Youth in Government Young people in rural Guatemala take an active role in their community

The Municipality of Nebaj, nestled in the Cuchumatanes Mountains in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, has a population of 72,000, the vast majority being of Mayan descent and speaking the Ixil language. Youth between the ages of 10 and 24 make up 35% of the population and yet they are generally excluded, other than superficial roles, from decision making processes in the municipality. Given their lack of responsibilities for the development of their community, the young people of Nebaj were apathetic about their futures. Addressing youth’s roles in local government is a key component to creating rootedness so that they choose to invest in their communities and not seek opportunities elsewhere.

To increase youth participation in government, USAID’s Nexos Locales advocated for youth engagement at the municipal level through Municipal Youth Offices (OMJ) and youth networks. With project support, the municipality of Nebaj established an OMJ to increase youth representation and allow them to develop agendas based on their priorities. The OMJ of Nebaj created the first ever Youth Public Policy for the Municipality and presented its draft policy to the Nebaj City Council. The plan emphasized economic opportunities for migration prevention, sexual and reproductive health, violence prevention, access to education, and citizen participation in government. In a sign of broader support, the youth’s determination and vision gained them the support of the Guatemalan Association of Indigenous Mayors and the Presidential Commission on Human Rights Policy.

The City Council approved the new public policy and specifically noted the importance of youth’s leadership throughout the process. The development and implementation of this policy was celebrated by youth across the region, and has inspired young leaders to press for a more active role for decision-making spaces. Including these young leaders in government gives them influence into the design of policies that will directly affect them. Their opinions and experiences will contribute to the development of the services and programs that address the needs of Nebaj.

USAID’s work with the youth of Guatemala builds a broader base of citizen participation creating a stronger, more diverse, and inclusive society. When young people are engaged in promoting their own rights, it increases their responsibility for the future of Guatemala. Citizens who feel like their voice will be heard are more likely to want to stay and improve their communities avoiding the dangerous, costly decision to irregularly migrate.