With a greater understanding of her rights and an opportunity to occupy spaces of power generally reserved for men, Layza is realising her potential thanks to sponsorship through Plan International.

“I consider myself a very strong girl and now I can see the strength I have inside me. I just have to keep moving forward to get what I want.”

From a small, rural community in north eastern Brazil’s Maranhão state, 12-year-old Layza has grown up in a remote area that doesn’t offer much opportunity for a girl her age – there is only one primary school with no books or computers and if she decides to continue her studies, she’ll have to catch a bus to the city every day.

But Layza is grateful for all that she has, including the sense of community amongst her neighbours. “If you need something, my community collects some money and buys it. Everyone lives together, like a big family.”

Layza, 12, knows her rights and how to protect herself

With the support of Layza’s sponsors based here in Australia, Layza and the children in her community have also been able to take part in educational and cultural activities,  benefitting the whole community.

Layza’s first experience with Plan International was through our Cambalhotas (Somersaults in Portuguese) project where, through games and educational workshops, she learnt to understand her rights, to identify violence and abuse and to protect herself against it.

“This was a very important program for me,” Layza shares. “We played, we talked about bullying and abuse. Our trainer always says that we must protect ourselves, never get into a stranger’s car. I know how to protect myself.”

Discussions about gender equality have encouraged Layza to stand up for her rights. She now feels confident to tackle any bullying that she experiences, particularly when it comes to traditional gender roles.

“I like to play football with my friends, but the boys were always making fun of us, saying that football is not a girl’s sport. But I’ve learned that we should do whatever we like, that there is no such thing as a girl’s and a boy’s sport,” says Layza. “So, my friends and I continue to play. Let’s make them understand that we can do it, too.”

After graduating from the Cambalhotas program, Layza was invited to take part in the Brazilian equivalent of girls’ takeover, #GirlsOccupy, an annual event where girls around the world take over positions of leadership. She found herself in the role of governor for a day and it was a profound lesson for her. “More women need to conquer positions in these spaces, to represent us and show everyone that we have the strength and the courage to achieve whatever we want.”

Layza loves to receive letters from her sponsors – a Portuguese couple who now live here in Australia – and hopes she can meet them some day.

“They are very nice people, very friendly people. They ask me if I am studying, they participate in my life. It is very nice to receive care and attention from them as it motivates me to keep going,” she says, before adding, “Plan International has changed my life.”

When you sponsor a child through Plan International you’re supporting life-changing projects that are designed with children and their whole community. Find out more here.

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