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Believing Our Voices Can Transform Our LIves

On a rainy afternoon in a remote cloud-forest village, indigenous Mayan women who spoke only their native Ixil language continued to stream into the Vocal Empowerment Workshop until there were nearly seventy mothers present. They giggled at the strangeness of our vocal warm ups but were good sports about trying it and feeling the results as much as their timidity would allow. When it came time for each woman to declare her most passionate concern, I had to invite each mother forward by the hand and stand by her side to ensure her confidence to speak.

Many had concerns of poverty related to their lives and the lives of their children. Since there were so many mothers present, we (my translators and I) decided we would focus on the concern that came up for the majority of the mothers, which was their children’s education.They all know that education was the way out of poverty but could not afford their children's continued education. So we decided to hone in on just that, what could these mothers do to help there children get a scholarship (of which many were available through NGOs in their community.)

Though illiterate themselves, they all knew that their students all needed to do well in school to earn a scholarship. So how could they help their students do well? They all agreed that they could not understand their children’s homework so were unable to help them or even guide them. When asked what could help with this, one woman suggested that mothers could talk to their student’s teachers. So we asked for a volunteer of a mother who had never spoken with her children’s teacher. It became obvious that very few of the women ever had. Three brave women stepped forward and another was convinced to portray the teacher since she was, indeed, a teacher! The interchange between them, witnessed by the entire community of mothers present demystified the entire process of approaching a teacher to ask for assistance.

The teacher assured them that educators were glad to talk with them about how to support their children and gave them tips for making sure their students were doing their homework even if they couldn’t read the work themselves. In the discussion with the women that followed, it was clear that many of them felt a transformation that they could, indeed, consider talking with their children’s teachers. More importantly, they realized that they, though living in poverty and illiterate, could act to transform their lives.

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