GRACE (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children's Education), an educational project under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, has partnered with the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva since 2007. Founder Dr. Genelle Grant has dedicated her professional life to helping women in Guatemala improve their health, family relationships, economic prospects, and personal safety.
The GRACE project conducts workshops throughout Guatemala, as well as locally in Lee County, with a focus on anti-trafficking, health education, stress reduction and teaching techniques. Grant first trains 5-6 facilitators in each geographical area, and these facilitators, with the help of Grant and her team, then conduct day-long workshops with up to 50 teachers, chosen from local schools. In this way, vital information can then be shared at each area school by the newly trained teachers.
A recurring element involves what Grant has named "fertility bracelets," simple beaded items that help the women engage in family planning. By checking off one bead per day, women can determine when is their most -- or least -- fertile time each month. Grant says the bracelets, hung prominently in the bedroom, are popular not only with the women but also with their husbands, as they help limit family size.
A group of new trainees in Guatemala during the summer 2013. Dr. Genelle Grant is seen left rear, Virginia Jones is seated front right. PHOTO PROVIDED.
"Every bracelet touches a woman's life, and thereby the life of her family," Grant says.
Thousands of bracelets have already been distributed in the regions of Guatemala that Grant is able to reach. At least a thousand more are being shipped this summer, either ahead of time or in the luggage carried by Grant and volunteers who travel with her. Zonta club members and others have been creating bracelets for weeks at various gatherings, using materials purchased through Zonta funds. Stringing the beads is social, like the traditional quilting bees where friends sat around a large table, shared stories and snacks, and enjoyed creating the items. One such gathering took place at the Suncoast Community Center in North Fort Myers, where immigrant women from Guatemala and Mexico gathered to help. Another was held at the Transitional Living Center of SalusCare in Fort Myers.
Traveling with Grant this summer is Zontian Virginia Jones, making her second service trip to Guatemala.
"It is such a privilege to work on Zonta's mission through the GRACE project," Jones said. "I have seen the life-changing impact on women and families as they become empowered to make conscious decisions. By involving teachers and mothers, we create positive consequences that ripple through communities."
She added that while this is a working trip, it also generates fun and fosters friendships.
Along with fertility bracelets, Jones collects items the women need for educational purposes -- notebooks, pens and pencils, scissors, string, and simple items that we take for granted every day but which are unavailable or unaffordable in rural Guatemala.
This year, a new focus for GRACE is on five human rights laws called Laws for Peace (Leyes para la Paz) that were passed but not publicized by the government of Guatemala. Zonta funds have helped create 5,000 rack cards and posters, and understanding of these laws is already reducing domestic violence and abuse in communities where instruction has taken place.
Visit www.LawsforPeace.com for more information.
Jones will post to a daily blog, beginning early June. Check www.VirginiaLouiseJones.com for progress on the 2014 trip to Guatemala.
The Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva is a service organization of professional women working together to provide hands-on assistance, advocacy, and funds to strengthen women's lives on the islands, in Lee County, and around the world through Zonta International at www.zontasancap.com.