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2010-2011 +
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Starfish One-by-One empowers and educations young women in Guatemala to be leaders in their community. In addition to providing scholarships for indigenous adolescent girls, the Starfish program provides each young woman with personalized mentorship to ensure that she is equipped with the crucial life-skills to become an agent of positive change in her family and community.

This support ensures that a positive-peer group of 15 young women in the Starfish One-by-One program receives a month-long, personalized workshop on reproductive education.


For a girl, age 12 frequently coincides with the start of secondary school and puberty. This transition represents a crucial juncture for a young, indigenous woman in Guatemala. Without an intervention, the vast majority go down the current path: withdrawal from the social sphere, abandoning studies, and restricted access to any services and opportunities that may otherwise prevent her from breaking out of the intergenerational cycles of poverty. As a socially isolated and uneducated young woman, her probably future entails early sexual initiation and pregnancy, premature marriage, frequent childbirth and above all an extremely limited decision-making power.

Current data demonstrates the consequences of this isolation. Only 5% of Mayan girls actually finish primary school and from there only 14% even have access to secondary school . Mayan females present data that puts them on par with some of the more marginalized populations in the world: 70% are illiterate, maternal mortality is three times higher than the national average, 40% are married by age 18 and 7 in 10 of those lacking an education are mothers by age 20. Guatemala has the highest fertility rate in Latin America.

Yet when a girl in the developing world receives 7 or more years of schooling, she marries 4 years later and has 2.2 fewer children. Starfish One-by-One is dedicated to ensuring each young woman in the program completes high school and is equipped with the critical information and life-skills to break the glass ceiling that has kept Mayan women marginalized for centuries.

A critical component of this process is ensuring that each young woman has a full awareness of her body and reproductive health. This information is provided by a female, community-based mentor who speaks the girl’s indigenous dialect and can fully empathize with her challenging circumstances.


Only 10% of indigenous women in Guatemala use some method of birth control. Young women give birth early and often, which too frequently entraps them in generational cycles of poverty and exclusion.

Starfish One-by-One’s mentors ensure that each woman is both educated and empowered to make informed decisions about her life. By avoiding early marriage/childbirth and completing high school, these young women develop their unique skills and talents that they can then use for the betterment of their eventual families and current communities. Each year of secondary school education boosts her future wages by 15-25%, and she reinvests 90% of that income right back into her family.

In its 3 years of programming, Starfish One-by-One has a 97% retention rate and has already produced the most educated women in several rural Guatemalan communities. In 2011, Starfish will celebrate the first graduates of its program.

Team Credentials

Starfish One-by-One’s program is guided by a team of experienced female professionals in Guatemala, all of whom have overcome the same obstacles that the young women in the program face today. This unique team ensures an extremely high cultural relevance and sensitivity- a critical feature when addressing sensitive issues like reproductive education in a country like Guatemala.

Norma Baján Balán, In-Country Director. Norma is the youngest of 9 children and from a small village in the department of Sololá. She is the first in her family to graduate from university (in accounting) and has over 9 years experience working for poverty-alleviation programs in Guatemala. Norma is indigenous Katchiquel and resides in Panajachel, Guatemala.


  • October 2015 Update

    At Starfish, we are dedicated to providing educational workshops and trainings that aim to increase knowledge of reproductive rights and prevent domestic violence and sexual assault among our staff and students. To this end, we continue to partner with a wide range of organizations to provide high quality trainings to our mentors and staff with information that can be integrated into our mentorship curriculum. This year, we partnered with JUCONI, the Trauma Resilience Institute (TRI), ADEMKAN, WINGS Guatemala, Population Council, and Dr. Beth Osnes and Chelsea Hackett to integrate a wide range of courses into our curriculum. These workshops are adapted to our unique cultural context in order to effectively reach the students and families in the Starfish program. In the Spring of 2015, Candy, a Starfish graduate and New Horizons participant, started working as a mentor for an organization called Population Council through their Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) program. ...
  • A video from this project

    What Starfish students learn about reproductive health. The mentors training on reproductive health was made possible by support from Givology