Elon professor receives Fulbright for research & teaching in Guatemala

Assistant Professor Carmen Mónico travels to the Central American nation next spring to assess a vocational training program aimed at creating work opportunities for youth who might instead emigrate elsewhere.

In early 2012, the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala started a vocational program for youth at risk of drug violence and poverty found to be “pushing” them out of their hometowns.

The university’s pilot project was supported with funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Young people from one of the most dangerous regions in Guatemala, who may have otherwise migrated unaccompanied to the United States because of their nation’s post-civil war strife, instead chose to study mechanics, informatics and tourism.

What wasn’t collected, however, was information about those students after they completed their training. Did the youth, who ranged in age from 15 to 18, return to their home community of Coban? Did they leave the country better prepared for work elsewhere? Who thrived and who didn’t, and for what reasons?

Elon University Assistant Professor Carmen Mónico has now been awarded a Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to help answer those questions, which may ultimately lead to new or expanded programs contributing to violence prevention and the creation of job opportunities for disenfranchised youth not only in Guatemala, but in other parts of the world facing migration crises.

Mónico will travel throughout Guatemala during the 2016 spring semester to interview students, their biological and host families, faculty and administrators at the Universidad del Valle’s Highland campus, and community leaders who first requested such a program. While conducting the research, Mónico also will develop training workshops and mentor students and faculty from that university and Elon engaged in the Fulbright project. She will analyze her findings upon her return to the United States in mid 2016 with a formal report to follow.

“I view this not only as a response to a critical global issue that we face in the Americas with unaccompanied minors and forced migration, but as a link to my teaching,” Mónico said. “We’re concerned with protecting our borders, but we don’t know why they’re migrating. Is there any support we can offer that would help them stay at home?”

The United States and countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are confronting a humanitarian crisis. “Between October 2013 and September 2014, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended a staggering 68,541 children who arrived in the United States without a parent—77 percent more than a year earlier and 330 percent more than during October 2010 to September 2011,” the Washington Office on Latin America advocacy group wrote in a report earlier this year. “Of these unaccompanied minors, 75 percent came from three violence-torn Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.” A United Nations report from 2014 documented testimonies of those in detention, who claim to be escaping the drug war and violence in Central America and face abuse in the hands of human traffickers.

The Southern border crisis is not over, Monico said. Unaccompanied minors resettled with families and guardians across the United States are putting pressure on the immigration, justice and social services systems, and those returned in increasing numbers are creating the same impact in their countries of origin. If data from the pilot program shows evidence of success, it may lead to additional education offerings for youth being deported from the United States and repatriated to Guatemala, and to those assisting youth in the child welfare system in Guatemala.

“What we need to do is create interest in healthy behaviors in Guatemala – continue your education, get a job, and be a healthy citizen instead of one who would be a strain on society,” Mónico said.

Vocational education is not the sole solution to addressing the humanitarian crisis, Mónico said, but along with the proper public and private coordination of violence prevention programs, and a combination of welfare and job creation programs, early intervention can incentivize youth to remain at home.

There are other North Carolina connections to Mónico’s work. The Research Triangle Institute in Raleigh coordinated the project at Universidad del Valle, in collaboration with the Centro de Estudios y Cooperación Internacional and other Guatemalan national partners. RTI is a nonprofit institute that provides research and technical services to governments and businesses in areas such as health and pharmaceuticals, education and training, and international development.

Administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of State, the Fulbright Scholar Program each year sends hundreds of U.S. faculty and professionals to more than 125 countries to lecture, research or participate in seminars, according to the program website. Approximately the same number of foreign faculty each year visits the United States through the program.

Mónico completed her doctoral dissertation at Virginia Commonwealth University on child protection and child welfare systems in Guatemala. Her research documented the experience of Guatemalan mothers whose children were stolen for the purposes of intercountry adoption using qualitative, constructivist and feminist approaches.

Her scholarship includes being a research fellow of the Center for New North Carolinians and a member of the Bioethics Committee of the Universidad del Valle of Guatemala. She also completed a year of academic exchange with the Women’s Institute at the Universidad of San Carlos de Guatemala when engaged in her dissertation research in that post-conflict country.

Mónico has earned academic awards from the Child Welfare Education and Support Program and the Council of Social Work Education’s Minority Fellowship Program. She also served as an Ambassadorial Research Scholar in Guatemala with support from the Rotary Foundation.

Prior to her academic career, as a senior consultant for the World Bank, Mónico monitored civil society involvement in World Bank-supported operations and conducted annual reviews of project and policy documents, with results published periodically.


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