Watch 12-year-old Leticia. Today, you’ll see her sitting in her classroom at school. If you’re quiet, you’ll hear the scribble of pencils, the creak of a chair, a sneeze. The teacher calls for attention, and the writing stops. She asks her students a question, and Leticia raises her hand. She sits a little straighter, shoulders back, and confidently answers. The teacher nods, smiles, and continues. Later in the day, you will see Leticia at lunch, laughing shyly and talking with her friends. She might touch her cheek and giggle as the girlfriends, huddled, compare notes on the boys they like. At recess, you will see her playing, singing, and enjoying a breeze that tickles across her, ruffling her clothes.
What you are witnessing is Leticia blossoming, the petals of her soul unfolding, slowly, beautifully. Not long ago, you might not have recognized her. Painfully shy and withdrawn, her self-esteem withered on the vine. She was the kind of girl made fidgety by her own existence, uncomfortable in her skin, and absolutely positive that others saw her in the same unflattering light. Born with serious back and vision disabilities, as of yet undiagnosed, Leticia faces ridicule and prejudice in the favela. She lives in a crammed, rickety structure with her mom, younger sister, aunt, and cousin. Her father is out of the picture—long gone. When she came to the MORE Project, this girl who dreams of being a teacher felt she had already lost at life. Now, as her grades begin to soar, along with her confidence, she is beginning to believe in herself at last. And that is her victory.