PiLA Blog

ADISA: A closer look at inclusion

Jesse Moore
February 9, 2018

My work at Adisa has made me think more deeply about the meaning of inclusion. Adisa's motto: "Por una comunidad inclusiva" (for an inclusive community) is much more than just a slogan. It is the motivation and foundation for our work. Whether it be our healthcare, employment, education, or empowerment programs, or just daily interactions, Adisa strives to create a community based in inclusivity. 

Inclusion starts by changing the culture around disability. Education, mobility solutions, health services, and physical therapy do not bring change without being backed up by a supportive community. In Santiago Atitlán, it has been a long and difficult process to change public perception but, as Adisa celebrates its 20 year anniversary this year, we are happy to see changes within the community.

The first time children with disability participated in the independence day parade in Guatemala in 2001, it went poorly. They were insulted, and made fun of, and Adisa nearly pulled them out of the parade because of it. But in the end, they stuck it out because otherwise, they would never learn to go out on their own. Fast forward to 2017, and children from Atitlan's school of special education lead the parade. They smiled and proudly wave flags, cheered on and admired by the same community that nearly forced them out sixteen years earlier. 

Changing community attitude has made the rest of Adisa's programs possible. In education, inclusive education training for school teachers provide local teachers the skills and knowledge necessary to include people with disability in their classrooms. 

In healthcare, our early intervention program provides specialized care to young children children with developmental delays. Engaging and stimulating children at an early age is critical to their growth. Children in this program have rapidly improved their speech, motor, and social skills.

In employment, Artesanos de Adisa is a force of 18 young men and women with disabilities from Santiago Atitlán that make artesanal crafts out of recycled materials. What started out as a small project to provide work for people with disabilities in 2006, has now become its own association and today is selling its products throughout Guatemala and internationally. In addition to artesanal crafts, young people with disabilities also run a chicken coop that sells eggs to many people in Santiago Atitlán. Every person, regardless of (dis)ability, has the right to their own livelihood.  

In my own work in development, an important aspect of my job is fundraising. One project that we recently fundraised was to build a wheelchair accessible ramp for Juanito. With the support of many generous donors, we were able to raise the funds and Juanito can now get to school and leave his house on his own, without relying on his dad or brother to carry him up the steep staircase. Accessibility projects such as this one empower people with disabilities to gain their independence and improve their quality of life.   

Beyond the empowerment of individuals, we also work with and train other disability service organizations to adopt community based rehabilitation strategies. Adisa is a leading organization, reference and model in disability work that promotes inclusive development and advocacy. We want our work to be sustainable, and by training with other organizations, we ensure the longevity of our work. 

Infinite Impact in Rural Guatemala

Yihemba Yikona
February 8, 2018

When I guide visitors through the Starfish Impact School, I do my best to convey how special and revolutionary it is to see nearly one hundred young indigenous women sitting at school in Guatemala at an age when many would no longer have the opportunity to continue studying due to lack of financial resources or cultural pressure.

As Communications Coordinator, a huge part of my job is storytelling—whether that is telling the story of Starfish to visitors in person, or communicating with a broader audience through online media.

What do I say?

I tell them that the young women with whom we work face quadruple discrimination from their circumstances as poor, female, rural, and Mayan.

I tell them that the average indigenous woman in Guatemala has 2.5 years of schooling, and 57% of indigenous girls in the country are married and/or mothers by the age of 18.

I tell them that Starfish is changing this reality by using education and mentorship to unlock the potential of young women to lead transformational change.

I tell them that this organization is really doing what it says it is doing and the results are incredible. The lives of Girl Pioneers are changing, as they are equipped to be changemakers in their own lives, their families, their communities, and their country.

Although so much of my job involves storytelling and spoken and written communication, I’ve found that the best way to do that comes from listening and observing. As I listen and observe, I learn from my Guatemalan coworkers and am impressed by how quickly they mobilize as we move forward to provide high quality education and expand opportunities for the young women we serve. When I have the privilege of speaking with Girl Pioneers, I am so inspired by their stories of resilience and how education has changed their lives and helped them learn the value of their voices.

These voices have power—a power that resounds in the young woman that celebrates her high school graduation despite many obstacles along the way. It is found in the eighth grader that dreams of becoming a chemical engineer, and the business administration university student that plans to open her own business one day.

