Sofia Stafford with girls from Santa Maria Chiquimula in a Girl Up-supported program (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson)
"I know now that I can be a change agent, a force of change," Vivian, one of the many passionate, empowered young women we met today told us.
During the course of the day, we met with Mayan adolescent girls and their mothers in different communities in Totonicapan, Guatamala. These communities are often far from health clinics and secondary schools and are hard to reach even by car because of the terrain. The joint programs that Girl Up supports are the first programs in these communities dedicated to empowering adolescent girls and providing them with safe spaces.
Each community we visited has implemented a different type of program based on the needs of that community, but it is clear from all the girls we met that these programs are making an incredible impact on the lives of Mayan adolescents in Guatemala. These programs are helping girls understand the power of their actions, their rights, and the ability they have to be a leader and make a difference. While the change must come within them, the programs are giving the girls the tools they need to be empowered and empower those around them.
One of the many ideas that resonated with me today was how similar my passions and dreams are to those of the girls that we met. We both desire to have our voices heard and our opinions valued. We both seek acceptance and validation at a time in our life when we are searching for our purpose. Most of all, we both have visions of change and of hope for our future and for the future of our world.
I often talk about how Girl Up has given me a platform to use my voice. Being involved with Girl Up has given me the chance to stand up for my rights and the rights of other women around the world. What I realized after meeting with the young women is that these programs are doing the same thing for them as Girl Up has done for me. Programs like these are helping girls in Guatemala to be leaders in their community and the protagonists of their own stories.
The girls we met with today who have faced unimaginable violence and discrimination inspire me with their stories of courage, strength, and conviction. They do not label themselves as victims, but rather as fighters. They are not only fighters for themselves and for their rights, but also for young women in their communities.
What's their message to young women in the United States and around the world? These young women are urging us to hold hands and stand up for ourselves and for our sisters because together we can create a world in which girls and women are equal.