In Action

Lancôme and CARE team up to deliver a literacy programme to 5,000 Maya women

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Philippe Lévêque

Lancôme and international humanitarian organisation CARE recently launched a literacy programme for Maya women in Guatemala. Philippe Lévêque, CEO of CARE France, tells us what the partners are doing in Central America.

Helping Maya women assert their rights through access to education

While the literacy project for Guatemalan girls is a CARE-led, Lancôme-backed initiative, the demand comes from the women themselves. In the aftermath of the civil war, when it was hard for women to get education, they wanted to break out of their isolation. “Some Maya communities live in very remote areas”, explains Philippe. “It can take a day’s boat-ride to get there, and Spanish is not their mother tongue. Illiteracy rates among over-15s can reach 30%, and women are hardest hit. But you have to be able to speak the country’s official language to assert your rights, especially when dealing with bureaucracy.” The authorities are paying attention to the issue too. “Once peace was restored, they realised that the country could not develop unless everyone had access to education.”

Behind the scenes of a partnership project

Shared trust and complementary skills

Launched in early 2018, the four-year project will involve 5,000 Maya women, including 3,000 girls aged between 15 and 24. “From the get-go, we felt we could trust the team that we met from Lancôme”, says Philippe. “And our research into the brand and the overall policy of the L’Oréal Group made us even more determined to work with Lancôme.” Lancôme, which had been looking to support an international women-centred programme, is putting €600,000 towards the project in Guatemala. Over and above the financial support, the partners will bring their complementary skill sets to bear on the project. CARE offers expertise in designing and implementing teaching programmes, as well as its local organisation, with a track-record in the region going back 30 years. Lancôme, meanwhile, “commands access to a global audience and can mobilise public opinion, which is a huge strength”, stresses Philippe. But Lancôme will need to be more than just a social media super community manager: the brand must truly live up to its values.

Delivering a practical education in one year

CARE currently works with four districts in the centre of the country, providing students with a practical education designed to help them in their daily lives. “We teach a wide range of skills, from cross-multiplication to negotiating techniques and map-reading”, explains Philippe. Reading and writing are obviously part of the programme, so that students can learn how to decipher title deeds and legal texts or write letters. The basics of sex education are also covered, with diagrams to teach participants about contraceptive methods, for example. The core idea is to help the women gain confidence in the public sphere, assert their rights and have a better understanding of their bodies and their environment.

The programmes, which last between one and two hours every day, are designed to be effective by the end of a year, when participants receive a certificate at an official ceremony. This is a way to “pay tribute to our students and ensure that they get peer recognition”, says Philippe.

Teaching is provided by 400 instructors, who are locally-based Maya public-school teachers from Guatemala’s national education department. The on-the-ground training they receive gets them ready for the daunting challenge of transforming the lives of their students through education. “Knowledge is key to independent thinking. Without a practical education, we repeat the behaviour of past generations without ever questioning it.”

A women-only programme that benefits everyone

The programme is still in its infancy. Challenges include geographical isolation and language barriers, not to mention the need to secure local support. Given that illiteracy affects men and women, the organisation will have to explain why only women can enrol in the programme and how it will benefit everyone. “The advantage of starting out in a difficult environment is that if the results are there, we stand a better chance of moving to the next level by replicating the programme elsewhere in the country”, says Philippe. This would be a decisive step in helping these girls to look to the future with confidence and take pride in their origins and heritage.


CSR | March 2018