1. Pursue an education – no matter what.
2. Help her community secure a clean, plentiful water supply.
3. Inspire other girls to stay in school and dream big.
Last year, at a gala charity dinner in São Paulo, Brazil, all eyes were on 16-year-old Sanmya. As the first girl in her Afro-Brazilian community to attend university, she took to the stage to tell 150 people the story of her inspiring, improbable journey.
Sanmya was born in Codó, a countryside community where securing water was a daily source of stress and struggle. The close-knit community of 120 families relied on cacimbas for their water supply. The word means “wells” in English, but Codó’s cacimba was more like a hole in the ground. The water from it wasn’t safe to drink, nor was it plentiful enough to meet the community’s daily needs.
From an early age, Sanmya had several responsibilities, including a long daily walk to the river to get clean water. She and her friends would then trek several kilometres to school and back home – where more chores awaited. It made for a long, exhausting day. When a young person in Codó gave up on school, it was easy to understand why.
But Sanmya knew that for her reality to change, she had to at least finish high school – no matter what.
Finding a path to a new life
The seeds of her determination were planted at age five, when she became a part of Plan International’s sponsorship program. In addition to being supported in her wish to stay in school, Sanmya was invited to participate in Rio+20 (a United Nations sustainability conference), the Girls Take Over movement and the women’s soccer project. Along the way, she exchanged letters with her sponsor in Germany.
“In that correspondence, I always found motivation to develop myself, to dream, to contribute and to help the community more and more,” recalls Sanmya, who chose journalism as her major in university.
Although she now lives and studies in the state of Piauí, Sanmya sits on the management committee of the Água, Saúde e Vida (Water, Health and Life) project, a program that tackles quality-of-life issues in Codó such as water supply, hygiene, education and violence prevention.
I hope to be able to apply everything I learn in school to help my community. I fight for girls to have a better life – one in which they are free from gender-based violence and can achieve more.
While her words are optimistic, Sanmya is candid about the mountain she faces ahead: “I carry the responsibility of being an example to my community, inspiring girls to believe that there is a possibility of opening a new path. I have a long way before me.”
HOW PLAN INTERNATIONAL HELPED
BY THE NUMBERS
- 85% of natural disasters in Brazil are caused by three types of events: Flash floods, landslides and prolonged drought.
- 35 million people in Brazil do not have access to drinking water.
- 100 million do not have sewage collection or treatment in their homes.
- 10% of young people dropped out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic.