LuisaLuisa is 19-years-old, the only daughter of single, illiterate mother. This November, having overcome tremendous odds, Luisa will graduate from high school.

When did you join the Starfish program?
After the 8th grade.

My father left my mother when she was pregnant. She never had the opportunity to study, so she doesn’t know how to read or write. She is a very talented artisan – she can weave, embroider, and do beautiful beadwork – but there are a lot of artisans in Santiago and it’s hard to make ends meet. When I finished middle school I told her that I wanted to continue studying. She told me I had her emotional support, but that was all she could give me. There wasn’t any money for high school. So I found Starfish, I applied, and I have been in the program for 3 years. I’m a senior this year and I’m going to graduate in a few months, with a focus in Bilingual (Tz’utujil and Spanish) Elementary Education.

What are your goals moving forward?
I want get a teaching degree in math. I want to teach high school. I think that the way to confront the social issues facing our country today is to start with young people; making sure that kids are being taught about responsibility, respect, and social consciousness. I think it’s imperative to the development of Guatemala and the future of the world. I also eventually want to study law.

What skills do you have that will help you to achieve your goals?
I’ve always been perseverant. Every year since I was 13, my mom would tell me that she couldn’t pay for school and that she needed me to come and work with her, and every year I would tell her, “Just give me one more year, mom. I’ll be responsible for half of the money if you can find the other half. We’re a team. Just give me one more year, please.” And every year she would agree. And the years added up and now I’m about to graduate from high school.

I also learned a lot during my time with Starfish. I learned about how to facilitate a group, and manage group dynamics. I learned how to be creative with solutions, and how to stand up for what I believe in. I used to be shy, but in the last few years I’ve been nominated by my classmates to represent our school in a number of public speaking competitions.

What advice do you have for other young women who are fighting for their education?
To keep fighting. Dreams without strength and hard work will always just be dreams, but if you’re strong and you utilize every resource available to you, you will succeed.



Lucia Ajcabul is the fifth of six Mayan children. To get to her house, one must navigate narrower and narrower streets that snake up and down within her area of the large indigenous town of Santiago. If that’s not claustrophobic enough, one finally arrives at a slab of tin that serves as a door opening to a dark piece of concrete, no more than 2’ wide. There are a few dim rooms on one side and what looks like a pile of corn at the end of the other.

Lucia, who happily opens the door, is the light in this darkness with her pretty smile and beautiful blouse embroidered with orange and red birds on a fresh and spotless white background.

We all enter a small room- a bedroom that sleeps her younger sister, her mother, and Lucia, the only three still living in the family compound. The father has a severe problem with alcohol abuse and it is unclear whether he’s home much at all.

Lucia’s older siblings have all graduated from high school, a remarkable – almost impossible – achievement for such a poor family. Three years ago Lucia had started high school, and like her siblings before her, was working two jobs to pay public school expenses and help her mom economically. Because her grades were so exceptional, the director of her school referred her to Starfish. And that’s when the magic began to happen.

Lucia is a girl who doesn’t believe in giving up on herself. Thus, she was a perfect fit for Starfish as one of our five organizational values is perseverance. Credit must also be given to her awesome mom, Rosario, who never had the chance to attend school and is completely illiterate, yet has demonstrated positive thinking in the face of the terrible obstacles of extreme poverty. Rosario is a a mom that Lucia clearly admires and adores..

Lucia tells us that Starfish has helped her find her voice. This has transformed her from the typical timid teenager (what her culture expects) to a very determined and confident young woman.

She knows that in her community women are shoved aside and have no knowledge of their rights as equal members of the human family. As a Starfish girl, Lucia has learned that a woman’s life can and should be quite different, and that with hard work, dreams really do come true. Lucia’s personal aspiration is to graduate this fall with a very high GPA. Then, in order to be able to address the inequalities about which she’s so passionate, she plans to enroll in law school in Guatemala City.

Only one in 10,000 Mayan girls gets this far. Lucia understands that she’ll encounter racial prejudice and feels ready for the challenge. After all, during her time with Starfish she was elected queen of her town, a city of 50,000. This award is given for a girl with exceptional character, talent, confidence, and intelligence.

