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Extension partnering with Guatemalan university on youth and family programming

By Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Extension educator in family resiliency

A University of Minnesota Extension team has been in partnership with a team from Guatemala for almost two years now, and I thought you’d like to know what we’ve been up to.

The partnership stems from an agreement University of Minnesota Extension signed in 2017 with the University of San Carlos of Guatemala School of Social Work. Two Extension centers, Family Development (FD) and Youth Development (YD), are working on this initiative. The aim is to co-create a program serving youth and families in Guatemala.

My colleagues and I are supported in these efforts through Extension Global Initiatives and its director John Vreyens, who leads Extension’s international work. Other members of the Minnesota Extension team include: Dorothy Freeman, Youth Development associate dean; Patricia Olson, Family Development director of programs; and myself. Emily Becher, FD research associate, and Samantha Grant, Extension educator and YD evaluation director are important team members leading the evaluation component of this project.

Silvia Alvarez de Davila, Dorothy Freeman, and colleagues from University of San Carlos of Guatemala in front of building.
University of Minnesota Extension professionals Silvia Alvarez de Davila, center, and Dorothy Freeman, far right, join colleagues from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala at a community clinic in a Guatemala City neighborhood. U of M Extension and the San Carlos School of Social Work are partnering on programming to serve youth and families in selected Guatemalan communities, including this neighborhood.

Lead members of the Guatemalan team include: Licda. Alma Lilian Rodríguez, School of Social work director; MSc. Edwin Velásquez, School of Social Work Extension coordinator; Licda. Gladys Moreno, EPS coordinator; and Lic. Jorge Cambara, EPS supervisor.

Extension work in Guatemala is delivered in a variety of ways. In our partnership with San Carlos School of Social Work, extension work is delivered by its social work student interns.

Members of the Minnesota team have visited Guatemala to meet with University of San Carlos faculty and students in an effort to find common interests and ways to build capacity for the two institutions. The most recent trip was this past February, when I led a workshop for a group of San Carlos faculty and students.

Group of University of Minnesota Staff with San Carlos Colleagues.
Three Family Development and Youth Development staff members with
University of San Carlos of Guatemala School of Social Work faculty and students.

In the front row are Trish Olson from FD (2nd from left), Silvia Alvarez de Davila from FD (4th from left),
and Dorothy Freeman from YD (far right).

At this workshop, participants selected communities in Guatemala for followup work with youth and families. Participants also developed strategies — with the support from the evaluation team in Minnesota — for understanding the interests and needs of youth and families in those communities.

Based on workshop participants’ recommendations, San Carlos students are collecting data this spring under the supervision of three university faculty. They will also do the first round of data analysis. The San Carlos faculty team, along with the director of the San Carlos School of Social Work, will visit the FD and YD centers in June. At that time, San Carlos and Minnesota Extension educators will identify program opportunities and plan a pilot for serving youth and families in the selected Guatemala communities starting in fall 2018.

Work applicable in Minnesota, too

While the primary aim of this partnership is to co-create a program serving youth and families in Guatemala, we also expect this work will benefit youth and families in Minnesota, too. For one thing, this initiative gives our centers an opportunity to increase our capacity to engage with Latino immigrant communities across Minnesota.

We can apply what we learn to FD and YD programs in Minnesota, which is a rapidly diversifying state. In fact, the Latino population is one of the fastest growing segments of our state population. The processes and culturally-relevant educational modules we develop through this initiative will strengthen our current and future work with diverse communities across Minnesota.

We also envision opportunities for staff development for Minnesota Extension professionals who will get the chance to serve in different capacities and potentially participate in cultural exchanges.

Please contact me if you have more questions about our partnership with the University of San Carlos of Guatemala (Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala). Just send me an email at

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