Communities throughout the world are filled with intelligent, insightful girls using their education to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, there are still 62 million girls who may never have the chance to set foot in a classroom.
Thankfully Angela Ramos-Santodomingo is not one of those girls.
On the surface, Angela had the odds stacked against her from the start. She is the daughter of a single mother living in Santa Marta, Colombia, a city where nearly 30% of the population lives in poverty. But Angela is one of the lucky ones. Because of her mother’s commitment to education, Angela had the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the country and has known the value of education from the start.
“All my life I’ve been aware of my privilege. When I hear that other girls in different parts of the world can’t go to school like I do, it makes me feel like I owe them something,” Angela says.
Every day, she witnesses the struggles girls face to receiving an education. In her community, girls as young as seven are forced and sold into prostitution by their parents. Child prostitution lends itself to numerous issues for young girls such as drug addiction and low self esteem. The need for an education becomes an afterthought for these girls as they simply fight to survive.
“My mom always told me, “your life isn’t worth it if you don’t help people,” Angela says, crediting her giving spirit to her mother’s outlook on life.
So she decided to take action.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Why do you care about school when you’re just going to get married and have children,’” Angela says. “A lot of girls [in my community] don’t go to school because their parents do not think it’s useful for girls.”
Unfortunately, when their community believes that girls have little value, the girls buy into these thoughts and stop caring about their education.
“The girls struggle with the perception that if you go to school, it’s going to be for nothing. because everything is written for a girl so they don’t value education even if they have one,” she says.
It’s troubling for Angela to see that others think that boys can get something out of an education, but that girls cannot.
Angela’s journey to help girls in her community began with visiting local schools. She was shocked to see the mass differences between her school and others in Santa Marta. Girls as young as 12 were pregnant. The schools did not have restrooms. The girls lacked even a basic knowledge of key subjects.
Her frustration with these conditions fueled her determination to offer girls a better experience and make them feel like they deserved the best.
“I was once asked a girl what was her biggest dream and she said ‘I don’t have dreams because girls like me are not allowed to dream,’” Angela says.
So Angela, with a women’s group called Protecho, began to mentor 70 students. She identified the areas where the girls lacked basic knowledge and helped build a curriculum for them. She welcomes girls into her home, where she gives them English lessons as well as art and pop culture courses. Angela has also provided therapy sessions with a psychologist for girls going through personal issues.
Part of what motivates Angela is her own experience with gender inequality. “I wanted to be a school president and the boys in my school said a girl couldn’t become president, so I [decided to run anyway] and won the election.”
Angela is working hard to defeat every stereotype perpetuated onto girls and help both girls, and their communities, to see just how much these girls can achieve.
She already has a plan.
Several of the girls Angela has mentored are now in college. Angela will continue to help change the mindset that girls have about their right to an education. And she will also inspire them to create change for others.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, race, family life, just know that if you have an education, you can make a change in other people’s life,” she says. “To make a difference all you have to have is passion and determination and willingness to help others.”