Sold for a six pack

In the remote mountains of Mexico, Sister Margarita met a young girl, who was hiding from her father, after he tried to sell her to a man for a six pack of beer. Fearing for her safety, the girl and her mother pleaded with the Sisters for a place at school.

Two children leaning on top of a wall with a hole in it

"I saw one case that was unbelievable"

On International Women’s Day we focus on the vital work being done by the Sisters of Mary to provide freedom from poverty and an independent life for the world’s poorest girls. We talked to Sr Margarita, based in Mexico, about her work helping these girls and their desperate experiences that have most moved her.

She mentioned one poignant meeting with a girl called Ana* living in a desperate situation in an inaccessible part of the mountains in Puebla, Mexico.

When Sr Margarita asked Ana during their meeting if she had a father, she began to cry. She revealed that she was hiding from her father because she ran away after he tried to sell her into marriage – for a six pack of beer. Ana was not yet 12 years old.

Taking shelter with her uncle nearby, Ana managed to continue attending school, desperate to finish Grade Six. Her uncle would take her to school and if her father appeared at the school looking for her, her teacher would hide her to protect her.

*name changed

A girl and a nun holding hands walking the the street

Rescued and safe

The Sisters of Mary found out about Ana from her teacher and sought her out to help her. Her mother pleaded for the Sisters to give Ana a place at school, in Chalco, because she feared that her husband would one day find Ana and she did not know what he might do to her.

Ana herself said that she would run away, try to get away from her father and even attempt to reach the USA in a bid for freedom. Thanks to the Sisters, this was not necessary. Ana was offered a place at our school and came into the care of the Sisters a few months later, and she completed her secondary education in safety with the Sisters in Chalco Girlstown. She thrived in her studies and is now a teacher, helping other girls like her to receive an education and living free from a forced marriage and poverty.

Ana’s story is a harrowing reminder of the horrors that too many young girls face, the threat of early, forced marriage, violence, and the end to their education and freedom. The situation of young girls is not improving and far too many girls are still vulnerable, trapped in poverty with no route out.

Girls standing holding textbooks in a school hallway in Mexico Sisters of Mary school

"We can give dignity to the girls"

Not every girl is as fortunate as Ana to receive this kind of support. For every girl that the Sisters can help, there are dozens who we cannot bring to school. The girls in our programmes come from some of the most difficult situations – which makes the opportunity of a quality education and care all the more precious.

Every visit to impoverished communities reveals the depth of inequality that girls face.

From early childhood and throughout their lives girls are disadvantaged. Even basic education is a fight, with too many girls being denied even a primary education and the most basic knowledge – literacy, numeracy, the ability to read and write.

As Sister Margarita noted, in one public classroom in a small village, there were just 3 girls in a class of 21 children. Poverty and lack of opportunity are compounded by social expectations around gender roles. Education is not always the highest priority for girls and they are left behind, expected to keep house and marry young.

A girls holding a football outside with other girls in sports gear

Education is a dignifying experience

Poverty robs girls of dignity. Giving them an education and the chance to be independent restores dignity and allows them to discover their identity apart from the label of impoverishment. They have the opportunity to learn more about themselves, discover their talents and passions, and pursue a full life with more freedom and opportunity than their circumstances at birth allowed.

It is a revelation for the girls in our care. Sr Margarita reports that when they are given the opportunity of a place at school and the chance to excel at a variety of activities the girls are overjoyed, they tell her “I did not know that I can be good at computing” or “that I can also be a very good soccer player, because in my town only the boys play soccer”.

Providing equality of opportunity for girls to access education is empowering for them and the reason why the Sisters of Mary always start their programme in each country with a school for girls. They are more greatly disadvantaged than boys and in need of help. Consequently demand for places at our schools for girls has never been higher and we depend on the generosity of our supporters to meet this urgent need.

“We need people who can give them encouragement and let them feel their dignity.”

Sister Margarita
Giving girls dignity