Fat. Illiterate. Drunk. These are just some of the words a group of mothers in Guatemala called each other during a recent workshop. But there was no malice behind their words. Rather it was an exercise created to open up discussion about how words like these can affect a person.
There are more than 10,500 Unbound mothers groups around the world. When children are sponsored through Unbound, their mothers have the opportunity to join a group of women from their communities. The groups provide a space for mothers to connect with others who face similar challenges and find solutions together.
For one of the mothers groups in Guatemala, discrimination is one of those challenges.
“We get together every month to discuss problems that affect our community,” said Teresa, one of the 16 mothers who participate in the group. “We agreed on discrimination being a problem, and we decided to approach the issue by teaching ourselves about it. We decided that we would act out a play.
“Several mothers volunteered to be targeted with some kind of discrimination. We labeled mothers with signs that said ‘illiterate,’ ‘indigenous,’ ‘fat,’ ‘deaf’ and other discriminating words.”
Other mothers played the roles of “discriminators,” pretending to be mean to the mothers wearing the signs. At the end of the activity, the mothers discussed how it made them feel. According to Teresa, many of the mothers said they felt vulnerable during the exercise.
For many of the mothers that took part in the exercise, this was not the first time they had heard these types of words in relation to themselves or others in their community. And as mothers, they are especially worried about how discriminatory attitudes might affect their children.
“I have seen how little boys are discriminated against because they help their mothers carry baskets of tortilla dough over their shoulders,” said Natividad, whose daughter Angela is sponsored. “Other boys insult them saying, ‘You are not a man,’ making reference to a general feeling that anything related to tortilla making is for girls only. That is not right, and we have to educate our children about this; that is the job that we have as parents.”
Some of the discrimination faced by members of the group was over cultural identity. In Guatemala, approximately 40 percent of the population is of Mayan descent. Many Mayan women display their heritage by wearing traditional clothing. As a Mayan woman, Teresa has occasionally overheard comments about her choice of dress.
“I’ve been judged as being ignorant and of less value because I wear low-priced indigenous clothing,” Teresa said. “It is sad because I work hard for my children. … I am a single mother; everything I earn is for my children. I cannot afford expensive clothing.
“… I remember going to my little girls’ school’s year-ending ceremony. I put on a simple outfit and I remember a person saying, ‘Doesn’t she work; can’t she afford a better dress?'”
Though Teresa has experienced discrimination first-hand, she still learned something new by participating in the exercise with the other mothers.
“I have learned there are several ways of discrimination, ways that I didn’t think about,” Teresa said.
In addition to helping the mothers see different types of discrimination and the effects, the workshop also gave them the tools they needed to talk to their children about the issue.
“We can teach people in our community to understand and avoid discriminating [against] others,” Natividad said. “We learned how to talk about this issue and mentor people to avoid it.
“I feel that Unbound is our best example of non-discrimination. There are no specific requirements of color, size, religion or your beliefs for sponsorship. Everyone is welcomed. At Unbound we are equally treated with fraternity and respect, like brothers and sisters.”
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