As these voices express hope and determination for the future, they embody strength and perseverance. The task of empowering young women and fighting for their education is not easy, and it is an honor to see how the team at Starfish commits to this each and every day.

To learn more about Starfish, visit starfish-impact.org.

New PiLA Fellows for 2017–18

July 25, 2017

We proudly announce the 2017–18 cohort of 32 PiLA fellows, who collectively will serve with 20 PiLA partner organizations in 11 countries.

See bios and photos of all 2017–18 PiLA fellows



College or University

PiLA Partner




Swarthmore College




Arango Gomez

University of California Berkeley





Tufts University

The Nature Conservancy

Arlington, VA and Mexico



Wesleyan University

Osa Conservation

Costa Rica

Ana Teresa

Colón García

Haverford College

The Nature Conservancy

Arlington, VA and Mexico


de la Vega

Carleton College

Project Alianza




University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Global Partnerships




Pitzer College





Middlebury College

Pueblo a Pueblo




Tufts University

Building Dignity




Princeton University


Dominican Republic



New York University

UAC-Carmen Pampa




Princeton University

Global Partnerships




University of California Berkeley





George Washington University





Ohio State University

Comunidad Connect




Princeton University

Mariposa DR Foundation

Dominican Republic



Harvard University

Hospitalito Atitlán




University of Pennsylvania





Occidental College





University of Washington

The Nature Conservancy




Harvard University

Mariposa DR Foundation

Dominican Republic



Harvard University





University of Iowa

Pueblo a Pueblo




Washington University in St. Louis

Hospitalito Atitlán




Pepperdine University


Dominican Republic



Duke University





American University


Dominican Republic



Princeton University

Mariposa DR Foundation

Dominican Republic



Macalester College

Fundación Arias

Costa Rica



City University of New York-Hunter College


Dominican Republic



Princeton University



In addition, five members of the 2016–17 cohort will remain in the field for a second year as PiLA senior fellows:

  • Annie Austin (Endeavor Mexico, Mexico City)

  • Tiffany Brown (Yspaniola, Esperanza, Dominican Republic)

  • Danielle Coony (DREAM, Cabarete, Dominican Republic)

  • Anjelica Neslin (Fundación Abriendo Camino, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

  • Rachel Ozer-Bearson (Antigua International School, Antigua, Guatemala)


Education, Leadership, and Community Development in Lima

Alexis Álvarez (Building Dignity, Peru)
March 24, 2016

Alexis Alvarez

Working alongside a resilient community in the outskirts of Lima continues to transform my outlook on development.Villa El Salvador, where Building Dignity works, has a proud history of fighting for recognition through movements to formalize its settlements. This legacy continues as community members continue to struggle to access basic amenities from the state, quality education and the now-deteriorating opportunities to participate in Peru’s evolving job market. Building Dignity seeks to address these issues alongside the members of Villa El Salvador through initiatives focused on education, leadership, and community development. As a Princeton in Latin America Fellow, I work closely with the community to carry out Building Dignity’s programs as Program Director.

Following Building Dignity’s pillars of leadership and community development, I worked with community leaders to seek out funding and train them on project implementation. This allows leaders in their community to take action when the local government fails to address the community’s infrastructural needs. As a result, community members planned and implemented a neighborhood lighting project and currently seek to implement similar projects throughout other parts of Villa El Salvador. I also lead a youth group that empowers youth to take action against the injustices their community faces through leadership training and community service projects. We hope to build the next generation of leaders that will allow for Building Dignity to achieve a model of self-sustainability.

Alexis ÁlvarezAlexis Alvarez




In addition to assisting with community development initiatives, Building Dignity effectively executes an innovative solution to the problem of low-quality education in Villa El Salvador. Peru suffers from a high level of teacher absenteeism and outdated teaching methods that hinder students’ learning. In order to address this, I am able to work directly with local students through Building Dignity’s tutoring program that implements interactive and dynamic pedagogical strategies to improve a student’s engagement and cognitive development. The program's success is evident: through the course of the program, students have gone from struggling to read simple sentences to comprehending short paragraphs and discussing them with the class!

    At the moment, I am conducting a randomized control trial in order to measure the impact of the education initiative in order to better inform Building Dignity’s staff and donor base about our work. This impact evaluation allows me to apply my skills in economics while simultaneously learning about new education methods that can potentially transform how development organizations work in the field of education. Building Dignity's work both inspires me and continually shapes my understanding of development. I am especially thankful for the opportunity to become part of such an amazing community here in Villa El Salvador. 

