HOW IT ALL BEGAN
MuJER was born in January 2005 when two undergraduate students, Ana Moraga and Tania Torres, and their professor, Jodi Finkel, heard a program on National Public Radio about the plight of a group of prostitutes in Guatemala City, Guatemala. One of the women interviewed, Susie Sika, a 41-year-old mother of seven children, stated that her dream was to learn to read. Inspired by her story, MuJER’s founders decided to create a literacy program in Guatemala’s red light district, known as La Linea, to enable Susi—as well as all other women in her circumstances—to learn to read. With this goal in mind, Ana and Tania moved to Guatemala in August 2005. Since that time, MuJER has evolved from a literacy program in one red light district to a multifaceted support system for hundreds of sex workers throughout Guatemala. We opened our Empowerment Center in downtown Guatemala in 2009. Our programs are developed in consultation with women from the sex worker community and today our in-country staff is composed of all Guatemalan nationals.
CHANGING LIVES, EMPOWERING WOMEN – SUCCESS STORIES
Susi, having learned to read in our one-on-one literacy classes, can help her children with their homework and is attending a one-year Sewing and Tailoring program courtesy of a MuJER Scholarship. Elizabeth, having participated in our jewelry workshops, now has a small jewelry business and creates her own designs. Paola, having finished sixth grade with us, is in nursing school, as our eight other women from our community.
MuJER relies on a unique strategy of partnering with the women of the sex worker community to develop our programming. When we arrived in Guatemala, we began visiting the red light district to win the women’s trust. After two months, Vilma, our first student, asked to learn to read with us. As we won the trust or more women, they also began to take our class. Additionally, they asked for other classes: completion of elementary school, vocational classes, and computer classes. MuJER prides itself on listening to, and responding to, the women of our community.
As we began providing women with new skills, we came to see that offering classes would not be enough to enable women to enjoy better choices. The women also needed to believe that deserved more. Thus, MuJER began to focus on issues of self-esteem, personal dignity, women’s rights, and leadership. In fact, is often as a member of “MuJER” that Guatemalan sex workers become active in promoting their rights as well as the rights of others in the sex worker community.