Starfish has opened the door of possibilities for Lucia, but she’s the one who walked through it. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to help and nurture the inner strength and goodness of one with so much potential; a girl who would otherwise be relegated to the most menial and marginal of lives. If we can procure funding for her university studies, she’s the kind who will be an agent of change not only for her community, but well beyond.


Written by: Connie Ning (Starfish Co-Founder) | Photo Credit: Elizabeth Vautour

Once a month, Starfish mentors make a visit to the home of each Joven Estrella (young star) in their mentorship group. These visits serve to develop trust between Starfish and the family, and to ensure that each family remains completely united around the vision of an empowered Girl Pioneer.

The members of the Maripositas Soñadoras have only been part of the Starfish program for 6 months, but it’s already starting to have a significant impact. Last quarter, nine of the fifteen girls in this mentorship group had failed at least one class. Grades just came in for this quarter, and that number has dropped to one girl. This week we went out into the field with mentor Yakelin, to visit the Maripositas of Chuacruz and Los Murales.



Evelyn Yulissa is in the 7th grade. She is the oldest of three siblings, and lives with her parents in Chuacruz. Her father (Ricardo) works at a store in Guatemala City and her mother (Rosita) manages the household. Neither of them had the opportunity to study past the 6th grade.

Evelyn, what’s your favorite subject in school?

Evelyn: I like history. I like learning about the Mayans. Our history teacher is wonderful. The way he explains things really makes you pay attention. He makes the material come to life.

In Starfish, my favorite unit so far has been the Communication unit. We learned how to communicate in a clear, direct, respectful way with our families, peers, and teachers. I think that’s really important, and no one had ever talked to me about how to do that before.

Why did you decide that it was important to keep studying this year?

Evelyn: I have a goal. I want to become a professional. I understand that the way to achieve this goal is to work hard and to graduate.

Many parents pull their daughters out of school after the 6th grade. Why did you [parents] decide to continue to encourage and support Evelyn in her studies?

Ricardo: I want her to understand the world works. I want her to know about the history of our country and our people. I think ignorance keeps people stuck where they are, in this cycle of poverty and oppression. I want her to have the opportunity to go as far as she can and I want her to be part of the solution to the problems this country is facing.

Rosita: My dream is that she’s able to become a professional. She says her dream is to be a teacher, which makes me very proud. I want her to have the chance to achieve her goals.

Outside of school, what sorts of things do you like to do [Evelyn]?

Evelyn: I like to sing. I also like to play soccer. I was on a team last year and it was a lot of fun. I’ve been following the World Cup and I’m excited for the game this Sunday. I’m rooting for Argentina!



Yesmy is 13 years old. Her father (Julian) is a day laborer and her mother (Petrona) is a talented artisan. Yesmy is the oldest of their 3 children.

What are your dreams when you were 13 years old?

Julian: I wanted to study, but my dad had an accident when I was 10 years old and so I had to drop out of school to work and help support the family. I try not to dwell on the injustice of that though. I’m focusing on the future. My dreams now are for my kids – that they’re able to study whatever they want, for as long as they want. I want to give them the opportunity to become professionals.

Petrona: I’m the oldest daughter in a family of eleven children. My dad pulled me out of school after the 4th grade to start working. All of my brothers graduated from high school and are professionals now. I am proud of what that I do; designing and creating artisan goods (bags, jewelry, etc.) lets me to use my creativity. But I wish I had been allowed to continue studying so that I could have a job that provides my family with a stable income. There are some weeks where we do well, but there are other weeks where we make nothing. It’s very hard when you want to give your children everything but you’re constantly worried about money.

What’s your dream, Yesmy?

Yesmy: I want to go to college and study business administration and management. My dream is to become a professional and to be able to help support my family.



13-year-old Marta lives in Los Murales. She is one of five children. Her parents work out of their home, weaving traditional cortes (the skirts worn by ingenious women).

How have the last 6 months, since you joined Starfish, been for you?

Marta: They’ve been good. I’m really happy that I get to keep studying. Yakelin is very supportive of all of us and with her help, and the help of the Starfish tutors, I’ve been doing better in school. My favorite subject is history. I like learning about our country’s culture and the history of the Mayans. Math is still challenging for me, but I’m working hard at it.

