by Milsa Sajvin
When I was seven years old, I began to work selling bracelets on the street with my older brother. Maybe we sold to you or someone you know in Panajachel?
My mother stayed in our home to cook, clean, and care for my younger brother and sister. During the night, she would stay awake to weave. My father had a problem: alcohol. He drank too much and didn’t support us.
My parents separated many times during my childhood because of my father’s drinking, but my mother always fought for us. She worked hard so that we would be able to study. A time came when my mother was desperate. She had nothing to give us, and my father still wasn’t supporting her or our family. She told me I would only be able to finish 6th grade because all of our resources needed to go towards supporting my oldest brother so that he could complete his studies. So that was that. I was going to drop out of school after 6th grade like so many girls do in my community. But then a miracle happened.
One afternoon, while my mom and I were selling goods on the street, my mom watched a car park and a woman get out. It was Norma. My mom knew Norma, and so we went to greet her. While she and my mom were talking, Norma told us about MAIA and the work she was doing to support young girls like me to stay in school, realize our potential, and become leaders.
A little while later, some mentors from MAIA came to visit me and my family at our home. For that reason, I am here today. MAIA changed my life and my family.
Through MAIA, I was able to continue studying past 6th grade, and every month MAIA mentors visited my family and me for a home visit. Mentors led conversations with my family to be sure that my parents were supporting me with my studies. With the support of my mentor, I gained the confidence I needed to use my voice in important spaces and within my family. MAIA taught us a lot about how to communicate well as a family, and thanks to all of the hard work and conversations that we had, my father stopped drinking.
In June of this year, I graduated from an international private school and started interning with MAIA to lead tours at the Impact School. My dream is to start studying tourism in university this January so that I can become a tour guide. I love to meet new people and share my culture, traditions, and community with them. With MAIA, I am developing cultural tours to showcase where Girl Pioneers come from and everything that we are achieving. I want to show my parents and my community that I am a woman, that I have dreams, and that I can achieve many things in my life. I want to create positive change in my community. I know it will be difficult, but I believe in myself, so I know that it is possible. I want to bring joy to my parents, especially to my mother, who has shown me what it means to be a strong woman.
For all of this, I want to thank MAIA and each one of you for supporting me and all the Girl Pioneers so that we have opportunities to continue studying and to find our voices.