In rural Guatemala, rates of school attendance drop of drastically in the teenage years. For Mayan women, this trend is especially pronounced, as the graph below shows:
By age 16, only 25% of Mayan girls are enrolled in school. This means that Mayans, especially Mayan girls, are given fewer opportunities to become leaders who promote sustainable development in their communities. In fact, most teachers, doctors and agriculture experts who work in Mayan communities come from outside communities.
To promote a change that comes from within communities, Voces y Manos started a college scholarship and internship program in 2014. The goals of the Internship Program are twofold:
- To enable Mayan youth to gain work experience in their communities; and
- To provide these youth with opportunities to attend college.
The findings of this report are drawn from individual interviews conducted with each of four students involved in the internship program, and questionnaires administered to the program directors of the two counterpart institutions, Caritas and Cachuu Aloom. The full, 11-page evaluation is available in Spanish.
Overview of Findings
The results of the present evaluation reveal multiple benefits from the internship program which indicate that the internship program merits continuation. These benefits are: (1) the opportunity for the interns to pursue university studies; (2) the practical training that the interns receive within the institutions where they work; and (3) the support that the interns provide to the institutions where they work, which enhances the capacity of the counterparts to provide quality services to the target populations whom they serve. These preliminary results do not guarantee that the program will achieve the desired outcomes of college graduation and employment for all participating students, but they are promising.
The principal themes that emerged from interviews and surveys with interns include the following:
- The interns expressed that the experience provided them with many opportunities for learning and training. The interns specifically noted the following activities as important learning opportunities:
- The opportunity to participate in a variety of workshops, both locally and in other parts of Guatemala
- Direct supervision by experts willing to teach them best practices in their respective fields of work
- The opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, rather than being limited to only one or two areas of work.
- The work experience has allowed the interns to develop a deeper knowledge of the needs of people living in rural areas.
- The experience of working in different institutions has strengthened their public speaking abilities.
- The experience has helped the interns to clarify their understanding of what things they still need to learn in order to maximize their performance in the workplace
- In general, the interns have felt respected within the institutions where they work; however, on some occasions they have felt uncomfortable due to certain difficulties with the other members of their work teams.
The primary themes that emerged from surveys of the Directors of Counterpart institutions (hereafter, “counterparts”) are as follows:
- The internship will help the students to obtain work in the future
- The interns have increased the capacity of the cooperating institutions to achieve their goals
- The internship has opened up new learning opportunities for the interns, both within and beyond the institutions in which they work.
- The internship can motivate the youth in their university studies.
Comparison of Interns’ and Counterparts’ Perspectives
In general, the reactions of the interns and counterparts were in accordance with one another. First, the groups concurred in their observation that the internship program gave the youths the opportunity to learn from experts with many years of experience in their respective fields of work. Second, the groups shared the perception that the opportunity to participate in trainings was a great learning opportunity for the interns. Third, both the interns and the counterparts emphasized how important it was that the program allowed the youth to study at the university level.
One difference between the responses of the counterparts and the interns was that the counterparts put greater emphasis on the long terms benefits that the internships would provide. In their comments, the counterparts emphasized that, due to the importance of professional practical experience for getting any type of job, the internship will improve the employment opportunities of graduates from the program. In contrast, the interns seemed relatively uncertain about their future job opportunities; moreover, the majority of interns did not have concrete plans for what they intended to do after the internship to seek employment. Therefore, one of the principal recommendations of this evaluation is to help the interns to seek employment opportunities in concrete and practical ways as their internship experience comes to a close. The following section contains additional recommendations for improving the quality of the internship program:
Recommendations for Program Improvement
The present evaluation, in addition to providing indications of the program’s impact, also serves to identify areas in which the program can be improved. Taking into account the responses of both the interns and counterparts, we recommend the following strategies for improving the program in future years:
- Continue providing opportunities for the youth to participate in diverse trainings and workshops within and outside of their specific fields of work.
- Increase compensation for interns to Q. 1,400 per month to meet the high cost of university studies.
- For next year, tailor the monthly trainings (provided by Voces y Manos) according to the specific skills that the interns need to perform well in their jobs.
- Given that each intern’s direct supervisor has a significant influence on his or her learning experience, carefully select the advisors, taking into account both their personal characteristic (for example, patience and willingness to teach) and professional characteristics (for example, ensure that the advisor’s field of specialization corresponds to the intern’s major).
- Provide trainings to help the youth find jobs after the completion of their internships. These might include trainings on how to prepare a resume, how to seek employment opportunities, and how to answer formal job interview questions.
- Develop a list of possible institutions where interns could work and establish communications with these institutions to assess the availability of positions and to recommend interns, if possible.
- Maintain frequent communication with counterpart institutions, specifically in order to:
- Establish a schedule of monthly trainings (to ensure that these trainings do not interfere with interns’ normal work)
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the interns, to ensure that we are providing interns with the support necessary to improve.
- Ensure that the youth feel supported and respected at all times in the places where they work.
- Ensure that all counterpart institutions have established policies of non-discrimination and against sexual harassment, and that the institutions inform interns about these policies as part of their orientation at the institution; also ensure that the institutions make known their organizational values and standards to create a work environment that is healthy and safe for everyone.
Like any evaluation, the present evaluation has limits. First, the sample size is small: it takes into account only the responses of the two people in charge of the counterpart institutions, and of the four interns who are currently participating in the program. Moreover, because the first year of the program is still underway, we do not yet know if the program’s end goals of interns’ graduating college and obtaining work will be accomplished. Therefore, the results of this evaluation are considered preliminary. Nonetheless, the present evaluation provides strong indicators of the program’s merits, and offers concrete strategies that can be followed to strengthen the program in subsequent years.