Ingrid Sierra, indigenous UN Volunteer serving with UN Women in Guatemala.

Indigenous community leader supports COVID-19 response in Guatemala as a UN Volunteer in her own community

Ingrid Sierra is a Guatemalan indigenous woman from the Poqomchii’ linguistic community, with a Q’eqchi identity. She joined UN Women Guatemala in 2016, first as part of its Economic Empowerment team and currently serves in the area of women, peace, security and humanitarian response. Her deep commitment to women’s rights, however, not only manifests itself through her service as a UN Volunteer. Ingrid is also leading her community’s response efforts to the pandemic, demonstrating the immense power of solidarity and compassion in the face of a crisis.

When reflecting about the aspects of her work which she is most passionate about, Ingrid highlights the direct contact, the ability to engage in sincere communication with women in her community. These exchanges go well beyond the institutional context, as she is enabling women’s voices and facilitating their participation in decisions that affect their lives and communities:

I try not to be the one to intervene, but rather we stand together. As UN Women, we work to enable women to participate and influence in decision-making spaces – they are the actors of the projects and are at the center of our interventions. What I am passionate about is seeing them speak, because it is with great emotion, and it is from their heart. --Ingrid Sierra, indigenous UN Volunteer with UN Women

The pandemic, however, inevitably forced Ingrid and her team to adapt their day-to-day work. Unable to conduct field visits as usual due to the confinement measures imposed to restrict movement and curb the spread of the virus, Ingrid continues reaching women through different means.

By making phone calls to them, she is able to maintain contact and gather information about how COVID-19 is affecting the women’s lives, their decision-making authority, and their access to services and basic needs. This is done in coordination with the Municipal Women’s Directorate (DMM per its acronym in Spanish), a unit of the Municipality of Guatemala that promotes the empowerment and participation of women in the municipality for the full exercise of their citizenship.

Current challenges within her work with UN Women involve ensuring that the local authorities can follow up on ongoing projects, creating alternative communication mechanisms and ensuring that the women’s voices are still represented, even if they cannot be there physically. Alongside the Municipal Women’s Directorate, Ingrid and her team are able to monitor, follow up on and ensure the progress of plans and proposals from the women at the municipality level.

The programme is also using radio spots to reach the women, with the goal of keeping them informed and connected to the dynamics of their municipality.

Besides her assignment as a UN Volunteer, Ingrid dedicates her free time to volunteer in her community. She serves as coordinator of the group Club Social D’Victoria – based in San Juan Chamelco in the Alta Verapaz department. This is part of the Olla Comunitaria collective, a civil society movement started to attend to people affected disproportionately by the lockdown measures in Guatemala. Together, they assisted over 5,000 people in the first three and a half months of the pandemic.

From coordinating the delivery of food and other basic goods, to distributing informational materials with health recommendations to households and producing protective masks with her grandfather and using the sales proceeds to buy more food to donate; Ingrid and her fellow volunteers are making a huge impact in their community. This support has been particularly helpful for people who are not beneficiaries of other government programmes and who find themselves in situations of vulnerability.

Ingrid feels fortunate to have been able to dedicate the past 19 years of her career to the defense and promotion of women’s rights. Her achievements on the behalf of others, her ceaseless desire to improve the lives and situation of women in her community and country, and her understanding that empowering women helps to sustain peace – particularly critical in post-conflict Guatemala – and respect of women’s human rights do not go unnoticed.

Ingrid is UN Women’s ambassador in the field. She embodies the leadership, commitment and vision that we stand for as a UN agency. Through her work, many women are getting a seat at the table and their voices are being heard. She brings the knowledge of various areas of work to ensure we are able to combat discrimination in all of its forms and that Goal 5 of the SDGs is attained. –Adriana Quiñones, Representative of UN Women Guatemala.

Selfless, eager to engage others in the response, and determined to guarantee that no one is left behind, Ingrid not only truly embodies the spirit of volunteering, but she also serves as an inspiration to indigenous communities:

It has been a dual challenge for me to be able to position myself and to be able to tell the others, my sisters, that we indigenous women can achieve anything, we can aspire to other opportunities. –Ingrid Sierra

Learn more about UN Volunteer Ingrid here.

This article was prepared with the kind support of Online Volunteer Kaylin Lang.