Megan Foo's Blog

Interview with Marilena Choguaj, Coordinator of Innovation at Starfish One by One

[i]Interview translated by Elizabeth Vautour, Designer at Starfish One by One[/i]
For a 12 year old indigenous girl in Guatemala, a harrowing future is on the horizon - a future that entails putting friendships and education on the back burner in favor of child marriage, early sexual initiation, and frequent pregnancies. Data from statisticians corroborates the ill consequences of this norm: [url=]maternal mortality is three times the national average[/url], [url=]46% of women are married by age 18[/url], and [url=]fertility rates remain at high at 114 in 1000 women aged 15-19[/url].
[b]Yet, when a girl completes her secondary education, she marries later and has fewer children.[/b] But academic education alone does not suffice - a reproductive health curriculum in tandem with academic programs is essential. [url=][b]Starfish One by One[/b][/url], our grassroots partner focused on empowering girls in Guatemala through education and mentorship, understands the need for such a curriculum.
Marilena Choguaj, the Coordinator of Innovation at Starfish One by One, spearheads Starfish's reproductive health curriculum. A community-based mentor who speaks the girls' indigenous dialect, Marilena more than empathizes with the girls' challenging circumstances. I was able to get some insight from Marilena this past week regarding her involvement with Starfish's Reproductive Health Curriculum and what it means for a woman in Guatemala to be empowered.
[b]Megan Foo: What motivates you to keep fighting for improved women's reproductive health in Guatemala?[/b]
[b]Marilena Choguaj:[/b] Working for Starfish, I've learned that being informed about reproductive health is an integral part of maintaining good general health and has huge baring on a person's quality of life. In Guatemala, there is a culture of shame and silence around sexuality and reproductive health. It is imperative that we change this attitude. Being informed about this topic should not be looked upon as a sin, but as a right. Generally, the parents (especially the mothers) of the Girl Pioneers that we work with are grateful that we're providing information about reproductive health to their daughters. They know that this knowledge will give their girls the power to make decisions that will change the course of their lives and help them to break out of the cycle of poverty.
[b]Megan Foo: What do you enjoy the most about your work with Starfish?[/b]
[b]Marilena Choguaj:[/b] It is a privilege and a joy to work with young people and their families; to be able to share information with them that has the potential to change their lives. Reproductive health is one of the areas that we cover in our curriculum, but we also address a number of other equally important issues - such as social injustice, nutrition, leadership skills, etc.
Starfish empowers our Girl Pioneers to improve not only their lives, but the lives of those around them, and the lives of generations to come.
[b]Megan Foo: How has Starfish fulfilled its mission and goals in the area of reproductive health?[/b]
[b]Marilena Choguaj:[/b] During our weekly mentorship sessions with the Girl Pioneers, we develop skills like decision making. We also work on building self-esteem, and we provide unbiased information about sexuality. Knowledge is power and this knowledge, in combination with a strong sense of self-worth and the confidence to make good decisions, empowers our students to act in an informed, responsible way.
[b]Megan Foo: Why is improving access to women's reproductive health education important to you?[/b]
[b]Marilena Choguaj:[/b] An educated woman has bigger vision for her life, and a better understanding of the steps she needs to take to reach her personal and professional goals. An educated woman has so many more opportunities. She is able to be more emotionally and economically independent. She feels confident about making important decisions. Like the decision when/if she wants to have children, and then, how many?
The young women that we work with have the potential to become incredible professionals if they're just given access to the resources and support that they need. At Starfish we provide them with those resources, the training and support they need to change their lives and impact the lives of the generations of girls that will follow them.
[b]Megan Foo: On a personal level, what does women's empowerment mean to you?[/b]
[b]Marilena Choguaj:[/b] To me, an empowered woman is a woman who is informed. She has discovered and developed her personal strengths. She is able to vocalize and share her thoughts. An empowered woman is a woman who knows she is capable. That SHE is capable of making her life anything she wants it to be.

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