RU Leadership Council Members Reflect on Guatemala Experience

Rise Up Leadership Council members and girl leaders at Las Niñas Lideran.

Rise Up’s Leadership Council consists of 24 gender justice champions who contribute their time, talent, and resources to support Rise Up and form an active learning community with diverse opportunities for connection with global leaders and like-minded advocates. This March, a group of seven current and prospective Leadership Council members had one such opportunity – an immersive trip to see Rise Up’s work in Guatemala first-hand with our Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Denise R. Dunning. 

At the founding of Rise Up in 2009, Denise and the team began investing in girl-led advocacy and supported young Guatemalan leaders working to empower indigenous girls in the highlands to stay in school and advocate to ban child-marriage. Our work in Guatemala continues today, with our expert local team supporting a strong network of young women and girl leaders who have been trained by Rise Up as they advocate for the rights of girls and women in their communities across Guatemala. Read more about our work in Guatemala and Central America in Supporting Passionate Young Leaders in Central America and Girl Leaders Gather in Guatemala to Raise Their Voices for Change.

Leadership Council members had the powerful experience of meeting several Rise Up Leaders on-the-ground including Ixchel Lucas, a Rise Up girl leader since 2010. Ixchel is part of Las Niñas Lideran (LNL), or “Girls Lead”, a girl-led network created and supported by Rise Up where she amplifies the voices of fellow girl leaders as they advocate for equity in sexual and reproductive healthcare, access to education, and the reduction of gender-based violence in their local communities. Our travel group had the opportunity to get to know Ixchel and other girl leaders over lunch, and discuss various issues including how COVID-19 has negatively impacted girls’ physical and mental health in the country.

Leadership Council members with girl leaders.

Jodi Morris, a Rise Up Leadership Council Member who was also the lead on organizing the trip through her organization, Connecting Growth Globally, shared this reflection:

“We enjoyed a multi-faceted trip that introduced us to Guatemala’s past, present and future…The trip included two full days of site visits with Rise Up (Red Las Niñas Lideran) in Quetzaltenango (“Xela”) and Chimaltenango—two cities not typically on the tourist track. In Xela, the girl leaders crafted displays and presented the creative ways they address harassment, gender violence and women’s health in their communities.

Visiting Guatemala with Denise was like having a second set of glasses. Through her eyes and emotions, we could see what has changed and what hasn’t. Each site visit ended with a bit of emotion as the leaders recognized Denise, and she them. These are women Denise has known for over a decade; in some cases, they were girls who are now young women who have connected their local efforts to national and even international ones.”

The group embraced every aspect of the experience. From exploring the beautiful surroundings of Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America, to walking the country’s vibrant and former capital city, Antigua, and discovering Tikal National Park’s more than 3,000 Mayan city structures. 

This trip is an incredible testament to our shared commitment to cultural immersion and meeting leaders where they are; listening to their stories and uplifting the transformational work they do in their communities and countries.

Our Guatemala travel group in front of Lake Atitlán.

Stacey Keare, Rise Up Leadership Council Member and President of Girls Rights Project also shared a reflection on her experience: 

“After all of us have been limited in our travel and in-person experiences over the last three years, I was incredibly excited to sign up for the Rise Up trip to Guatemala. I have found that the best way to learn about a place and a program is to get as close to it as possible. I was really curious to see what Rise Up looks like on the ground, and also to see what the situation feels like in Central America. I also love traveling with Women who are committed, curious, and fun to be with. This trip provided the perfect opportunity to accomplish all these things.”

The unforgettable experiences of this trip would not have been possible without the expertise and guidance of Rise Up’s in-country team including Guatemala Country Representative, Veronica “Vero” Buch. Vero tragically passed away this May, and we are all still mourning the loss of a dear friend, colleague, and fierce advocate for the rights of girls in Guatemala. Read more about Veronica here.

For all questions related to Rise Up’s Leadership Council and if you’re interested in joining Rise Up on a future trip, please contact Rise Up’s Development and Engagement Manager, Jen Byrne at