Deep in the heart of Sololá in the Republic of Guatemala a group of twelve boys, between the ages of 6 and 10, decide to step up – joining their sisters in Girl Rising’s programs that build voice, agency, and champions for social justice. Drawn in by the energy of the participating girls and their educators, the boys weren’t content to be mere spectators. They were ready to become strong advocates for gender equity, supporting their sisters and their peers to help transform their entire community.
The Girl Rising 24-week program is led in Nahualá, Sololá by mentors from our program partner REDMI, a community-based organization made up of young Indigenous Mayan women based in Western Guatemala. The lessons, stories, and activities teach girls about their rights and help build vital skills such as self-advocacy, communication, and leadership. Girls explore their dreams and aspirations, and the role they can play as changemakers in their communities.
During the gatherings, girls were usually accompanied by their mothers and siblings. Many of the girls’ brothers were curious about the lessons. The conversations sparked their interest and curiosity. The topics of gender roles, children’s rights, and the role of education ignited a spark in them and prompted them to advocate for their inclusion in the program. Who were these boys who were eager to become new allies for girls’ rights? Maylon Iván Manuel Tzaj Mach, Gerardy Gustavo Yac Vásquez, Fernando Xum Mendoza, Antony Josias Yaxón Joj, Anderson Adrián Roberto Saso Muy, Wily Gael Pérez Yax, Maycol Eduardo Pérez Yax, Estuardo Mateo Saquic, Lisardo Emanuel Yac Chávez, Kevin Omar Chanchavac Chávez, Brayan Efrain Cocom Guachiac and Manuel Alex Tambríz Tzep. Each expressed a desire to support their sisters in their education and to stand up in defense of their rights.
Once the boys expressed interest in being a part of the programming, REDMI mentors considered the implications for the safe space they had created where girls could freely share their dreams, their fears, their goals, and their vulnerabilities. The mentors had to consider how the boys would adapt to the pace and topics discussed during the lessons. However, any worries they had were quickly shut down by the boys' enthusiasm to participate despite the barriers they might have found at first because of societal norms or pressure from their peers.
In the beginning, the boys were too shy to participate due to the dynamics of the class, which seemed to revolve around the girls and their perspectives. However, the mentors made every effort to make sure the boys felt involved and could adjust the content to suit their own experiences. They acknowledged that although the material was initially designed with girls' education and girls’ experiences in mind, the lessons applied to everyone and could be easily understood by individuals of all genders.
From my perspective as a Girl Rising program leader - this is a triumph - not only because of the impact that Girl Rising and REDMI have had in the Guatemalan communities where we work but also because of the change the mentors have reported seeing in these boys' attitude towards their studies. For example, the boys expressed how Wadley's story in the original “Girl Rising” film has made them contemplate the mistakes they've made in school, like skipping classes or not completing assignments, and how they can learn from those experiences and improve their attendance and dedication to their school work.
It has been wonderful to see the friendship and camaraderie among the boys and girls in this program. These relationships have created an opportunity for the young people in our program to experience an expanded sense of belonging and the kind of confidence that grows from a supportive set of peers. REDMI mentors have seen how the group is now supporting each other with chores and tasks in new kinds of ways and setting good examples for one another.
Welcoming these boys has been a game-changer for everyone involved - for me, for the brothers, for the girls, and for the REDMI mentors. We have reflected on the vital importance of bringing in new allies to our cause. Whether it’s within the household, educational institutions, and workplaces, educating and including potential advocates is key to fostering girls' empowerment, safety, and freedom.
I genuinely believe life is not just about being able to make our own choices and do things our own way, but also about feeling secure and supported in a space where our personal decisions are respected. I have observed and experienced how having this sense of security since childhood has a profound impact on a person. It helps cultivate a culture of consent and shapes individuals who are respectful, empathetic, and naturally inclined to contribute positively within a community.
I believe this is a big part of why Girl Rising and REDMI do what we do. I am excited to continue with this work and keep on bearing witness to the growth of boys, and girls, in our programs.