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Avoiding violence on the way to school

Simple acts such as walking to school are dangerous for girls from São Luís, North East Brazil, where violence is ingrained in society. This series of photos shows how Larice, 18, avoids danger on her walk to school.

Larice, 18, from São Luís, Maranhão
Larice feels uncomfortable outside of her home and school.

“My name is Larice. I live in a dangerous community in São Luís, Maranhão, with my mother and my siblings. My dad often works away, but my mother does what she can to make sure we stay safe.

I am speaking out about violence against girls and women and fighting for equality

“Living in this kind of community can be oppressive. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel comfortable going out and if I invite anyone to my house, it raises suspicion as gangs who live here think I am inviting someone home from a rival gang.”

“Girls are more vulnerable in my community. You can’t walk alone or you might get attacked like my sister did. Women who walk alone are seen as easy prey, so it’s better to walk with a man. Once, my sister went to buy bread. My mother had a bad feeling and asked me to look for my sister. When I saw her, 2 men ran towards me with a gun, they were being followed by another group. I soon realised it was 2 gangs fighting each other. I felt so frightened, as I had nowhere to hide.

Larice packing her bag before school
Larice makes sure she doesn't pack valuables in her school bag.

“That’s why school is so important to me. It’s my only opportunity to get out and learn among the students. I don’t carry any valuables on my walk to school, I just put my notebooks and books in my bag. I don’t even carry my ID, as I am scared it might get stolen.

Larice leaving home
There are many potential risks on Larice's journey to school.

“Every day, I leave my home about 7am. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to school - I worry about it every day as I pass many dangerous places. When I leave home, I feel safe enough to walk with my cell phone in my hand, but once I reach the main road, I have to hide it.

“Before I join the main road, I slip my phone inside my trousers and hide it under my t-shirt. The road is busier here and there are more people passing by, so I don’t feel safe anymore.

Larice walking to school
Larice feels unsafe when walking along the main road.

“This is one of most dangerous spots on my journey to school. This is where my sister was robbed. She was walking with a group of girls and when they saw her, they said, “I know you have a phone – give me your phone, or I will shoot.” If a motorbike passes, I worry they might use it as an opportunity to attack me.

Larice points out a dangerous point on her walk to school
The woods provide an escape route for any potential attackers.

“The gangs usually escape into the woods after the attack. I walk past this spot every day and it’s always a nerve-wracking moment.

Larice arriving at school
Larice feels safe again once she arrives at school.

“After 30 minutes I arrive at school. Here, I learn a lot and take part in activities and projects run by Plan International Brazil. I’m even part of the Girl Leadership Project, where I am speaking out about violence against girls and women and fighting for equality. I always feel safe when I get to school, I really hope one day things will be different and I will no longer be afraid of my walk to school.”

Watch the video about Larice's journey to school