From a rural town in the Caaguazú department of Paraguay, around 230 kilometers from the capital, Milagros’s struggle to complete her secondary education is testament to her positive attitude and resolve to not let her disability hold her back in life.
Discrimination and stigmatisation are a constant presence for people with disabilities in Paraguay. Throughout her life, Milagros has faced prejudice from other children, teachers, and even her own family. “They hurt me, made me cry. Even my own family made me cry,” she recounts. However, her mother is her biggest supporter and together they fight every day for Milagros’ right to education, overcoming all the obstacles in their path.
Despite the barriers imposed by the lack of infrastructure and inclusive policies, Milagros was able to complete her secondary education in 2023 and holds onto the hope that she can fulfill her dream of becoming a police officer.
In addition to her motor disability, Milagros also has epilepsy and depends on the support of non-governmental organisations to obtain the vital medication she needs. “My medications are not accessible in my community,” Milagros emphasises, highlighting the challenges faced by many people in her situation.
Education in need
“Going to school was a daily challenge,” she mentions. The motorcycle, the only available means of transportation, was driven by her mother, who made 2 trips at the start of the school day: the first one carrying Milagros and the second one carrying the wheelchair. At the end of the day, the routine repeated to return home.
In Paraguay, 1 in every 4 children are out of school according to data from a study carried out by the Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) and UNICEF. While the government provides public education, many children are not able to attend because their families need them to bring in extra income, there are no schools in their area or the cost of uniforms, textbooks and supplies is simply too much.
As the dropout rate is higher in rural than urban areas, this makes Milagros’ academic success even more remarkable.
Finding support through the Flowers of Steel (Flores de Acero) leadership school set up by Plan International in her town, Milagros has set her sights on becoming a police officer.
The girls’ leadership project aims to enhance the leadership skills of girls, adolescents, and young people living in rural areas, helping them bring about positive change in their own communities.
Since the project’s implementation in 2021, more than 600 girls have taken part in the training programme. The name of the school,
‘Flores de Acero’, was chosen by the girls themselves to highlight their strength, resilience and defiance in the face of the gender imbalances they encounter every day.
Despite all the difficulties that Milagros faces, she keeps alive her aspiration to become a police officer, with the desire to serve in the police station of her own community, close to her loved ones.