Sheyla has the kind of energy and contagious optimism that makes you mirror her wide smile when you meet her. At just 12 years old, she’s already seen and experienced the challenges of her community – and she’s taking up the fight to change the status quo.
Life isn’t easy in Guatemala, and for girls, it’s even harder. Almost one-third of young women are married or partnered before they are 18 and seven in every 100 girls have babies while they are still teenagers. Violence against women and girls is rife, with more than 12,500 women reporting sexual assault or rape last year, and over 82,800 reports of violence against women and children. Education levels are low, with only four out of every 10 secondary school-aged girls enrolled, and so the cycle continues.
It would be easy to think the obstacles a girl like Sheyla faces are too overwhelming to overcome. But child sponsorship is empowering her, and thousands like her, to fight for change.
“Girls are not respected, and they are put down,” says Sheyla. “But I have learned about our rights: the right to have an identity and education.”
Child sponsors are partnering with communities across Guatemala, including Sheyla’s Aguacatán community, to run children’s groups where kids learn their rights and campaign to have those rights met.
Armed with this knowledge and a bold vision for her community’s future, Sheyla is now President of the Network of Sowers of Hope and leads her children’s group to campaign for changes in the community that improve life for children.
“We have worked on recycling projects, art, and reading. I have also worked on technology projects and improvements to the facilities of schools and parks. These are dreams that children can communicate to adults and that we can achieve as a community,” says Sheyla.
Sheyla’s group isn’t just talking – they are getting things done. She has even met with Guatemala’s Vice President to present the needs of their community.
“We have identified the need to have a health centre. We talked with the community leaders and now the construction of the health centre is beginning.”
The health centre will benefit more than 400 families in the community, providing better access to quality health care and medicine.
Sheyla says the first step to making a change is to speak up – and to join with others to make the community’s voice heard.
“I have learned to fight for my family to get ahead, as well as my country and community,” says Sheyla. “I would like my community to have better services and better housing. It’s important to give talks to friends so that their voices are heard.”
Right now, girls all over the world are being forced into violent realities like child marriage, child labour, and abuse.
You can fight for their rights