Monica Garcia Lopez. She was tiny, could not have been more than twelve years old, and was clothed in the traditional Mayan dress. As she approached the stage and took the microphone I could sense anxiety in her movements as her mother, who was seated in the crowd gently nodded in encouragement.
Monica looked at the ground and stumbled over the first words of her obviously rehearsed speech. We were attending a huge town meeting and debate for the mayoral candidates of the municipality of Rabinal, Guatemala. This particular debate focused on the right to education for the youth of Rabinal and Guatemala. is a particular problem in Guatemala since many families, especially in rural areas, cannot afford to send their children to school, or need them to work in the home. Due to the machismo present here, it is most often girls that get left out of the opportunity to receive an education.
As Monica continued to speak, she raised her eyes to face the crowd and her confidence clearly swelled. She was speaking to her peers, adults, and most importantly the mayoral candidates that would be in charge of funds for schooling for girls like her. Her voice rose from barely above a shaky whisper to a full blown shout as she claimed her space and made her demands.
“We are here!” she shouted. “The youth of Rabinal are here, and we demand the right to an education! We demand the right to a childhood, the right to play and learn!” She then looked straight into the eyes of the candidates and said “and YOU are responsible! You are responsible for providing us with a childhood, and an education, and we are here to make sure you do!”
Goosebumps began to appear on my arms, and tears swelled in my eyes, as I saw a tiny girl, in rural Guatemala, fight for her rights and assert herself in front of powerful men that were 30, 40 even 50 years her senior. The youth of Rabinal are truly engaged and committed to participating in the democratic processes of their government, and I have been extremely impressed.
At the same time that I have been impressed, I have also felt ashamed. Where are the youth of the United States? Amongst the star-studded “Vote or Die” campaigns and the flashy public service announcements that blanket the American media, why is there not more participation in our country?
The first step to making a difference and making change is simply being there and being aware. While I may have been a little more involved than most young people, I am certainly not above reproach. All of this simply makes me wonder, if we were all like Monica Garcia Lopez, present and shouting our requests, demanding accountability, what would the United States, and in effect the world, look like?
What changes could we make? What peace and social justice could we demand? I only dare to hope that my generation will be able to look up from our cell phones, ipods, computer and and television screens long enough to realize what is happening around us and take advantage of our privileged positions not just for personal gain and enjoyment, but to truly make a difference in the world.
Posted By Abby Weil
Posted Jun 14th, 2007