up, become comfortable using their voices, and learn to stand up for themselves. Leadership, economic independence, and work skills are also part of the curriculum, focusing on empowering girls to make positive changes in their lives and communities.

© Courtesy of MAIA Impact

Often, these positive changes extend beyond the walls of the classroom. In a country with so much biodiversity and nature, the students feel connected to the world around them. MAIA promotes organic gardening, nutrition, and reforestation, encouraging students to further connect with their environment and seek ways to improve it.

Already, MAIA has achieved a 94 percent retention rate for 18-year-olds from the Impact School, compared to a national dropout rate of 64 percent. By focusing on lifelong learning and autonomy for graduates, including access to jobs and a living wage, MAIA’s impact goes far beyond education, empowering Indigenous girls to make positive changes in their own lives and communities.

As the future of Guatemala, the girls at MAIA will continue making positive changes and inspiring others in their community.

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