Dancing toward learning and holistic development

By Daniela Martínez | February 6, 2023 | The Americas | Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment
Editor’s note: This blog post is also available in Spanish

Daniela Martinez, GFC’s Program Manager for the Americas, reflects on a festival she recently attended in Guatemala to celebrate the work of GFC partner Organización Sololateca.

The day is cool but sunny in Nahualá, Guatemala, as I step into the municipal gymnasium, which is decorated with colorful fabric streamers and a majestic arch of balloons.

“These are the colors of our organization,” Gladis Tambriz says proudly. Gladis is the Coordinator of Organización Sololateca, one of Global Fund for Children’s partner organizations in the Partnership to Educate All Kids (PEAK) initiative, which seeks to support and strengthen the capacities of community-based organizations that are fostering the learning and holistic development of school-aged children.

The municipal gym in Nahualá decorated for the 2022 festival. © GFC

Immediately, a group of little ones surrounds me and bombards me with questions. “What is your name? Where are you from? How old are you?” Their powerful and unafraid demeanor inspires me, especially considering the systemic discrimination and repression that Indigenous peoples too often face, the result of a colonial history.

Little by little, the gym fills up with more than 300 community members from Chuanihualá, Chuisuc, Palanquix Tambrizab, Patzité, and Quiacasiguan. Suddenly, shouts, whistles, and drums are heard. The school band of Nahuala’s National Institute of Basic Education (INEB) enters triumphantly to play an energetic and joyful rhythm. Sololateca’s 2022 festival, whose objective is to celebrate the work the organization carries out with more than 150 children, young people, and mothers in these five communities, has begun.

School girls dancing

The INEB school band makes its way into the gym to open the festival. © GFC

With its dynamic and playful activities, the organization has become a local agent of change on children’s rights, self-esteem, violence prevention, and migration.

According to Liza Guarchaj, one of Sololateca’s team members, “Before, the children didn’t even want to say their names. Through dance, art, and music, they are now encouraged to participate and even contribute their ideas. They are more creative and dynamic.” She adds that program participants have also acquired vital information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which has led to changes in attitudes. “Girls, adolescents, and mothers used to think that it was a sin to decide how many children to have,” says Liza. “Now, they know that it is a human right.”

Sololateca’s participation in the PEAK initiative, which encourages a play-based approach to learning, has motivated the organization to diversify its teaching methodologies. The staff have even experimented with belly dancing, which has served to empower and strengthen the self-esteem of the girls.

Keyli, a 10-year-old participant, shares her story. “Before I met Sololateca, I was very shy,” she says. “I didn’t like to participate in the different activities at my school because I felt ugly. Dancing has always been my dream, but I only danced at home when no one was around. One day, Ms. Gladis surprised us in the self-care workshop with belly dancing, which made me feel beautiful and empowered and made me love my body. Now I can say that I found the dance of my dreams, where I feel 100% confident.”

Children line up to participate in a sack race. © GFC

The festival continues with performances on the theme of physical violence, a public speaking contest, musical presentations, and both modern and ancestral dances.

About this last activity, Liza says, “The cultural richness of traditional costumes, dance, and accessories is being lost, and through these activities, we want to recover them.”

A game of sack race turns into a frenzy as children race to line up to keep going around and around, enjoying this moment of play.

I notice the images adorning the walls of the gym. They were made by those who participated in a drawing contest to depict themes of self-esteem, leadership, and gender-based violence. These raw images represent a straightforward and empowered way of looking at the world. “The diversity of artistic branches allows children to explore their different talents,” Gladis explains. “Some find it easier to draw; others prefer to talk or dance.”


Drawings by contestants depicting leadership and scenes of gender-based violence. © GFC

As the festival draws to a close, a group of children stays behind, enjoying the music. I get up to join them. And so, amid shouts, smiles, and laughter, playful learning crosses genders, ages, languages, borders, and socio-economic realities.

At the end of the day, the Sololateca festival serves as an important reminder of how local organizations are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of their communities and creatively meet those needs while supporting children’s learning and integral development.



The PEAK initiative, supported by the LEGO Foundation, helps children to access and thrive in learning environments that prepare them for future success. As the PEAK initiative turns one, GFC is highlighting the work of some of the PEAK partners who are employing innovative ways of making education more fun and appealing to children who suffered academic loss at the height of the pandemic.

Header photo: Gladis, Sololateca’s Coordinator, leads children in a dance as part of Sololateca’s 2022 festival. © GFC

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