Photograph taken by Catriona Spaven-Donn
One organisation working at a grassroots level to create change and promote “learning for for people, planet, prosperity and peace” is Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI), a non-profit which has been active in Chajul for the past fifteen years. As International Coordinator of this organisation for the past six months, I have been considering the tangible ways that grassroots NGOs such as LHI are making progress to achieve SDG 4a, b and c – namely providing effective learning environments, a greater number of scholarships, and an increased supply of qualified teachers.
LHI’s Youth Development Program provides scholarships to ensure educational access for Chajul’s youth, as well as holistic and wraparound services for parents and scholars. These include workshops facilitated in Spanish and Ixil on themes such as reproductive rights, environmental protection, and migration. Many of the scholars we work with tell us that without a scholarship, they would not have been able to attend school. Girls would instead be expected to help with domestic chores at home, while boys face pressure to assist their fathers in the corn fields and in the forests chopping wood. While only 5% of youth graduate high school in Chajul, ten times that number graduate from LHI’s Youth Development Programme.
LHI also has a community library, stocked with almost 4,500 original book titles. Around 50-60 youth visit the library every day, playing games, attending story hour or reading club, receiving homework help and, during the school year, learning STEM subjects with the resident Head Librarian, himself a former Youth Development Scholar. In a community where many homes have no electricity and most parents cannot read or write, a clean, well-lit space is fundamental to fostering a culture of learning and literacy. When young people have an effective learning environment such as the Limitless Knowledge Community Library, where they can develop their imaginations, engage in the creative arts and learn about the world around them, the community grows stronger.
Finally, LHI upholds the crucial value of hiring an almost entirely local team, who themselves confronted and overcame Chajul’s educational barriers. They now run culturally relevant educational programmes in both Spanish and Ixil, the community’s native language, and have access to training courses to develop their youth engagement strategies. Most recently, LHI staff attended a gender equity training course called ‘the Empowered Voice’ at Central America’s first Indigenous-led all girls’ school.
As the concept note for UNESCO’s International Day of Education states, “education is at the heart of both personal and community development”. With an integrated and inclusive approach, both formal and informal educational organisations can and must respond to the SDG’s recommendations in order to see tangible changes in communities such as Chajul, where the need is most acute.
To read more about Limitless Horizons Ixil’s work and support educational access for Maya Ixil youth in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, please visit: