Lauren Levy took a summer trip to Guatemala in 2009 to improve her Spanish. Her goal was to return with an enhanced ability to reach out to impoverished Spanish-speakers in her own community.
However, Levy discovered an opportunity to extend her outreach across borders by establishing a non-profit organization in one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
Levy, a Presidential Graduate Fellow at the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. student in counseling psychology, studies the effects of interpersonal violence and the importance of improving access to health care for Spanish-speaking and Latino populations in the United States.
The non-profit organization Generando—meaning “Generating”—seeks to empower women in Guatemala to combat interpersonal violence, early childbearing, and poor economic circumstances.
Lauren’s work in the organization parallels her personal research interests. Prior to her trip, Levy took part in a research study to explore the effects of violence on women who have abortions.
She investigated the co-occurrence of depression and interpersonal violence and assessed how women’s experiences with violence impacts their ability to care for their children.
Her research shows results all too familiar to those who work with abused women, and the data serves as a reminder that people all over the globe continue to need help, she said. “If we can show the high number empirically—scientifically—I think that can serve as a call to action to social service agencies and local and national governments to hopefully funnel funds to target those in need,” Levy said.
Since her first visit in 2009, Levy has traveled to Guatemala several times to work directly with women involved in the organization. When she returns to the United States, she takes on a much different role. While colleagues such as co-founder Danessa Luna continue to oversee daily operations, Levy helps to promote the organization through fundraisers, grant writing, and overall strategic management, tapping into her past experiences as an investment banker in New York.
Luna explains the importance of Levy’s role. “Though our work has previously been recognized as very important locally and even by international funding organizations that came to visit, Lauren's continual communication with international funding agencies and her ability to communicate our strategic objectives to them remains critical,” Luna said.
Generando was recently awarded a large annual grant from the Open Society Institute, which will provide $25,000 each year for the next three years. Additionally, the Guatemalan government has pledged $75,000 toward the creation of the community’s first comprehensive care center for female survivors of interpersonal violence—a sign, Luna said, that the organization is making an impact.
“It not only reflects the important work we've done in demanding that the Guatemalan government meet its requirements under the law, but demonstrates our standing in the social service community,” Luna said.
Luna said backlash from community members who oppose Generando’s challenge of long-standing gender norms and social values, including harassment, threats, and a recent office robbery, can hinder their organization’s progress.
However, despite these obstacles, the organization continues to reach out to young women of Guatemala, educating and training them with marketable economic skills, providing the survivors of interpersonal violence with psychological and legal support, and ultimately helping the women demand their human rights and become more self-sufficient.
"I found it so inspirational and empowering to be around these women,” Levy said. “They were giving me strength; their belief in me and my ability to help them led me to do more.”