Michelle for Life
Grieving the loss of her mother, Michelle struggled to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning, until, that is, she enrolled in the English for Life (E4L) program
Everyday, Michelle wakes up and starts her day in her grandparent’s home in Villa Nueva, a city just outside of the capital of Guatemala. She snoozes her alarm, puts on her glasses, whips up breakfast and opens her computer to start class. She is, at first glance, a typical 19-year-old. But Michelle is anything but typical.
Villa Nueva is a city plagued by gang-related violence and in her neighborhood of El Mezquital, Michelle can never walk further than a few blocks from her home. When she was a toddler, her father was the victim of violent crime and died. Her mom marched strongly on to raise Michelle and Michelle’s younger brother, creating a happy life against all odds. But in August 2020, Michelle’s mom passed away and Michelle found the grief of that monumental loss utterly and completely destabilizing. She and her brother moved to their grandparents’ home where they were welcomed with open arms. However, she faced the reality of being an orphan at 17 and having to care for her 14-year-old brother in a hard neighborhood.
Michelle’s uncle told her about the English for Life (E4L) program. Funded by USAID, in collaboration with Villa Nueva’s city government, E4L provides young people from at-risk neighborhoods with the opportunity to learn English and receive psychological support through therapy and mentorship. Having just graduated high school while fighting depression and grieving the loss of her mother, Michelle struggled to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning, until, that is, she enrolled in E4L.
E4L provided Michelle with a safe environment to talk openly about the challenges she was facing. Her mentors at E4L recommended she apply to become a civic service volunteer. She ultimately took their advice and spent six months helping the city’s youth office to implement violence prevention activities. Michelle bloomed so much in the program that the E4L team asked her to become a paid part time mentor to help other youth from her neighborhood.
Michelle is currently studying with the English for Work program (E4W), another USAID and Villa Nueva Municipality collaboration, which provides a five-month intensive English language course to qualified youth applicants to increase their employability and open new professional opportunities. She just started her first year of university, with a business administration major and hopes to later study psychology. Michelle was forced to confront and overcome challenges that no 19-year-old should have to face. But with support from her community and USAID, she’s reshaping her future.
About this Story
Written by: Samantha Boss, Tetra Tech
Editor: Zeina Hijazi Dubray, Creative Director for USAID/Guatemala
UMG currently works in the following eight cities across Guatemala: 1) Guatemala City; 2) Villa Nueva; 3) Santa Catarina Pinula; 4) Chimaltenango; 5) Escuintla; 6) Coatepeque; 7) Chiquimula; and 8) Puerto Barrios. Since 2017, UMG has supported a total of 18 municipalities. Key stakeholders include municipal officials and staff as well as underrepresented community members, particularly women and youth. The populations of these urban centers are primarily ladino; however, they are magnet cities for internal migration from other areas of Guatemala.