Honoring our Fathers

Dr. Susana Arrechea - Doctor and Gender Trendsetter

Dr. Arrechea manages New Sun Road’s digital and remote energy access program in Guatemala. Her program connects over 1000 people to the internet with a focus on women’s leadership training and economic opportunity creation. 

Born in Guatemala City, Susana grew up in a close knit family in the suburb of San Juan Sacatepéquez. As a girl, she recalls her mom studying and working hard which meant that she spent a lot of time with her dad who was a local family doctor. The patients loved her dad, especially the indigenous population. Susana remembers how he charged less than 1 dollar per visit back then.

Young Susana was full of energy, curious and talkative. She remembers one afternoon, when her dad came home from the office with a magazine. On the cover was a photo of a doctor treating a pregnant woman. Susana pointed to the pregnant woman, proclaiming, “This, it’s me!” Her father looked deep into her eyes and said, “No, m’ija!, you can also be THE doctor.” Susan heard him and thought, “How could I do that?”

Susana recalls Mrs. Elsa, her math teacher, who was encouraging but demanding. She helped Susana realize that she was good at math and that she liked it. At 14, Susana won a scholarship to study science allowing her to enter university at 16 and study chemical engineering.

Despite her young age, Susana focused and worked hard. Unfortunately, during her studies, Susana’s dad fell seriously ill and passed away. With the support of her mom and her brother, Moncho, she kept going toward her dream of becoming a doctor. And after graduation, Susana received a scholarship to graduate school in Toledo, Spain. She chose nanotechnology, the study of very small things. Every day she wore a lab coat and researched new materials for solar energy and studied…..and she became Dr. Arrechea.

Susana’s adventures continued with a Fulbright scholarship working collaboratively across disciplines to bring solar power to communities without electricity. Based at the University of California at Berkeley, Susana traveled to Brazil and Ecuador. Then Susana returned to work in Guatemala as a scientist and professor. In 2017, Dr. Arrechea received the “Illustrious Guatemalan” Award for science and in 2020 she was awarded the OWSD Award – Elsevier Foundation for Young Women Scientists in the World in Developing.

Generous with her time, Susana began to tell her story to school children. For many girls, she realized that they often felt insecure or lacked the support of strong, encouraging role models like her father. Thus her goal to “motivate children to study science and technology” was inspired.

Susana no longer wears a lab coat but works with women and communities in rural Guatemala to bring solar energy and internet connectivity. Partnering across organizations, Susana builds programs where women and children learn to use computers and the internet, to study and to generate income. Her energy and example inspires girls and boys to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She was recently honored as a WSIS GenderTrendsetter (World Summit on the Information Society).

Dr. Arrechea is sharing her passion for possibility and technology with her daughter, Aya. She knows that Dr. Ramon, her dad, is smiling down, proud that she has become a doctor and role model, helping other women reach for their dreams and potential.

On this Father’s Day we honor those that support, foster and inspire us to become and be our best.

You can read more about Susana’s story in Spanish from the USAID book series entitled “Serie Mujeres Guatemaltecas Inspiradoras.

Download it here.