For my 21st birthday, I am in Brazil meeting girls and young women who have told me about the constant threats of violence, poverty and racism that disrupt their lives.
One of those girls is Paloma, an 11-year-old who lives in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Her favourite subject is mathematics — but going to school is difficult for girls who live in Brazil’s poorest communities.
Paloma’s neighbourhood is run by drug traffickers; violence is a part of her daily life. "We can be out of school for a week at a time because of shootings," Paloma said.
When this happens, she feels sad and afraid. Paloma wants to live in a place that's calm, where she is free to do what she enjoys — like singing or dancing.
Paloma and her ballet class joined me on a trip to Sugarloaf Mountain, a peak that overlooks the entire city. They showed me one of their dances — and I watched the determination in their faces.
I know Paloma has dreams as big as the mountain she danced on. I know because I had them, too. And I also know how the constant threat of violence can take those dreams away.
More than 1.5 million girls are out of school in Brazil because of poverty, racism and violence. But I have hope when I see brave girls like Paloma, who will do whatever it takes to continue her education because she knows it is her only chance for a better future.
I have one wish on my birthday: to show Paloma that she doesn’t have to fight alone. Help girls in Brazil and around the world by making a gift to Malala Fund today.
Photo courtesy of Luisa Dorr / Malala Fund