Women in the Workforce in Rural Nicaragua

Grace Galloway (Comunidad Connect)
March 16, 2016

Marta Eliza checking in patients at the clinic

While driving home after meeting with community leaders about a new water project, community health worker Marta Eliza, program supervisor Yarisleidy and I discussed the challenges of being a woman in Latin America and a woman in the work force. In this case, each of us is both.

“A veces creo que se equivocaron conmigo.”

“Sometimes I think they got it wrong with me,” explained Marta Eliza, a community health worker from the rural community of Los Robles in Northern Nicaragua. Marta Eliza confessed that sometimes she thinks she was meant to be a man because she enjoys working – both in the physical sense of agricultural labor and in an office environment. She shared with us that she wakes up early, works all day and doesn’t mind; she is always looking for more ways to give back to her community. She is strong, both physically and emotionally. For these reasons, she wonders if she may have been better suited to be a man than a woman.

Yarisleidy and Grace

Despite my strong feminist convictions and educational formation, I didn’t quite know how to respond to Marta Eliza’s comments. I waited to see what Yarisleidy, a young professional Nicaraguan woman, would say.  Her response nearly took the words out of my mouth. Yarisleidy expressed that being strong and driven has nothing to do with gender. She argued that men in the rural communities do work hard in agriculture for a full 8-hour day, but that women spend before, during, and after the workday caring for their house, children and husband. Often they tend their own garden and farm animals as well.

For a woman in the professional world, regardless of geographic location, sexism and discrimination are parts of everyday life. My female coworkers and I must confront machista statements and decisions on a daily basis. These acts of discrimination are not only perpetrated by men, and this phenomenon is certainly not limited to Latin America.

As the conversation with Marta Eliza and Yarisleidy continued, I had the opportunity to share with them how impressed and excited I am by the female leadership in both my organization and the communities in which we work. By the end of the drive, each of us had learned something new about each other and come to understand that despite cultural differences, we all have something in common. We are striving the increase equality among people – regardless of gender, age, life experience or nationality.  

Marta Eliza will most likely never read The Feminine Mystique or attend a gender studies lecture. I will never thoroughly understand what it means to run a household in Los Robles. Through conversations such as these, she and I can connect and collaborate as a team – of strong, independent women – working to empower rural community members and especially young women to demand and show respect for themselves and those around them. 

Innovative Food Assistance in the Andes

Sarah and friends in Quito
Sarah Balistreri
April 1, 2015

When friends and family from the States talk about Ecuador, they often mention the beauty of the Galapagos Islands and the snow-capped volcanoes of the Andes. Very few think of the prolonged armed conflict taking place in Colombia and its impact on Ecuador. Before I began my fellowship at the UN World Food Programme (WFP) last July, I also knew little about the effects of this conflict on Colombia’s smaller southern neighbor. Since 2000, approximately 175,000 people have petitioned for asylum in Ecuador, and the country currently hosts the largest refugee population in the region. WFP has been active in Ecuador since 1964 and provides emergency food aid to the Colombian refugee population and vulnerable Ecuadorian host communities.

While I had a basic understanding of the logistics of providing humanitarian assistance prior to coming to Quito, I am astonished at how much I have learned at WFP. In Ecuador WFP has taken an innovative approach to food assistance and provides beneficiaries with an electronic voucher that functions like a debit card. In order to recharge their voucher, beneficiaries participate in monthly trainings on subjects such as nutrition, safe hygiene, and gender violence prevention.

As a member of the communications team, I translate and revise publications, donor reports, and fundraising documents. I have also had the opportunity to participate in monitoring and evaluation activities, which has been my favorite experience as a PiLA fellow in Quito. To measure the impact of its food assistance, WFP staff regularly conduct surveys with beneficiaries and partner organizations. In the fall, I spent a month interviewing Colombian refugees about their eating habits and their perception of tensions between Colombians and Ecuadorians in Quito. Many would relate how they most like to prepare cassava root, or about the hardships they have encountered both in Colombia and Ecuador. Hearing their stories has been by far the most rewarding and powerful part of my time in Ecuador. This fellowship has been an unparalleled learning experience, and I am very grateful for my time with WFP.

Background: Sarah graduated from Georgetown University (2012) with a bachelor’s in Spanish and Italian.