- Will Grant
- BBC News, La Tinta, Guatemala
Many die-hard Abba supporters don’t know this. But despite selling millions of records over more than four decades, their 1979 smash hit “Chiquitita” has never brought the Swedish supergroup a penny.
“We gave the copyright to Unicef,” its composer and founding member of Abba, told the BBC. Bjorn Ulvaeus.
“This has made a lot of money come in over the years because ‘Chiquitita’ has been heard, played many times, and they have been sold many records. So I’m very happy about that.”
Written for UNICEF’s Year of the Child, “Chiquitita” -which means “little girl” in Spanish- was also the first song Abba recorded in Spanish, becoming a great success in Latin America.
From the start, Bjorn Ulvaeus says it was clear to the band what they wanted the royalties to be used for.
“I think that the most urgent thing that can be done in this world is empower young women and girls. That would change our world,” she said.
“It’s very sad that there are cultures and religions around the world that just They don’t give girls the same opportunities. So from the beginning we told Unicef, that’s where we want our money to go.”
In an echoing room in the town of La Tinta in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala’s poorest region, a group of indigenous girls perform their own version of “little girl“translated into their native Mayan language, Q’eqchi‘.
Elementary-age girls attend health and self-esteem workshops run by the Association of Friends of Development and Peace (ADP), one of the oldest NGOs in Guatemala, funded with Abba song funds.
In the Central American nation, there is a chronic lack of sexual health education, especially in impoverished indigenous communities.
Last year, 346 girls aged 14 and under had babies in Alta Verapaz.
Many other girls under the age of 16 also had children.
One of them was Emma, although that is not her real name.
While cradling her six-month-old baby, Emma practices breathing exercises with one of ADP’s psychologists.
Victim of domestic abuse and rapehas received support in violence prevention and bodily autonomy from the ADP, as well as help for breastfeeding.
Speaking to me in Q’eqchi through a translator, Emma tells me that the family therapy he received with his parents and the emotional support they have helped her cope with a violent and forced start to motherhood.
“I’ve learned a lot about emotional control,” he explained.
“I feel stronger and more sure of myself. And I’m learning to take care of my baby,” she said, her child’s face covered by her mother’s shawl.
Emma’s story is common in Alta Verapaz.
So common, in fact, that her younger sister is also a teen mom for sexual abuse.
“Machismo is woven into Mayan culture,” said Leslie Pau Soto, one of the ADP child psychologists.
“Here is produced cardamom, coffee, cocoa, corn and beans, and the physical strength of men is highly valued while women are minimized and restricted to the home.”
submission to men
Generally, women are not allowed to study, Soto recounted, and those women who try are stigmatized.
Women are “always controlled and obey what men want“, he added, until men achieve total dominance over them.
The administration of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has been accused by critics of failing victims of domestic violence and rape.
Impunity is widespread: only one or two cases in a hundred result in the perpetrator being successfully prosecuted or sentenced.
In Alta Verapaz, the state has designated a single victim care psychologist for a population of several hundred thousand of people.
Her name is Annie Juarez.
“We have constant deficiencies,” he said, speaking in his old office in La Tinta.
He insisted that they were doing what they could with limited resources and spoke of a government website where victims can report abuse.
However, in the mountainous regions of Guatemala, there is often no internet coverage and many families are not computer literate.
For this reason, the ADP has built public information spaces in Q’eqchi’ and other Mayan languages for local radio.
Too send teams of social workers to communities remote locations to offer support to abused children and their families.
In the Salac Uno community, they have been working with Marta (not her real name), an eight year old girl who was sexually abused for an older child.
Some families reject the organizing approach, especially when the abuser lives inside the home.
However, Marta’s mother, Mrs. Lidia, is a teacher and thanked for the support after the girl’s school identified the abuse.
“The men have treated us so badly. But things are changing,” he said.
“They have to respect us. We know that We also have rights.”
In the 43 years since its release, royalties from “Chiquitita” have been used to address some of the more complex problems affecting Central America.
From extreme poverty and a generational culture of machismo to domestic violence and rape.
Even alcohol abuse among marginalized indigenous communities.
Along the way, it has also benefited countless “chiquititas” like Marta and Emma with significant support in their mother tongue.
Before traveling to Guatemala, I asked Bjorn Ulvaeus if he expected the song had such an enduring legacy when he wrote it.
“We never thought about longevity!” he laughed.
“We thought, ‘Well, I hope it’s a hit and plays a lot!’
“Not in my wildest dreams could I have expected success to last so long and make so much money.”
“Is the best legacy that anyone could leave.”
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.