Have you ever been lucky enough to have a travel experience that was transformative?

I spent this past week in Guatemala on an immersive travel experience with fellow members of the Rise Up (http://riseuptogether.org) Leadership Council (L.C.) led by L.C. member #JodiMorris#DeniseDunning, Rise Up’s Executive Director, joined us along with other amazing women interested in learning more about Rise Up’s work with indigenous women and girls in Guatemala that began in 2009 to support them as they advocated for the end to child marriage, prevention of gender-based violence, access to education, and reproductive rights.

I have collaborated and supported Rise Up for over ten years from a distance.  This was my first time on the ground meeting and seeing the work of the incredible women and girls who bravely pursue their rights in the face of a multitude of human rights violations, corruption, and living in a country with a long-standing toxic machismo culture.  Guatemala is a beautiful country with warm, friendly people – and yet the reality for women and girls, along with gender non-conforming individuals is harsh and stark.

“A flower blooming in the desert proves to the world that adversity, no matter how great, can be overcome.”  Matshona Dhliwayo

This quote reminds me of the Rise Up leaders we met in Guatemala.  We had the opportunity one day to gather with members of Red Niñas Lideran (LNL) in Chimaltenango where they presented their innovative approaches to mobilizing girls, women, and allies toward a more equitable country. We heard about unique approaches like providing girls with whistles that they could blow if they were in danger. Seeing the hard work and dedication of these leaders – some as young as 10 – was moving and poignant.  While my youth was filled with all sorts of fun-filled extracurricular activities – these girls are fighting for their lives – and they are doing it with courage and resilience.

It was also so rewarding to travel with other women who are passionate about gender equity and in their own ways, taking action, for it to be realized. On our final night together, the women on our trip agreed that we felt like we had formed a ‘sisterhood’ that in so many ways paralleled what we had witnessed with the Rise Up leaders. While there is still much work to be done, together, we can chip away at the layers of resistance and oppression and cheer each other on. Michelle Obama once said, “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice.”

Thank you #RiseUp for supporting the women and girls of Guatemala – along with so many other country leaders to amplify their voices – and the voices of those, like me, who have followed your work. This trip was transformative and will stay with me forever.  On this journey I discovered that that the experience one has is arguably more important than the place itself.  Thank you Jodi Morris (https://connectinggrowthglobally.com/cgg-experiences/)  for revealing an entirely new way to SEE the world.

Finally, I will end with Rise Up’s vision which I think says it all: “We envision an equitable world where all people have the opportunity to live healthy lives, gain an education, achieve economic mobility, and fulfill their potential. In this world, women, girls, and their allies have the power and resources to lead us into a future where everyone can thrive.”  That is certainly transformational!