The right to safety and the importance of education
Organized a peace march against violence
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The impact of Mayra & KidsRights
Mayra grew up in one of the poorest favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. A favela is a Brazilian slum. The favela where Mayra grew up in was very violent, with many shootings between drug cartels and the local police, and children are forced to join the fight or become victims of the violence. This costs thousands of lives every year.
Most residents of the favelas have accepted the situation as it is, and do not believe that change is possible. Mayra disagrees. She was 11 years old when the favela become so dangerous that it could only be entered via armed checkpoints. This resulted in the forced closure of schools and clinics, as teachers and doctors who did not live in the slums were not allowed to enter anymore. Drug trafficking increased in the favela, and so did the presence of the heavily armed police. Most children could no longer go to school.
Mayra believes that everyone should play a role in improving human rights, especially the rights of children, as they are the future generation. Rich or poor, politician or farmer, man or woman, young or old - it doesn’t matter. We can and must stand up and make a difference for vulnerable children whose rights are neglected and whose lives are at stake. Every child has the right to a safe environment and every child should have the opportunity to go to school.
“Everybody has a part to play in improving human rights, in particular the rights of children as the future generation."
Mayra could also no longer go to school. However, she did not accept this. Together with her mother, she went to another school and successfully claimed her right to education.
When Mayra was 15 years old, she mobilized hundreds of young people to participate in a peace march against violence. Their immediate demand was that the violence needed stop around the schools, especially when children were walking to and from school.
This required great courage as the march ran directly past many armed police patrols. They got a lot of media attention. And what is even more important: it’s having an effect. Mayra is satisfied: "We got the gangs and the police to stop firing in the hours that children go to school and parents go to work. Children are entitled to an education."
A year later, when Mayra was 16, she organized a 'Walk for Peace' to make Brazilian society aware of the social exclusion of children from the favela and to protest against the extreme violence in these slums. More than 300 young people from Mayra’s slum participated in this march. The march was aimed both at changing the minds of those outside the favela, and at raising awareness among the inhabitants of the favela that change will only come when they claim it.
After this, Mayra regularly organized similar meetings that attracted hundreds of young people from the favela. In addition, Mayra joined the theater group Favela Força, which means Favela Power, that shows the powerful and positive culture of the favela population. She also worked on a documentary about life in the favela, which was broadcast by a number of international television stations. With this documentary, Mayra wanted to show the power of young people in the favela and emphasize what they can do instead of what they cannot do to make a difference. A message that Mayra strongly believes in.
"I will continue to fight until the last day of my life."
KidsRights supports Mayra in her fight against violence in the Brazilian slums, because despite the chances that she has outside of her favela, she does not want to leave her old neighborhood for a better world out there. She is convinced that her favela can become a better world itself, if people really believe in it and continue to claim their right to peace and education. Mayra is dedicated to achieve this. Through for example dance, music and theater, she reaches people in all walks of life with her message for peace and rights.
Mayra's message has certainly not gone unnoticed. Former president Balkende visited her during a trade mission to Brazil. She also spoke at the ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize in Paris, in front of all Nobel Peace Prize winners and world stars such as Bono and actress Penelope Cruz.
In 2009, Mayra was invited to speak about violence against girls at the United Nations Conference in New York. And in 2010 she gave a speech in South Africa, at the KidsRights Millennium Development Goals Conference.
KidsRights supported Mayra in her the fight against violence in the favela of Brazil with the Children's Peace Prize Project 2008. With regard to this theme, two local projects received (financial) support, namely: Favela Forca on tour and Vila Cruzeiro Online. Both projects help to prevent social exclusion of children in the slums. Favela Forca on Tour contributes in breaking the circle of deprivation, disadvantage and marginalization from which the children and young people in the favelas suffer. The message of the tour encouraged the young people to no longer accept deprivation and exclusion as an established fate and to stand up for their rights in peaceful ways.
With the Vila Cruzeiro Online project, young people from the favela have gained access to the digital world in order to get in touch with young people from other parts of society, as well as to have access to more information. This project was so successful that it was implemented in other favelas as well.
“We can and must stand up for these children, whose rights are being violated and whose lives are at risk.”