Broadcasting hope to the next generation of indigenous girls

Alma and Sydney at lunch. (Courtesy of Alicia Vera / Malala Fund)

Alma and Sydney at lunch. (Courtesy of Alicia Vera / Malala Fund)

Alma and Sydney from Oaxaca, Mexico want to be the first of many.

“In my community, if one girl goes to school and fails in their studies, it is used as an example to show other girls why they should not even try to get an education,” says 15-year-old Sydney from Oaxaca, Mexico. While laws in Mexico grant every girl the right to go to school, education remains out of reach for many girls across the country—and particularly for girls in Oaxaca. Teenage girls, Sydney and Alma, are happy to have the opportunity to attend school, but they won’t be satisfied until every girl in Oaxaca is able to do the same.

When Sydney’s grandfather said her role as a girl was to cook and clean, she explained all the benefits of girls’ education until he agreed to let her attend class. Education is essential for Sydney because it’s a freedom the women in her life did not enjoy. Her grandmother married at 15 and never learned to read or write. Sydney hopes to complete her education and make the women in her family proud.

Living in a rural community forces 16-year-old Alma to walk over an hour to get to school. Before earning a scholarship, Alma cleaned houses alongside her mother to help pay for school fees. This seems daunting, but Alma is driven to attend classes and learn as much as possible from her teachers so she can build a more secure future for herself. She said, “My mother only went to school until fifth grade and now washes people’s clothes to survive — the money is often not enough. I think school is necessary to help me build a better life where we can afford our bread every day.”

On Malala’s latest Girl Power Trip stop, she met with Sydney and Alma to learn about their experiences with education and the barriers girls confront in their community of Oaxaca.

Sydney and Alma preparing a traditional Mexican cooking class. (Courtesy of Alicia Vera/Malala Fund)

Sydney and Alma preparing a traditional Mexican cooking class. (Courtesy of Alicia Vera/Malala Fund)

In Latin America, poverty and restrictive gender roles keep too many girls out of school. It’s the only region in the world where the rate of child marriage is rising. In Mexico specifically, almost half of all girls will not graduate from secondary school. Sydney and Alma told Malala how issues like early marriage, poverty and machismo culture keep girls they know from going to school.

In their community in Oaxaca, many people believe that girls aren’t capable of learning and should marry as early as possible. While poverty plays a major role in denying children access to education in their indigenous community, the presence of machismo culture influences families to choose sending their sons to school over their daughters. Both Sydney and Alma are taking leading roles in combatting such barriers by encouraging girls to raise their voices.

(Courtesy of Alicia Vera / Malala Fund)

(Courtesy of Alicia Vera / Malala Fund)

Sydney hopes more girls will recognize that women and girls can go to school, and be leaders in the workforce. They can also “buy their own house, be independent and successful.” To encourage more girls to advocate for themselves, Sydney speaks on a local radio programme called The Voice of Women. On the show, she talks about the importance of girls actively engaging their community in conversations about equality and education. Alma often joins Sydney on the radio to discuss one of the things she’s most passionate about — health. Interested in science, Alma wants to improve health conditions in marginalised communities.

Alma and Sydney have many days of homework and exams before their graduation from secondary school, but that’s not stopping the girls from making big plans for their futures. After graduating, Sydney aims to study medicine at university and become her town’s first paediatrician one day. Alma is considering either pursuing nursing, teaching or becoming the first female president of her municipality — all she knows for certain is that she wants to be in a position to give back to her town’s children.

These girls are breaking boundaries and leading the way for the next generation of girls in Oaxaca to follow. As the girls work toward completing their education, we can’t wait to see all that they will accomplish.



McKinley Tretler is communications manager at Malala Fund. She’s on the hunt for the perfect Oreo milkshake and to befriend Mindy Kaling.