How Women in Antigua CAN & DO make a difference – Welcome presentation by Elizabeth Bell for the Brighter Together Foundation
Thank you for visiting our magical city. I grew up in Palo Alto, California where we were taught many things that we took for granted. When I moved to Antigua with my parents at the age of 14 in 1969, it’s fair to say that most things here were different. We had three hotels and four restaurants in town with only teaching jobs, if that. Antigua was included in 1979 in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List and I was trained by UNESCO in Rome and Havana as I worked on the city’s historic preservation for decades. Tourism really arrived after we got the internet in 1995 and we, as women, began to open our own businesses. Antigua is now the #1 Wedding Destination in the World in Brides.com and jobs allow women to excel in many fields.
Today, we have advanced tremendously in Antigua but, of course, have more to do. Through our daily efforts, we can help Guatemalan women who would love to be as fortunate as women in Antigua. Antigua has been a pioneer is so many ways.
Guatemala’s population of 17 million people is about half Maya and half ladino who are Hispanic-Guatemalan culture. Twenty-five percent of our country does not read and write. I am a minority for my gender and age as most women my age sign checks – and vote – with a thumbprint. Fifteen percent does not speak Spanish but rather one of 21 different Maya languages that do not understand one another. Most of these numbers are going to reflect older Maya women who did not go to school and usually had eight children. We know that we empower women through education including business education through micro-credit programs that we support. We know that we can decrease the very high birth rate, by choice, through education and jobs. We need to do more.
Our poverty levels increased from 60% to 70% in Guatemala last year, making us one of the poorest countries in Latin America with one with the largest discrepancies between the rich and the poor in the world. We, as women, can make a difference! I was the first woman to attend college from Antigua in 1972. Now most of the 20,000 university students that we have in Antigua – attending night school and school on Saturdays — are women. That’s a NICE change.
Guatemala has elections in June and 54% of the registered votes are women. We enjoy one of the highest voting rates in the world with 70% so “we” will be the decisive vote for our next President, Congress and Mayor.
Women are reaching out with special projects and businesses throughout the country. Many of us sponsor school supplies for poor kids who have little or no access to education.
Over the years in my work with various foundations, we recognize your ripple effect. With what we might consider small efforts – and others absolutely monumental – we CAN and DO make a difference in girls’ and women’s lives. Sometimes, we just set an example to others in what we do.
In tourism, I work with many non-governmental organizations that visit Guatemala. During your short visit, I encourage you to recognize the long term impact that you can have in improving the quality of life of women and, with that, their entire family.
Thank you for your visit. We look forward to seeing you again.