If Maria was a Spice Girl, she would be sporty spice. She’s a keen surfer and football player and is currently studying dance. Her dream is to run her own dance studio and help children overcome trauma through dance. Like all the young ladies at Misión México she is talented, intelligent and highly motivated to build on the change she has seen in her life and become a successful young lady.
What strikes you most when you speak to Maria is her sheer determination to “be the best I can be in everything I do”. Her can-do attitude to life is mirrored on that of her sporting hero Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer, who lost an arm after being attacked by a shark.
“She showed women that, even when missing a part of ourselves, we can do amazing things, and that we deserve to be treated equally” – Maria
Maria’s call for change
Maria is adamant that things need to change for women all over the world. She tells how men can treat women as if we are cheaper when we are not. Being a woman in Mexico is tough.
Maria certainly speaks from experience. Her ‘womanhood’ was forced upon her far too early when, aged three, her mother died. At aged five, she was forced into domestic slavery by her family who sent her to live with a stranger after she experienced abuse. Maria bravely talks about her tough upbringing in an MTV documentary called “Invisible Slaves" where she tells her own story of abuse, neglect and poverty.
Thankfully, her life changed completely, when aged eight she found the courage to run away from where she was living and seek the help of a lady she often sold to. Once they believed her story she was referred to the social services and eventually came to Misión Mexico where “I had two parents who showed me what it was like to have unconditional love, and I had a big family to show me what it was like to be united”. This changed her life; she became proud of who she was.
For Maria, change needs to occur in every aspect of women’s lives in every corner of the world – they need greater access to education, to jobs, to political power, but perhaps most importantly, to hope, to safety and to acceptance. When I asked what advice, she had for young girls all over the world she told me “things need to change so that all women everywhere can be proud of who they are and are not scared of being women. They need to be who they really are, to be the very best they can be and to never give up”.
On International Women’s day, we often celebrate how concrete development initiatives such as education programmes, maternal health initiatives and micro finance projects change the lives of women and their communities as it is easy to evidence. What is more difficult to understand, yet just as important to consider, is how softer interventions such as how providing a young girl with community, safety and love can change her life immeasurably.
Maria and Misión Mexico
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