Did you [parents] have the opportunity to study? What were your dreams when you were Marta’s age?

Lucio: That’s a hard question. It’s challenging to talk about dreams. I think for many people in Guatemala, we start off with big dreams when we are children but over time our lack of resources slowly erases our dreams and replaces them with a repetitive daily routine until they’re gone completely. It’s easier, at a certain point, to just forget about your dreams. If you don’t stop wishing for things that aren’t possible, it makes it harder to do what you need to do to survive. At least that’s how I felt. But I never want my children to feel that way.

Yojana: I agree. I had to leave school after the 2nd grade to help my father sell vegetables. Then he died when I was 10, so I never had the opportunity to return. I feel determined to give Marta and her brothers and sisters the chance to achieve what I wasn’t given the opportunity to. It is not an easy goal – to continue to send them all to school – but it is our most important job and we’re so grateful to Starfish for helping us give our daughter the education she deserves.











Walking the streets of Panajachel is an interesting and unforgettable experience. Look to one side and you see a lush green forest growing up steep cliffs, look to the other and you can see the beautiful Lake Atitlan. The lake is calming and bright, well deserving of it’s name, which translates to ‘where the rainbow ends.’ The lake is surrounded by tiny villages (each with their own unique personality), high cliff side mountains, and three volcanos. Walking through Pana, you see Panaderies (bakeries) filled with freshly baked bread, hear the quiet clapping of woman flattening out tortilla dough on every corner in the tortillerias, watch vendors selling beautiful handmade souvenirs, and listen as people of all ages speaking to one another in kaqchikel (the local Mayan language). You can always count on someone to give you a bright smile, whether it’s the mango man or the little girl holding hands with her mom in front if you. Rarely in Pana do you feel anything less than welcomed by the locals.

Living in Pana for four weeks gave us a little taste of how these locals live their daily lives. Most days started with a trip to the market to buy deliciously fresh fruits and vegetables for the day. Then we would often spend some time walking around, just appreciating the beauty of the colors in this place (the bright hues of the locals’ clothing and the many blues of the lake). The saying about “Guatemalan time” proved to be true – rarely did people seem in a hurry or worried about being late. They were just content to be where they were. The public transportation definitely contributes to this ease as there is no strict schedule for leaving times. Schedules seem to be only a suggestion, and no one seems to mind waiting 15 min for take off. During our time in Panajachel, we saw something new to us (but typical of this wonderful culture) every day.

After participating in the Volcanthon last March, and getting to know the organization Starfish better, it didn’t take us much time to realize how important this organization was. In our opinion, Starfish focuses on the core problems in Guatemala: lack of education and gender inequalities. Starfish not only supports and promotes education for these girls but teaches them extremely valuable lesson that each of them is unique individual, worthy of respect and opportunity. We could truly see the difference in the way Starfish Girl Pioneers present themselves. They speak louder, with more confidence, and they have huge dreams for themselves. The determination we saw in these girls will motivate us to do bigger and better things with our lives. One student we taught English to, Angelica, told us that she wants to be a doctor, a flight attendant, a pilot, and a tour guide when she grows up. We won’t be surprised if she does exactly that. Being in Starfish allows the girls to dream big, supported by their families, mentors, and peers. We saw this when we visited the various homes of Starfish girls to talk with their families and see where they lived.

