Why the Right to an Education is #1
As human beings, we tend to think that a change is not always good or beneficial -- that it is scary and unpredictable. For me, I think change is necessary.
I am from Guatemala, a country in Central America that is marginalized and often called a “Third World Country,” because of poverty, corruption, and gender inequality. I’m not sure why we call them Third World Countries, though, because in fact they are countries in progress, seeking common benefit.
Guatemala is still affected by the bloody civil war that happened during the 1960s and lasted through the 1990s. More than 200,000 mostly indigenous people were killed and more than half a million were driven from their homes, and many more were raped and tortured. Indigenous people had a hard time using their land, and they had no way to protect themselves from government forces. Everyone feared for their lives -- and so hardly anyone allowed their children to venture to school.
This history put my life on a certain trajectory: My family is indigenous, and both of my parents were born just before or during the war. Due to their overwhelming fear, my grandparents never sent my father to school, and similarly, my mother was only able to complete a few years of primary school before her parents also decided to keep her home, where she could be safe.
Among my generation, girls are kept from school for all kinds of reasons. Even after the war, people were afraid, but this time, they were afraid of change. They wanted to hold on to traditional ways of life, and that included ensuring that girls would fulfil the roles of wife and mother. And so even as the boys began to return to school, girls were expected to stay at home and help with the chores. Many families didn’t see the point in sending their girls to high school -- and they certainly didn’t send them to university, far away in a city where their daughters would have to live on their own.
For a long time, I worried that I too would need to leave school before graduation. Our family lives far from the nearest secondary school, and I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to make the journey on my own, or whether we could afford the cost. But I was one of the lucky ones: I met an organization called MAIA, which set up girls with mentors and paid for their school fees with support from She’s the First. Soon I was not only enrolling in high school, but they had gotten me a placement at an international school where I would go on to learn English, French, and from where I would graduate in 2018.
What changed my trajectory was my education.
Now that I’m older, I compare my life to my parents ́ lives and I can clearly see why the right to be educated is so important for everyone in the world. Sadly, not everyone is given access to education. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), only 1% out of 500,000 indigenous girls have access to higher education. I am fortunate to be part of that 1%.
Because I am indigenous, many people are surprised when they learn I am studying microbiology in university. In my community and in many other rural areas, I have seen that there are many other girls with potential and the desire for an education. My dream is for everyone to experience their right to education, and that is why I am an advocate for girls ́ rights and joined the Global Girls Panel to ratify the Global Girls’ Bill of Rights, spearheaded by She’s the First, MAIA, and Akili Dada in Kenya.
The Global Girls Panel is a group of 15 girls from around the world. We applied for and were accepted to the position in order to finalize submissions from more than 1,000 girls around the world -- in 34 countries. We worked together over the span of a week to vote on final rights, to decide the best ways to phrase ideas, and to represent girls everywhere in declaring that we want our voices to be part of the conversation. We want the world to know that we have rights, and we deserve for them to be fully respected. The right to education was the top right, as voted on by girls everywhere and ratified by our panel.
For me, the right to an education is where it all begins. Being a girl with an education gives me the opportunity to speak up for others, and I imagine if more girls are educated, we surely will make an impact and get the half million indigenous girls of Guatemala through the gates of university and into bright futures.
Malala said, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” I can see that this is true, because I believe that the other educated girls want to change the world for the better just like me. Education is powerful; it allows every human being to give their best, to strengthen their skills to become leaders, and to work collaboratively together. Education means that you’re never left behind or forgotten. With education, we never have to fear change; we can embrace it.
Angélica is a recent graduate from MAIA Impact in Guatemala, with support from She's the First. She was also part of the Global Girls Panel, a group of young women who voted on and ratified the Top 10 submissions for the Girls' Bill of Rights."