CARE's work to bring education to the most marginalized
Ana Becomes a Leader
Ana Becomes a Leader
Ana Cecilia Cortez, 14, comes from humble beginnings. The ninth-grader is the youngest of five children and the only girl in a family that farms corn, vegetables and coffee. Her tight-knit family nearly broke apart a few years ago when their house caught fire. Ana’s father was severely burned and unable to work for several months. Teachers and other community members collected donations to help her family get through hard times.
According to Maria Guadalupe Benitez, the sub-director at Ana’s school, community support has become a part of life in the rural town of San Isidro. “People here support each other,” she says. “It’s something we teach kids at an early age.” Maria sponsors the student government at Miguel Paz Barahona school. And in June, Ana was elected student government president, getting 75 percent of the vote from the 404 of 507 students who cast a ballot.
Today after class, Ana leads a school improvement discussion with other student government members. They are forming six student committees on discipline, cleanliness, environment, sports, logistics and cultural activities. “I wanted to be president to really do something for my school and community,” says Ana, before heading to her next stop. Every afternoon Ana tutors 72-year-old Francisca Benitez, one of 155 illiterate adults in San Isidro. It’s another busy day for Ana. But that’s the way she likes it.
After a short walk from school down a dirt road, Ana arrives home and gives her mother, Cecilia, a hug. She plays with the dog, feeds the pig and does other chores before starting her homework. It’s clear that Cecilia is proud of her daughter. “If a person isn’t honest they can’t be a true leader. My daughter has the traits of a leader.” Cecilia mentions that Ana always had a 99.9 grade average at school but – giving her a look only a mother can give – says that it had dropped to 99.3 this year.
Ana was one of the girls from San Isidro who participated in the CARE art activity. “I learned to express myself by drawing,” she says. One painting she named My Dear Home. “It made me happy to draw my house. I love being with my family.” Another she calls The Future that I Await, because “I not only want peace for my community but also for the world.” Ana’s eyes water as she turns to her mother and adds, “I want to finish high school and help my parents because they’ve helped me so much.”
CARE originally helped build the school in San Isidro in 1976. As children, Cecilia and Maria attended school together there. Cecilia stopped at the sixth grade. Maria continued on. The school has since added seventh, eighth and ninth grade classes, more teachers and a kitchen where students and mothers like Cecilia work together to prepare nutritious lunches. CARE’s Educan program in San Isidro has improved classroom performance by training teachers and the health of families by teaching children and parents about good nutrition and hygiene. Educan has also helped families increase their income by forming microfinance groups and training them in business and marketing.
“There have been massive changes,” says Cecilia. “Before many students dropped out of school and now they stay. Today, women and girls have more opportunity than before.”
Ana exemplifies the success that all girls can attain. She came from poverty but through education and self-confidence she has become a leader, working to rise up and bring other youth – both girls and boys – with her.