Giving Girls a Chance at Greatness

Education Gender Equality Guatemala India

On International Women’s Day, World Food Program USA is proud to announce our recipients of the 2017 Catherine Bertini Trust Fund awards -- nonprofits Fotokids in Guatemala and Landesa in Seattle, Washington.

Courtesy of Nancy McGirr
A picture taken by a youth participant of FotoKids, a nonprofit that works to empower young people to dream in Guatemala.

When Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), won the World Food Prize more than 15 years ago for transforming how the agency fights hunger, she knew she wanted to use the prize money to bolster women’s empowerment across the globe.

This year, two incredible organizations will benefit from the spirit of Bertini’s vision as recipients of WFP USA’s Bertini Trust Fund awards. Supporting grassroots initiatives that boost access to training and educational opportunities for girls, the fund has awarded 19 grants since 2008.

“FotoKids and Landesa are doing pivotal work in communities across Guatemala and India to give girls a chance at greatness,” said Erin Cochran, WFP USA’s Vice President of Communications. “We are extraordinarily excited to support their initiatives through the Bertini Trust Fund.”

Meet this year’s award winners!


Evelyn Mansilla grew up in a municipal garbage dump alongside thousands of others in Guatemala City.

She didn’t start to see a future until she was given the opportunity to take photos at the age of five. At age 12, she started teaching other kids how to take photos, all thanks to FotoKids.

“My family used to say to us: You were born here, you are going to die here. That is life,” Evelyn said. “But when I started with FotoKids, I had the opportunity to think about what I want. Now I can say that if they didn’t give me the opportunity, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”

My family used to say to us: You were born here, you are going to die here.

Evelyn Mansilla, executive director of FotoKids

Decades later, Evelyn is executive director of the very organization that changed her life years ago. FotoKids’ mission is to equip children and young adults in indigenous and urban communities with cameras and IT equipment to help them develop skills that promote self-expression, exploration and discovery.

WFP USA’s Bertini grant will help FotoKids buy new cameras and expand opportunities to 40 girls across Guatemala City and Santiago Atitlan, an indigenous rural community. For communities impacted by poverty, gang violence and food insecurity, FotoKids is helping girls develop the leadership skills and training in media arts and technology to find employment and live a meaningful life.

“Girls don’t have the same opportunities as boys and a lot of the families think that girls just have to marry and have kids,” said Nancy McGirr, the founder of FotoKids. “That is the role of girls here, so we have to change that. We want to change that.”

Landesa’s Girls Project

In countries around the world, many women aren’t allowed to own their own land, which cripples their earning power and financial independence.

Courtesy of Landesa
The Girls Project empowers young girls in West Bengal, India to know their rights and develop a vision for the future.

Landesa’s Girls Project, which reached more than 48,000 girls in over 1,000 villages in West Bengal, India in its pilot phase, works to empower adolescent girls through education to understand their rights to own and inherit land. It’s a critical part of Landesa’s mission to secure land rights for the world’s poorest, including rural women.

“For these girls, when they become women, land will be the most important resource in their life,” said Melany Grout, manager of program operations for Landesa. “When a household has land, who benefits from it depends on who has rights to it.”

For these girls, when they become women, land will be the most important resource in their life.

Melany Grout, manager of program operations for Landesa

With the help of Bertini grant funds, Landesa will expand the Girls Project to reach 300 additional girls who live in communities experiencing significant challenges. Some have few schools, contributing to the fact that an estimated 2,700 girls, ages 11-18, are not attending school. Others put girls at risk for trafficking and report high early marriage rates.

Girls are exposed to hands-on practical training, forming bonds with their peers as they learn to garden on small plots of unused land and discover their rights. It’s the first step in a long-term process designed to give women more control over their future and change mindsets in parts of the world where gender discrimination is prevalent.

“When you think about a girl going from not knowing she has a right to inherit her own land to having that knowledge, just think about how necessary that step is in the path in her ability to own land,” Grout said.

Learn more about FotoKids and Landesa.