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How to Minimize The Risks to Which Adolescents are Exposed?

Through her social work, the lawyer Mariana Sanz reinforces the decision-making power of many vulnerable adolescents in the country about their bodies, sexuality, and life.

The Woman Post | María Consuelo Caicedo Toro

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A powerful 28-year-old woman has been leaving her mark in Colombia, intervening in vulnerable, remote populations, where the wind has left halos of ignorance that Mariana Sanz insists on deflecting to establish herself as an agent of education, information, and hope.

She is a lawyer from the Universidad de Los Andes, and her high social sensitivity led her to see other horizons: “Involved in volunteer scenarios, I quickly realized that true social justice in education, educating on rights, is a topic that everyone goes through us.”

Waving that flag, she got to know the program “Enseña por Colombia,” part of a network whose roots are in the United States. This is "Teach for all", which is joined by young professionals willing to teach in vulnerable areas. One of those young teachers is precisely Mariana Sanz.

So she arrived in Barú, south of Cartagena: "It is not the Barú that Colombians and tourists know, it is a vulnerable town without aqueduct or health and, of course, with minimal Internet access.” In short, a geographical space in Colombia, forgotten and abandoned where Sanz came to teach English and social subjects.

Ignorance in the Classroom

In this town that resembles so many others in Colombia and the world, most teenagers skip class because their menstruation is coming. Still, the worst thing is that the prevailing ignorance adds to the sad reality of the town, abundant cases of sexual violence and gender issues, premature pregnancies, and deep-seated machismo. "Nobody talked about these issues, that didn't let me sleep, and teaching English and social subjects lost meaning to me," recalls Mariana. It was more important to intervene in other instances; the Afro-Colombian girls from Barú had to know their basic rights and understand how their bodies and sexuality function.

Also read: Emotional Literacy Ensures Success

Although the school did not support her, Mariana managed to meet her students in non-school spaces and times; she brought them the menstrual cup as an excuse to talk about sexuality. The expectation was so great that the girls, eager for information, asked to increase the encounters.

The Powerful Ones are Born

This is how Baruleras Poderosas was born, whose initial number of 7 grew like foam: "The girls began to empower themselves, to walk differently, to intervene in class and the rates of teenage pregnancies between 2018 and 2019 fell by 76%." Mariana was right; an educated teenager sees life with different eyes.

The influence of this sensitive woman does not stop; she resigned from the Secretary of Education in the Mayor's Office of Bogotá because her experience in Barú had such an echo that "they began to call me from many other parts of the country to reply to the Poderosas.” This is how a social enterprise was born that is something to talk about now and will be the main theme for a long time, while Mariana continues to lead the way.

“I want this endeavor to be sustainable,” says the lawyer who teaches about sexual rights and whose work with Baruleras Poderosas has been recognized by the UN Population Fund as one of the best experiences of sex education outside of school.

Need Resources

To finance Las Poderosas, she turned the project into a Foundation, and take it to populations as vulnerable or more than Barú, Mariana Sanz has sold bags, T-shirts, and posters. Her will is made of iron, but without money, it is not easy. Even so, she closed the year 2020 with 1,151 young women to whom the information has reached them. Her projects will go this year to the departments of Chocó and Antioquia: "I will be training Poderosas mentors so that the echo of sexual education reaches all possible places in Colombia and, later, in the world.”

What do the Poderosas need? “Support, alliances, every penny adds up.  They call me from everywhere to teach a sex education course that I designed. I have the toolbox, but we need money”.

You Have to Talk About What Is Not Spoken

 Mariana Sanz, with her work, has changed the erroneous imaginations of many Colombian adolescents who, before meeting this woman with a solid social sense, “had incredible beliefs such as not being able to cook when they have menstruation for fear of making those who consume food sick; if they lose their virginity and press their navel they will avoid pregnancy. After having sexual intercourse, they should take a tree tomato juice without straining to avoid conceiving; men think that the condom affects their virility and girls jump 5 times on one foot and 5 times on the other to avoid getting pregnant."

The social cost of these beliefs for adolescents living in marginalized places is very high. There are pregnant women between the ages of 13 and 15 who are a breeding ground for becoming victims of machismo and domestic and social violence: “That is why it is important to educate them, to put an end to those absurd ideas that are born in their families and communities. After meeting me and informing them that they feel that they are showing their bodies, there are girls who have told me that they were blind, and now they see."

Through her social work, the lawyer Sanz reinforces the decision-making power of many adolescents about their body, sexuality, and life. "Talking about what is not talked about can change the world," she says. That is and will be her slogan to increase the number of Poderosas in Colombia and beyond its borders.

To learn more about Poderosas, Mariana Sanz is on Instagram as @marisanzdesantamaria and @poderosascolombia