Laura’s mother did not have an easy upbringing in El Salvador. Growing up, her family was not financially stable, which only worsened when her father passed away at a young age. At the age of 12, the mother dropped out of school and was forced to marry to avoid having to serve in the Salvadoran Civil War.
Despite the challenges, she hopes that her 17 year old daughter, Laura, will experience a much happier and stable childhood, living in a safe community and have the means to continue with her education.
“I feel motivated to show her that our lives can be better,” says Laura, as she smiles at her mother. “Studying is important. I don’t want her to end up like me, selling tortillas,” her mother says in response.
Laura became involved with ADESCO (the government-led association for community development) when she was just 7 years old; leadership and activism was in her blood, even from a young age.
Laura’s group arranges trainings for young girls on topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their right to a life free from violence and danger. For many years, Laura helped making radio and video content related to these topics, so that she could raise awareness amongst her peers.
“When I was young, I was very timid. We did not go out much because of that,” says Laura. “Then I joined the group and learned how to share my opinions about child rights through film and radio.”
“I know the government puts laws in place, but people do not know anything about these laws. We are getting informed, and through our training we are acting like gatekeepers, working to educate others and ensure they know their rights,” says Laura.
“Being allowed to share my opinion and express myself in my community makes me feel free,” says Laura, “but we also have to ensure that parents are involved and familiar with our rights.”
“Parents won’t speak to children about sexual and reproductive health, even though pregnancy and marriage is a big issue in our community. Parents think that if they speak to their children about these topics, then the children and youth will immediately want to have sex,” Laura explains.
Amongst her peers, Laura does speak about the challenges that girls face in El Salvador, “If we dress nicely, people think it’s so we can be provoked, like we’re asking for it.”
“I know the government puts laws in place, but people do not know anything about these laws.”
“When we are getting dressed, we have to think ahead and say, ‘If I wear this, will I get harassed or cat called?’ so most of the time we choose to dress conservatively,” Laura explains.
Laura adds that this level of harassment keeps many girls in her neighborhood at home, afraid to go to public spaces. “We want to go to other places, but we feel vulnerable about what could happen.”
In addition to learning about her rights and feeling safer and more confident amongst her peers, Laura is learning new skills that she is passing on to her mother. I learn a lot from my daughter,” says the mother. “I was very curious as a child, but all I was allowed to do was artisanal work,” the mother says. “I thought that women had no value.”
“When I was 12 years old, I told my grandfather that I wanted to work and prove to everyone that I could do anything a man could do,” says the mother. “Then one time I heard my grandfather say he was tired and that he needed muscles to help him with his labor work.”
“I told him that he should let me help, and he said ´what are you going to do? Cook frijoles and tend to the garden’?” “I was determined to work, and eventually he gave in. I did not earn any money for my work while I did landscaping, but eventually I gained enough experience to get a job that paid a small amount,” says the mother.
“I worked as an electrician, plumber and carpenter for nearly 10 years. Then I learned how to make money through my cooking. I always thought, ‘what’s the point of going to school’?” she continues and looks at Laura.
“I go to school! I learned to read and write. I want to save money in order to go to medical school,” adds Laura.
“My mother has asthma, and almost died once because she did not have an inhaler. We didn’t think she was going to make it,” says Laura. “I want to become a doctor so that so that I can help my mother when she is ill.”