On our home visits we were always welcomed with warm greetings and many thanks from the girls and their families for being there to visit them. This was interesting, because we were filled with gratitude towards them for allowing us to experience their home life. In each home we visited, both the mother and father worked hard to support their families, which in some cases included 10 children! The people of Guatemala are hard workers, and this was apparent in the girls and their homes. Each household we visited had an organized and fair approach to daily chores. Perhaps this is partially a result of the monthly home visits made by the mentors. Their visits help the entire family communicate, engaging everyone through games and guided reflection. When we went to Sonya’s house (a Joven Estrella scheduled to graduate next year), her younger sisters joined in some of the activities. Their participation not only gave Sonya the opportunity to use her leadership abilities, but also gave the younger sisters the opportunity to build confidence in themselves. We saw something similar when we visited the house of another one of our Starfish English students. Milsa’s family generously invited us over for a visit and her mom had a huge smile on her face the whole time. Both Milsa and her younger sister, Maria, treated their parents with admiration and were great leaders, showing us around their home and teaching us about their traditions. They showed us how to crush corn and how to put on the traditional headwear of Santa Catarina. They treated us to atole (a traditional corn-based drink) and laughed at our delighted amazement of it all. We impressed not only by Milsa’s character (which we appreciated during our lessons every day), but also with her eight-year-old sister’s character. It was clear to us that at least some of that strength of character can be attributed to her older sister’s fantastic influence. We also noticed, and were touched by, the respect and appreciation the Starfish girls have for their parents, which was obvious during all the home visits we went on.

Guatemala is an amazing place, full of culture and beautiful natural landscapes. There is much to be explored. We believe Starfish is helping young women get the support and encouragement they need to create full, successful lives for themselves in this country, or anywhere they choose. Guatemala has given us an appreciation in our own opportunities and abilities to succeed as woman. Volunteering and living in here has been an unforgettable experience that has taught us the importance of hard work, gratitude, and family.
Written by: Lydia and Macall, Colorado State University students and Starfish volunteers


When Manuel Xep lost his job working as a security guard three months ago, his wife told Aura and Zoila that they would need to stop going to school and spend all their time working to help support the family. Aura (age 21) and Zoila (age 18) are members of the Luciernagas Triumfadoras mentorship group and are in their final year of high school. At the time their father lost his job, Aura was planning to find a job in a nursery school or pre-k classroom after she received her high school diploma/certification in early childhood education, and Zoila had plans to start applying for college where she hoped to study nursing. The prospect of what the future looked like for them without even a high school diploma, and the reality that they might not have the opportunity to pursue the dreams they had been working so hard towards, was heartbreaking. And to Manuel Xep, it was unacceptable.

During her visit to speak the girls’ parents about what might be done to help keep them in school, Roselia Toj (Aura and Zoila’s mentor) was incredibly impressed with their father’s response. He told Roselia that his daughters would continue to study. He said he would travel through the entire country looking for work, and that he would not stop until he found a job. He would sacrifice whatever was necessary to ensure that they be given all the opportunities that he hadn’t had himself. Though Manuel himself was only able to attend school through the 4th grade, he has a strong belief in the importance and power of education. “Education opens doors,” says Manuel. “It is freedom. When you have an education and you work hard, the world gets bigger. My daughters will have the opportunity to become whatever they want to be in this life. And they will not be tied down by poverty.”

Two weeks ago, after two and a half months of doing exactly what he said he would – traveling around the Guatemala, following leads and looking for work – Manuel was hired to work security for a store seven hours away from his home. His salary, in combination with the support provided by Starfish, will allow his daughters to continue attending school and to graduate this November.

“He fights for us. He’s always supported all of us, and fights for our futures. We’re so grateful to him. Without our parents, we wouldn’t be able to reach our goals. We love our dad so much.” – Aura Xep Yaxon

This Father’s Day weekend, join us in celebrating all the incredible fathers around the world, that encourage and empower their daughters. Their support cannot be overestimated. Feliz Día del Padre from Starfish!


By Elizabeth Vautour

Photo Credit: Sherwin Colter

cristinaWe recently had the opportunity to accompany the Maripositas’ mentor, Yakelin Menchu, on two home visits in a village called Chuimanzana (outside of Sololá). It was wonderful to see our newest mentor in action. Yakelin does an amazing job at making everyone feel comfortable and drawing all members of the family into the games and discussions she facilitates. We also continue to be extremely impressed by the drive, dedication, and maturity of the young members of the Maripositas Soñadoras.

Christina is 13 years old and she lives with both of her parents and four of her five siblings. Christina’s father works as a day laborer in the fields and her mother manages the household. Neither of them had the opportunity to study beyond middle school.

Cristina, what is your favorite class in school?

Cristina: I really like math. It’s usually comes pretty easily to me but even when it doesn’t, I like the challenge. I want to become an accountant.

And what do you do when you’re not at school?

Cristina: After I’ve finished my homework, I help my mom in the kitchen. We have a lot of people to feed in this house so I help her prepare meals and clean up after the family has eaten. I can make tortillas. I can cook eggs and beans and some vegetables. I’m not as good as my mom yet. I’m learning still learning.

Albertina (Cristina’s mom), what were you doing when you were Cristina’s age? What were your dreams and goals when you were 13?

Albertina: I was working. I worked everyday, weaving traditional fabrics that we sold to help support my family. I didn’t have any dreams when I was 13. No one ever asked me what my goals were, or what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I never thought about dreams. I just wove.

What are you and your husband’s dreams for your daughter?

Albertina: That she’s able to graduate. That through hard work she is able to achieve her goals. We want her to have choices.

Simeón: Our dream is that she will become an economically stable and independent, professional.




Silvia Bocel is 16-years-old. She’s one of the older members of the Maripositas because she had to stop studying and work for a year, when her family could no longer afford to send her to school. She has 8 siblings and there are 11 people living in her house, including her widowed mother. Silvia’s mother, Celestina, only had the opportunity to attend school through the 1st grade.

Why do you feel education is so important?

Silvia: Education is how we construct our lives. It builds the foundation for success. And I think education opens the world up to us. It allows us to see possibilities we might not otherwise.

Celestina: I always wanted to study. I was good at weaving and embroidering so my family kept me at home, but I used to sit at my loom and wish I was at school. My dream is that Silvia has the opportunity to keep studying as long as she wants to and to become whatever she wants to be.

And what’s your dream, Silvia?

Silvia: In high school I want to study bilingual office management. I already speak Kachiquel and Spanish, but I want to learn English. And then I think I’d like to go to college and get a degree in teaching. I want to be able to help support my family and to be a good example for my younger siblings.*

*Silvia is the first in her family to go beyond middle school. All three of her younger siblings are also currently in school.




Leaders must be heard. Knowing is one thing, know-how is another. Just by starting the 7th grade, Starfish Girl Pioneers find themselves in unchartered waters. This sets the tone for the rest of her life. She will be blazing a new trail and serving as a role model for countless other girls, and facing fierce resistance with each step forward. Her voice will be among her most important tools.

Starfish has partnered with an international expert, Dr. Beth Osnes, to introduce women’s vocal empowerment training into one of the world’s most challenging contexts for women: rural, indigenous Guatemala. But what is vocal empowerment? How does it prepare our Girl Pioneers to become change makers for their families, communities, and country? Beth Osnes, her partner Chelsea Hackett, and our POWER program coordinator, Vilma Saloj, shed some light on this innovative initiative.

1) What is Vocal Empowerment?

B. Osnes: Vocal Empowerment focuses on the strength, confidence and skills for a Starfish pioneer’s voice. We start by strengthening and expanding the expressive range of the physical voice. Once a girl experiences her own voice as strong and expressive, she is challenged to reexamine her own idea of her public voice and to begin the long process of undoing internalized oppression. We then put that strong voice into her societal context so she can identify obstacles to her using her strong voice. We use interactive theater techniques to support the girls in devising multiple solutions to their own obstacles. The entire process helps the girls empower themselves by facilitating them in identifying obstacles and devising their own solutions. This leads to heightened awareness of themselves within their society. The Vocal Empowerment program specifically addresses the challenges that these girls self-identify as pressing for them. It supports them in using their voices to choose, think, speak and act for what they believe in, and to reach their dreams.

2) Why is it important for a Starfish Girl Pioneer?

V. Saloj: At the most basic level, this is the first time in their lives our girls are being asked to speak up. They have spent the first 13 or 14 years of their lives being told by society that their opinions are not important, and their concerns are not valid. To literally, physically raise your voice for the first time is no easy feat. It’s an incredibly important skill for our girls to possess, as future change makers and leaders, but it’s not innate. The vocal exercises that Beth and Chelsea have taught us are hugely effective tools in helping the girls move beyond their initial anxiety when using their voices.

This curriculum is also introduces the girls to the idea of choices, and the consequences (positive or negative) of those choices.

