In Commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Girl Up shares an interview with Elvira Margarita Cuc Cho, a 24-year-old mentor for indigenous girls in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. We met Elvira earlier this year during our trip to Guatemala to visit leadership and educational programs empowering indigenous girls like her living in rural parts of the country. Elvira takes part of the Abriendo Oportunidades program led by UNFPA. shares the progress indigenous girl leaders have done in the community and the work still to be done for indigenous communities.
I came to Chisec, Guatemala in 2013 after my mother passed away. The network of friends I have made through Abriendo Oportunidades have helped me here. Previously I was a mentor who monitored and coordinated 6 mentors in the communities and together we would go out to support and provide information during local elections. For me it’s important to support society especially the rural areas, where indigenous communities live and need information about their rights.
I was never aware about my sexual reproductive health and when I started menstruation I didn’t know what it was so I cried. I want to support girls and now I tell my experiences to them, how it happened so it won’t happen to them. They need to know their rights. I like being part of the Abriendo Oportunidades mentor group because I get to support girls so they can stand up to any type of violence.
I lived at home and didn’t know my rights. I have two older brothers who could go out as much as they want simply for being males. I have a sister who is 21 and is a teacher but she is not working. My brothers didn’t study. My father used to say “you are not going to study. You are a woman. You are going to find a husband.” I managed to continue my studies even though my father told me he wasn’t going to support me economically. I found the way to stay in school and now I’m here as a mentor. It has helped me out a lot. I am more independent and I have friends. My dad used to yell at me and I wouldn’t say anything back but now I defend myself. A lot of times not having the liberty to step out in the community means we do not have access to economic opportunities or the opportunity to know about our rights or defend ourselves.
Being a mentor has also helped me empower the women in my family. My sister used to tell me she was going to get married when she was 21 and I said “why are you going to get married? You’re young; you can study.” Now she says she’s going to continue to study and marry later. I tell my sister “you have rights. Don’t let someone control you. I learned that already and I don’t want that to happen to you. You need liberty.”
As a mentor for girls in the community, we talk about topics like violence. I share about the times I experienced violence in my family because we need to talk about these issues. I remember one time a girl approached me and she told me that happened to her. I told her don’t let that happen to your mother. You are in a safe space here. Girls are sometimes surprised to hear that there are such things as safe spaces and a support system ready for them.
If I can share a message to indigenous girls here in Guatemala is that we need girls to know their rights and continue their studies so they can learn even more about their rights. Because we live in rural areas we don’t have access to technology or opportunities to go have fun or know our rights and be informed. It’s important to support the rural areas because this is where it’s hard to be a girl of indigenous descent. Non-rural areas already have more opportunities and now it’s time to look at rural areas and bring opportunities here, especially for girls.