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We will realize our dreams: economic strengthening, reweaving social fabric & adapting to climate change among indigenous youth in Guatemala

Work with indigenous youth affected by civil war to enable economic empowerment & restore social capital while adapting to climate change

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We will realize our dreams will bridge peace, planet and prosperity by working with indigenous youth affected by the civil war in Chahal municipality through youth village savings and loan associations that will enable economic empowerment and restore the social capital with a deep focus on the adaptation to climate change that threatens food security in the region. The project is based upon our experience with a similar pilot in a neighboring municipality, Ixcan, also severely affected by the civil conflict.  We are basing the objectives and outcomes for this project on our learning from the pilot and including areas in which we would like to strengthen the approach.  These include incorporating boys and having a stronger focus on environmental aspects while continuing to adapt the financial model to youth needs.  The pilot worked exclusively with girls however, managing the project to ensure that boys do not dominate the project and maintaining safe spaces for girls to speak about delicate issues, our objective is for adolescents to be guided in more constructive and collaborative gender roles to reduce abuse and tensions as they grow older.  In the pilot we addressed issues of food security by ensuring that all families planted a kitchen garden to supplement their nutritious inputs and introducing ‘super foods’ with high nutritional value into their diet. Many of the youth engaged in agricultural livelihood activities. As local governments are exploring new crops and ‘super foods’ to adapt to climatic changes that are reducing the production of traditional foods, we believe we can deliberately respond to this market through livelihood activities for the youth groups.  For example they could cultivate Maringa or other foods that could then be sold to municipalities for distribution, or specialize in preparing these foods and selling them at market.  Finally, we can address some of the adaptations of the Graduation Approach that has been demonstrated to work with older groups to ensure that there is no inadvertent harm done to youth due to their participation (for example, how can we ensure that income generation activities are not valued over school attendance).

“We will realize our dreams” includes the following objectives:

  • Prosperity: Support 400 indigenous youth in Chahal, Guatemala to form Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to establish savings, small livelihood activities and develop decision-making skills.
  • Planet: Increase food security through inclusion of kitchen gardens in the livelihood activities and identify other agricultural activities that will contribute to sustainable food security through adaptation to climate change.
  • Peace: involve adolescent men and women in VSLAs to foster stronger collaborative gender relationships from an early age and foster transparency and trust in the community.
  • Prosperity, Planet and Peace:  Promote peer learning and exchanges of youth project participants from Ixcan (site of the pilot) and Chahal (new area) to secure and advance the above objectives and connect to national youth movements around these themes.


"We will realize our dreams":  Economic strengthening, reweaving social fabric, and adapting to climate change amongst indigenous youth in rural Guatemala will help support the adolescents in responding to these conditions and charting a course for their future.  This project builds on the pilot project in Ixcan with similar objectives. Results from the pilot concrete gains in increasing income, food security and building social capital and decision-making amongst indigenous youth.

Economic Indicators:

  • 80% of participants had at least a 20% profit margin in their livelihood activities.
  • Over one year, the participants generated an average of US$291 each
  • 34% of participants reached the goal of earning US$340
  • 19% of participants saved at least US$54
  • 81% of participants continued in the second cycle of savings


These figures from the pilot demonstrate that the Graduation Approach has significant relevance for youth and can be adapted to their needs.  The youth were able to capture the methodology and manage the groups and we are confident that with some technical adjustments the percentage of youth that earn and save in the project will improve (these results were after only one 12 month cycle).  The overwhelming number of participants who desire to continue demonstrates that there are other social and learning benefits that they see in their participation in the savings groups.

 Human Capital indicators:

  • At the end of the project 95% of the households either didn’t have or had very little incidence of hunger versus 80% at the beginning
  • Consumption of meat increased by 73% from the begining to the end of the program
  • 73% of households now have healthier eating habits including the consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • 100% of participants now have kitchen gardens
  • They cultivate 23 species of plants at the end of the project compared to 9 species in the beginning
  • 97% cultivate more high nutritional foods
  • 82% of participants consume and sell nutritional foods at the end of the project as compared to 37% at the beginning


These statistics demonstrate that food security and nutrition increased over the course of the project and these gains can be built upon and improved.  The changes in cultivation of nutritious species and the increased variety demonstrate the advances made in introducing new crops that support adaptation to climate change and the potential for these crops to be both consumed and sold.  This latter aspect can be further developed in this project.

Social Capital:

  • 97% of youth had an active role in decision making at the household level compared to 14% at the baseline
  • 68% had a future plan at the end of the project compared to 45% who had one at the beginning


The primary focus of the initial pilot was to demonstrate that youth could manage the savings methodology.  "We will realize our dreams" will strengthen interventions at the social level including adolescent boys to shift to more collaborative gender relations and engage the youth in pursuing the collective actions they identified to improve the lives of the members of their group and community through fostering greater social cohesion.

Proposed project budget

"We will realize our dreams" projects a budget of approximately $400,000 over three years to work with 400 youth in the municipality of Chahal to deliver the objectives above and support peer learning and connections to large youth movements in the country.  Key activities will include:

Participant costs ($250,000) – including support and coaching in utilizing the Graduation Approach through Village Savings and Loans for extremely poor and vulnerable indigenous youth in rural Chahal.  This includes seed capital for youth to begin their own livelihood activities.

Regional and national Youth Encounters ($30,000) – this will enable peer exchanges and learning visits between youth in the two municipalities and also provide for one annual regional (in Guatemala) youth conference.

Political Influence ($25,000) – this will include national events with the national youth group and the preparation of materials and documents to promote a youth led agenda based on their experience in the project.

Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation ($30,000)– this will include involving youth in participatory action research as well as standard monitoring and evaluation of project advances on a digital platform.  An external study of the project is also contemplated here.

Project Management ($65,000) – this will include project staffing and management.

Explain your idea

"We will realize our dreams": Economic strengthening, reweaving social fabric, and adapting to climate change amongst indigenous youth in rural Guatemala will build on the first phase of the pilot described above and deepen the aspects of peace, planet and prosperity through active participation and collaboration between indigenous youth in rural Guatemala. The participation of youth in village savings and loans associations in their communities will enable them to build savings and small livelihoods (linked to environmental themes) while building their individual skills in decision-making and strengthening bonds of trust between members of the community. Indigenous adolescents, particularly in northern Guatemala, have inherited the environmental and social legacies of the 36-year civil war that included over 200,000 deaths and the disappearance of more than 40,000 people, primarily rural indigenous people. Ixcan and Chahal were two municipalities that were severely affected in the war and were targets of the 'scorched earth' policy that impacted food security then and disrupted the cultural connection with the land. Today this area is experiencing the effects of climate change and the introduction of export crops and hydro-electric power that affects the food security of the region. The Guatemalan civil war was notorious for tearing the social fabric of the country not only in the brutal killings of women, children and families, but also in seeding division in communities between the guerrilla forces and the government PAC spies. This left a traumatic legacy of racism and deep seated distrust within communities. Economic conditions paint an equally grim picture. The UNICEF report of 2016 estimates that Guatemala has a population of 16.2 million of which 43.4% of girls, boys and adolescents live in poverty. Poverty is concentrated in rural indigenous communities where the challenges of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition have persisted for decades without being effectively addressed by government or development agencies. Trickle Up has worked in municipalities with high rates of extreme poverty such as Cahabon (61%), Chahal (54.4%) and Tamahu (36%). The vulnerability of adolescent girls is further exacerbated by the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Ixcan and Chahal particularly. Faced with these interrelated and historical themes of conflict, environmental threats, and poverty this project will introduce the tools and skills to position youth to better position themselves and their communities to address these issues. Establishing mechanisms for youth to learn from peers that have demonstrated results from this project and connecting them to larger youth organizations will lend sustainability and scale to the effort. Link to Trickle Up's current Ixcan project: https://trickleup.org/portfolio/empowering-adolescent-girls-in-guatemala

Who Benefits?

The project will train and support 400 adolescent girls and boys from Ixcan, Guatemala, in economic strengthening with Peace and Climate Adaptation elements. We will also engage the previous 150 participants from our pilot project as peer learners. Regional youth events will involve many more youth and government leaders for potential scale.

How is your idea unique?

This project adapts the structure of VSLAs to adolescents to strengthen their economic base while building social skills that can help in reconstructing the social fabric and introducing livelihoods that can support adaptations to climate change. Engaging the adolescents who are now exercising leadership skills will be catalytic as we link the participants from rural Ixcan with those from Chahal in peer-to-peer learning and advocacy at the local level. Linking them to the National Youth Council will enable even greater learning and scale. Trickle Up successfully piloted the savings component with adolescent girls in Ixcan with food security and sexual & reproductive rights components. Having concluded that the Graduation Approach can be adapted and effectively used by adolescents, we would like to expand upon its potential in promoting peace and adaptation to climate change by more actively involving the participants in these issues and linking them to their livelihood activities.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

Since its founding in 1979, Trickle Up that has been dedicated to the economic empowerment of the poorest. Over the past ten years, Trickle Up has been a pioneer in the development and global adoption of the Graduation Approach - a holistic approach to economic development that has been proven to improve household income, savings, food security and access to health and social services – and is now partnering with governments and others to scale its impact. Trickle Up has program offices in West Africa, India and Central America and is a founding partner of Mexican NGO K’ox T’aani. Each office implements and researches economic and social empowerment projects for poor and marginalized populations, producing sustainable change for participants and knowledge for development practitioners. Trickle Up uses the knowledge it creates to advocate for systemic change and to equip governments and other organizations to effectively serve the poorest. Partnership is central to Trickle Up’s work. It is essential for accessing and developing expertise, diffusing innovation, producing sustainable change and critically, for a small organization like Trickle Up, to effect outsized impact on systems and global challenges. In each of its program offices, Trickle Up implements community-level Graduation projects in partnership with local NGOs and municipal governments, building local capacity for long-term impact. In addition, all Trickle Up offices engage in technical assistance and strategic relationships with governments and mission-aligned organizations. Those partners include UNHCR, state and national level governments and social protection programs in Burkina Faso, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nicaragua and Paraguay. Trickle Up New York team: -Jaya Sarkar, VP of Programs Trickle Up, 30 years of program design in implementation in Latin America and India. Extensive work with indigenous rights and governance in Bolivia and Guatemala. Experience in driving systems change in large government programs. Trickle Up Americas team: -Jorge Coy, Regional Representative, of origin Maya-Q'eqchi, 19 years of experience in economic development, training, advocacy and livelihoods in Guatemala and Mexico, expertise in indigenous peoples. Professor at National University of Guatemala -Efraín Tecú, Program Director, of origin Maya-Achí, 20 years of experience in rural economic development, with a rights-based approach, strengthening peoples' self-determination. Expertise with indigenous women and youth in Mesoamerica -Hermelinda Macz, of origin Queqchí, 20 years of experience in rural development with indigenous women, community-based consultation, financial literacy, alternative mediation for conflict resolution and poverty reduction -Iván Juárez - Coaching and training, 15 years of experience with indigenous populations, mainly women, on sustainable agriculture and income generation

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

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