Last year, Santina, 11, from Timor Leste, took over the position of her prime minister for a day. Now she’s determined to inspire girls across her country to become leaders.
Eleven-year-old Santina loves to learn. Which is ideal because one day she wants to be the prime minister of Timor-Leste.
In fact, when she first met the current PM as part of the #GirlsTakeover on International Day of the Girl 2018, that’s exactly what she told him.
Being in the presence of such a key decision maker, Santina, from the rural district of Aileu, had many questions for him.
“When I first met Prime Minister Taur I felt so excited. I asked him what I’d need to do to have his job one day.”
He told her she would have to study hard and read lots of books.
The only issue on the day was that Santina, who is under 4ft tall, struggled to find a suit that would fit her.
“Luckily Plan International helped me get one adjusted and resized just in time,” she says, laughing at the memory.
Encourage girls to take the lead
Santina believes that leaders should help girls become future decision-makers by creating policies that encourage girls and young women to participate.
“When I took over from the PM I felt important and powerful,” she says. And she wants other girls to have a chance at that feeling.
“One of the biggest challenging facing girls here is child marriage. A lot of my school friends in years 10 to 12 are already getting married.”
“I want my voice to be heard so that in future, we can prevent other girls getting married. So they too have the chance to be Prime Minister if they want to be.”
Santina is part of the Women’s and Girls’ Participation project which encourages girls to get involved in local politics so they can advocate for girls’ and women’s issues. It also helps broaden horizons for many young women.
“Having women chiefs is inspiring to girls and shows them they have different opportunities than they had previously thought. Before the project began there was only 1 female village chief. Now we have 9,” says Etha Mota programme manager for the Women and Girls’ Participation project.
Gaining confidence through experience
On International Day of the Girl, Santina spoke in front of hundreds of people, young and old, about the importance of the day of global #GirlsTakover action. When asked if she was scared she shrugs off the notion.
“I’m used to public speaking, I’ve been giving speeches with (Plan International partner) the Rural Youth Action for a long time,” she says breezily, a big smile spreading across her face.
She’s also involved in Plan International’s disaster risk reduction group and travels to other rural areas with Plan International to help young people learn how to get involved in local projects. All this in addition to her schooling.
Her family couldn’t be more proud.
“We are very excited because through programmes like this, our children can develop their capacity. So when they grow up they can further develop themselves and gain the skills to be leaders,” says her father, Domingus.
“It’s a different time now, I feel it’s very important to have girls participating, developing themselves, preparing themselves to be future leaders. It’s very important for this country that as well as men, women are leading the country.”
“We hope our daughter will carry on to represent our nation one day. And we believe she will!”
Determination and a winning smile
At their meeting, Santina asked the PM how many books she should be reading.
“He said I would need to read up to 4 a day!” She laughs but looks unfazed.
So infectious is Santina’s confidence and determination, we won’t be the least bit surprised if she achieves her dream of becoming Prime Minister.
This time in a suit that fits her perfectly.