In 2016 we implemented a pilot project to see if older girls in the scholarship program could earn money towards their high school tuition. High school costs are considerably higher than elementary and middle school, so prior to this no scholarships were offered beyond middle school. Our goal was to give the girls a means to earn significant money towards their school fees that didn’t require a large time investment. Four girls were chosen as part of the pilot, and we gained important insights through their efforts. Two key changes were made in the project before we expanded to all the girls in the program old enough to be eligible.
First, our chicken coops were designed to keep the chickens safe from predators at night – predators like dogs and hungry neighbors. We quickly learned that the greatest danger to the chickens was other chickens! The most popular breed in Guatemala is a particularly aggressive bird, and despite being given ample food and plenty of room to roam, stronger chickens instinctively bully their weaker companions. Many chicks were pecked to death or chased away from food so they became weak from malnutrition and succumbed to disease. We realized we needed the ability to separate more aggressive birds from the rest, so redesigned their living arrangements to accomplish this.
Second, we learned that the girls needed help learning to save their earnings. Without a bank account, the girls were keeping their earnings in their houses. Having money available was just too tempting, and most was spent meeting various family needs. The ability and discipline to save for a long-term goal is a key skill required to help families out of poverty, but not something that comes naturally when you are used to living hand-to-mouth. We therefore decided to combine the chickens with a partial scholarship program. Sandra is helping each girl open a savings account at a bank and is coaching them to save their earnings. At the end of the year we will match what each girl saves with a scholarship. If they do well and save a lot they will be rewarded with a big scholarship. If they only save a little they will receive a small scholarship. We hope this will help motivate them and teach them a vitally important skill.