C. Hackett: Being empowered vocally translates into being empowered to make choices; the goal is that all Starfish girls are able to see choices and to know that they can walk confidently in the direction of whatever they choose.  It is also the knowledge that “failure” is an opening for a new choice to be made, not a regression.

3) How does Starfish train girls in VE?

B. Osnes: Training entails lots of vocal and physical exercises and games designed to support girls in strengthening their voices and expanding their expressive ranges. The entire body is seen as the instrument for the voice so we do a lot of exercises to integrate the voice and the body. We also guide the students in critically engaging with the current story of a Mayan girl’s voice (suppressed), and to imagine their most audacious dreams for their voices. We then work with the students for them to identify any obstacles to their voice and, together through interactive theater, rehearse a variety of ways to overcome these obstacles.

4) How is it applied in the Guatemalan context?

B. Osnes: We came in extremely prepared when we first worked with the Starfish staff, but we listened deeply to them, and in the end, truly co-created this curriculum with them. As we progress, we continue in this way, researching and preparing, but then being ready to authentically improvise the best format for the students with the expert Starfish staff.

C. Hackett: Theatre is dialogue, so any program based in theatre and hoping to utilize its power has to also be Dialogical.  Like Beth said, we have maintained a constant dialogue with the starfish administration, mentors, and girls about the efficacious of the program.  While Beth and I bring our own expertise as theatre practitioners, we respect and honor the fact that Starfish and the girls are the experts when it comes to their needs.  We bring down curriculum that draws from a long history of theatre training methods and applied theater programs, including Theatre of the Oppressed, vocal warm ups, and Playbuilding methods.  However, the program is adaptive to whatever happens when we are in the room.  Like all improvisation, it works because of the preparation, and flexibility.

As part of the Vocal Empowerment exercises, the Starfish girls are asked to identify challenges that they face on a daily basis, things such as peer pressure, balancing home and school responsibilities, and facing the challenges of young relationships. After these obstacles are chosen, they are brought into the theatrical space, where a scene is shown and the girls rehearse possible responses/solutions to their challenges. Maybe a solution is discovered; maybe it is couched for another day. The strength comes both in finding tangible solutions for daily issues, and the very act of attempting to do so.

5) I have been invited to a VE event in the US. What should I expect?

Expect a dynamic, highly-participative event. There is not a lot of sitting and listening. This is about DOING. We suggest coming with a growth mindset- ready to embrace the same challenges that Starfish Girl Pioneers confront when they practice the techniques. The techniques are not always easy! We hope that you can draw inspiration from Vilma, who will be leading the event. Vilma is an indigenous woman from rural Guatemala and a Starfish mentor. She represents the millions of women around the world who live in situations where too often the female voice is never expressed…until now.





Carlos Yaxon Cumes, father of Vilma Yaxon (of the Maripositas mentorship group), did not have the opportunity to study beyond the second grade. But Carlos and his wife, Matilde, are prioritizing their oldest daughter’s education. “The commitment to support your daughter in her studies past the 6th grade is not one that many families here are willing to make,” Carlos explained to us during last week’s home visit in Xibalbay. “It can be hard to remember that the sacrifices we are making, and economic struggles we face, will be worth it in the long run. But I want a better life for my daughter, and education is what will make that possible. Vilma is dedicated to studying hard and staying focused. And she has my full support.”



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Vilma is 13 years old. She dreams of graduating from high school, attending university, and becoming a business woman. Carlos tells us that he is very proud of Vilma, whose grades have qualified her to study at a private middle school in Sololá. “Vilma is smart, dedicated young woman,” he says. “She is perseverant and resourceful. This is something her mother and I have worked hard to teach her. It is how we strive to live our own lives…

I do not have the best of everything. I may not have the best of anything. But I am committed to doing the best with what I DO have, not only for myself but for my family.”

Starfish recognizes that sustained results are achieved WITH the family rather than in spite of it, and Starfish mentors work intensively with families (during parent meetings and home visits like this one) to help unite them around the vision of an empowered Girl Pioneer. Our team is grateful for wonderful examples like Carlos; fathers devoted to the education and empowerment of their daughters.



