Mayra (20) is a Maya and she lives in a small village in the highlands of San Marcos. Once a shy girl she has now developed into a self-confident woman who stands up for her rights. “I feel like a leader now,” she says. Education is a powerful weapon.

Standing up for your native rights

Six years ago Mayra’s life changed radically. With the support of Mensen met een Missie she received a scholarship. Next to her study in social work at the university of Malacatan she is doing a special study in law. “Here I learn how we can defend our rights with the help of the law,” she tells us. “We learn about labour rights and about the rights that we as a native population have. Because we are still discriminated against. Not so much in the village we live in, everybody belongs to the Maya Mam here, but in a city like San Marcos. You are not taken seriously during meetings, to give an example. Through education we learn to appreciate our own knowledge and culture. I now have a far clearer view of my future and am not afraid to express my opinions. I feel like a leader now.”

The Maya are still being discriminated against. Often we are not taken seriously.

Poverty, domestic violence and drugs

Mayra says that she would like to do something for young people: “In my village there are many young people who suffer from poverty, domestic violence and drug abuse. Nowadays most young people go to school, but afterwards many of them cannot find a job. For the sake of money some of them end up on the wrong path, they start using drugs or steal. I would like to dedicate myself to helping them, to make them see a new future, just like I do now.”

Many young people end up on the wrong path because there are no jobs.

She herself has had to deal with a father who was an aggressive alcoholic. It could be so bad that she and her little brothers and sisters had to sleep in the maizefield. After her father had worked a few years in the United States and returned the situation improved. “Now we no longer quarrel when he has been drinking, but we try to show our love. He still drinks, but less than he used to and there is no more aggression.”

Young people are organising

Together with other young people Mayra organises activities in the village of Comitancillo. They plant trees, recycle waste etc. Apart from these youth groups there are groups in ten other villages where young people make efforts to improve their living conditions. They also cooperate with other young people on a local, a departmental, a national and even an international level.

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