Empowering Female Leaders
I came back to volunteer with my program manager, who gave me the opportunity to be part of a girl’s empowerment group, which continues to shape my beliefs about the importance of empowering young girls.
I have always loved school, learning, and exploring. When I was fourteen years old, I, like many other immigrants, left my country of origin to pursue the American Dream. That meant learning English, graduating from college, and having a more safe and stable life for my future. My reality in Mexico was unstable, frequently moving schools and houses with many traumatic experiences. When my mom told me we were moving to Texas, I was excited, nervous, and ready to take on another unknown journey at a new school in a new country.
That fall, I embarked on a new journey as a Mexican immigrant student, starting as a high school freshman in a small town near Austin, Texas. I quickly realized that things were different in this country. I did not belong. I felt different from my classmates. I did not speak the language, nor did I know much about American culture other than what I saw in American movies.
Before finding Communities In Schools in my school, I felt alone and misunderstood, and faced bullying every day. At home, I did not have the emotional support I needed from my parents; they also were adapting to a new country and its complexity. I soon realized I was on my own, which helped me mature faster and encouraged me to seek out opportunities that could help me accomplish my goals. I had no option but to navigate a new culture, a new educational system and to focus my mind on schoolwork.
I was determined to learn English, so I learned it in a year and a half and worked hard to get the best grades possible. But at the end of my sophomore year I entered a relationship, and the focus I had on my schoolwork was redirected. This relationship brought self-doubt and led to a conflict with another young girl, which ultimately led me to CIS.
One day, the CIS program manager requested a conflict resolution meeting with the same girl so she could share her perspective. The day of the conflict resolution, the girl and I sat facing each other, with the program manager sitting between us, mediating. The room seemed empty and I felt vulnerable. As we moved forward, the program manager introduced herself and allowed us both the opportunity to express ourselves safely in this room. Though I felt uncomfortable, I found peace because I knew that the adult there had the best intentions for both of us. After the meeting ended, I was intrigued and curious that people like the program manager were present at my school. My curiosity about who this person was and what exactly was CIS led me where I am today.
That meeting helped me stop and reflect about my own problems and insecurities. I realized that I lacked support at home, was feeling anxious about standardized tests and overwhelmed about my college applications. I needed help and I didn’t have anyone to whom I could express all my worries. So I took a leap of faith and went back to ask how I could receive services.
The following year I started meeting weekly with my program manager. It was the best time I had in high school – these weekly meetings were insightful, and encouraging, and my program manager sparked a light that had been fading away. Everything that was going on at school and at home finally felt bearable with a support of a caring adult. She was consistent, she was intentional with her words, she believed in me, and helped me believe in my abilities to successfully go after my dreams, no matter where I was standing. For the first time in a long time, I felt valued and seen; I found strength to be myself again, I planned, I studied extra hard for my tests, I joined extracurricular activities and refocused my priorities on my goals to get a degree. With her encouragement and support for two years, I successfully graduated at the top of my class!
When I told my program manager that I was accepted to Texas State University, I asked her one question that changed my life: “So what did you study?” She told me social work, and her response helped cultivate the importance of helping others and being a light to kids like me.
I came back to volunteer with my program manager, who gave me the opportunity to be part of a girl’s empowerment group, which continues to shape my beliefs about the importance of empowering young girls. I became the first woman in my family to graduate from college and the first to travel the world when I joined the Peace Corps in Morocco, focusing on youth development. Today, I am proud to work for CIS of Central Texas, giving back to the community that believed in me from the beginning.
Looking back at that relationship I had in high school has helped me focused deeply on who I am and who I want to become. I believe that every experience and every person come to you to bring light to the world, and through those experiences and caring humans along the way we can embrace and own our story. And though it has not been easy to go after what I believe in – especially when it seems like life is not in your favor – I know I have God’s favor and a strong voice for others to find hope. I will continue to grow by embracing my vision where every child, every young girl no matter where they live or come from, can go to school and accomplish their dreams and ambitions.