About two months ago, I decided that I should probably start training for the upcoming Volcanothon. After all, climbing Volcán San Pedro is no easy feat. The hike itself is about five miles round-trip, and the elevation changes by about 4,000 feet over the course of the hike – the summit being at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Okay, so it’s no Colorado 14er…maybe that’s the reason why, the day of the hike, I had still not trained. And my still aching legs will not let me forget it.

On Friday, March 14th, we had a group of Starfish supporters join us for the hike. In all, we were a group of 32: 21 Girl Pioneers + staff, and 11 visiting investors. We began our weekend with a scavenger hunt around Panajachel, as our Girl Pioneers taught us how to hail Tuk-Tuks, where the boat docks were, and how to make tortillas. My group did finish last…but we get bonus points for having the most fun, right?

The next day was Saturday – the day of the hike. We boarded the boat to San Pedro at 6:30am, and by 7:30am we were on the trail. The climb started off gradual, which gave us all some hope that maybe it would be a piece of cake. It was not. But, less than four hours later, we found ourselves at the top of Volcán San Pedro, looking out across the lake and what seemed like all of Guatemala.

On Sunday, we split into three groups for mentor sessions and home visits. My group went across the lake to Santiago and spent the morning with the Estrellas Marinas (The Stars of the Sea). When we arrived, the mentor group had prepared posters that depicted their past, present, and hopes for the future. We went around the circle, and each Girl Pioneer presented her story, along with the tools she used that enabled her to be where she is today. Many of the tools that were mentioned were very familiar to our volcano-climbing group: perseverance, teamwork, positivity,  and resilience. These were the same strategies that allowed us to make it to the top of Volcán San Pedro. When we didn’t think we could take another step, we persevered. When our backpacks became too heavy, our teammates lent us a hand. When we began questioning ourselves, we cheered each other on and kept our spirits high. And when we made a wrong step and lost our balance, we got back up and kept walking. These strategies that brought us to the top of the volcano are the same strategies that brought our Girl Pioneers to where they are today: continuing their education, becoming involved in their communities, and continuously building their confidence in themselves.

As Norma, our in-country director, explained to us before the volcano climb, the hike gets harder the closer you get to the top. Towards the top is when we are tired, when the trail gets steeper, and when it’s that much harder to take the next step forwards. And we wouldn’t be able to do it without perseverance, positivity, resilience, and – most importantly – teamwork. But it’s when we get to the top when we realize that it was all worth it. It is then that we are able to look out across the lake and see how far we’ve come. And the countless other volcanoes that await us, should we choose to embark on those journeys, too.

Congratulations to an inspirational group who accomplished a might feat this weekend. And a huge shout-out to our Girl Pioneers, who, every day, are continuing on their own volcano climbs.

We hope to see you, too, next year on top of the volcano!

By Eliza Stein

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My name is Joselin Gricelda Tazaput Ajiquichí. I am a member of the newest Starfish mentorship group, the Maripositas Soñadoras (the Dreamy Butterflies).

I am twelve years old. My father is a carpenter; he went to school until the second grade. My mother looks after me and my three sisters; she never had the opportunity to go to school. I know that in order to accomplish my goals, I need to be confident, professional, and hardworking. This is the reason that I wanted to join the Starfish program: Starfish has helped so many people like me discover their strengths and become empowered members of their communities, and I know that if I work hard in mentorship and at school, I, too, will be successful.

Mentorship provides a place for me to express myself and put my leadership skills into practice. During mentorship, we do different activities that help us improve our vocal empowerment and become more comfortable asking and answering questions, leading groups of people, and expressing our opinions. I really like the activities in which we act out different scenarios where we are facing an obstacle, and then we brainstorm different approaches to solving the problem. This way, when I encounter my own obstacles in the future, I already have a variety of possible solutions to choose from.

My biggest dream is to become a doctor. I know that, in order for this dream to come true, I need to be perseverant and work hard in all of my classes. For example, even though math is easier for me than English, I know that it is important for me to work equally as hard in both classes and not let myself become discouraged when things get difficult. And the support that I receive from my Starfish mentor and tutors allows me to continue to be resilient and keep my confidence up.

I have high hopes for my future with Starfish, and I am excited to see the person that I will become.

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