My name is Nancy. I am 25 years old, and I am from San Marcos, Guatemala.
This is my story.
All my life, I have been a fighter. I feel it is the quality that defines me the most. Do you want to know why?
Since I was a child, I have always been a rebel. That’s what my mom used to tell me.
San Marcos is a humble place full of hardworking people, but with very few opportunities.
Most people dream of going to the United States and starting a new life. They migrate from a very young age. They only finish middle school and at the age of 14, they pack their bags and leave. Many die on the journey. Many forget where they come from. Almost everyone leaves never to return.
At my house, we were fighting to survive. Everything was always work and more work. Sometimes we didn’t see each other all day because we were always working. We ate without talking… we just felt so tired all the time.
But I wanted to study. My dream was to study international relations to travel the world, and to be a recognized athlete.
My family didn’t understand it. “Stop wasting time,” they told me, “it’s better to get a full-time job so you can help your family.” “Study is useless.” “Worry about learning to cook so that you get married soon.” “If you keep thinking like this, you will be frustrated all your life.”
I never let anyone take away my right to dream – despite the mockery of my colleagues, my family’s misunderstanding, doubts, and loneliness.
Nobody has been able to take away my smile and my desire to believe in myself. Although sometimes I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I keep walking.
The journey was difficult, but I never complained. I was determined to find my purpose in life.
At 17, I discovered boxing. I had the chance to see some exhibitions at school, so I decided to give it a try and sign up to receive proper training.
The feeling was indescribable! For the first time in my life, I felt completely free. I learned the limits and capabilities of my body. I learned to take hits and to get up. I learned that perseverance and discipline always make you improve. I got stronger physically and mentally.
The taunting became more intense. My family did not want to give me permission to train. And other young people yelled insults at me in the street.
“There goes the tomboy.” “Are you crazy? You’re going to get hurt. Boxing is for men.”
It was difficult for me to combine training with school and with my responsibilities at home. Sometimes I was so tired that I couldn’t even cry.
Many times, I thought about quitting boxing, but entering the ring and feeling that burst of energy was enough for me to keep going. All my worries, sorrows, and frustrations were left behind. There is nothing better than taking a hit and knowing that it is okay, that you are still alive, that you can get up and keep fighting.
Boxing taught me that I am a woman, and I am strong. That it doesn’t matter how many times I fall, as long as I’m willing to get up and keep fighting. Each hit is just a new lesson.
Little by little, I got to know other young people like me. More fighters.
We were concerned about our city. We saw many problems every day: poverty, gender-based violence, pollution… It hurt us a lot to see so many children and young people wanting to escape. It wasn’t fair to feel like we were living in a cage.
So, we decided to create an organization. We named it “Jóvenes por el Cambio” (Youth for Change) because that is exactly what we wanted: to transform our community, to improve it. To show everyone that we weren’t here just to shut up and obey. That we as young people had a lot to offer and contribute. And we deserved to be heard.
We only had the name and a dream. We had nothing else.
We started selling street food to raise funds and to do community engagement activities. We did a garbage collection media campaign, we conducted sex education workshops, and we did theater plays in the street to raise awareness about the rights of migrant communities. We taught boxing classes, primarily to empower girls and young people and to fight gender stereotypes, violence, and discrimination in and out of the ring.
Many young people became discouraged because they expected to see changes rapidly. Only some of us decided to keep dreaming. I was elected director at that time, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Little by little, other organizations began to approach – adults who just wanted to use us as tokens and tell us what to do. They just wanted to pretend they cared about youth, but they didn’t listen.
We continued to look for opportunities, and we managed to link up with organizations in Mexico and Guatemala that supported migrant communities. For the first time, we felt listened to and respected. Thanks to them, we learned new strategies and methodologies to inspire other young people.
One day, I received a call: “Hello, I am from Global Fund for Children, and I would like to meet your organization.” I thought it was a joke. We had no office or legal registration. We were just five young people who met every week in a garage to try to change the world, starting with our community.
We shared our hopes and dreams. And two months later, we received the good news: they were going to support our work! Having someone believe in us as young people and trust in our work was the boost we needed. Everything changed from then on.
Three years later, I still can’t believe how much we have grown. Now we are a team of 30 young people, we have traveled to Colombia and Mexico to meet more youth-led organizations, and we have our own offices and new support from foundations and from the local government. And we have developed new initiatives for girls and women so that they feel free and powerful.
And GFC continues to walk by our side. Their model is different because they care about us, and they do not seek only to teach us, but also to learn from us so we can grow together. They respect and even encourage our autonomy and our decisions. They listen.
I am about to finish two university degrees, and now I am a professional boxer. At Jóvenes por el Cambio, we are still growing and learning because, like my story, we have many more stories to tell and new lives to change.
I see myself in ten years as a boxing champion, studying a master’s degree, training, and inspiring many more boys, girls, and young people in the world to keep dreaming.
So that they become fighters, like me.
To other young people who feel lost and hopeless today, I promise you that you are not alone, and that you will always find someone willing to support your dreams. You just have to keep looking.
Remember that if you work with courage, rebellion, discipline, and humility, you will be truly free, you will be able to inspire others, and you will shine. Always shine, like the stars.
Let’s go for one more round. Never let your guard down. Get up, dust yourself off. And keep moving forward. Keep fighting.
Located in San Marcos, one of the poorest departments in Guatemala, Jóvenes por el Cambio uses sports as a platform to stimulate the community participation and activism of young people, especially women. Through boxing, art, and collective reflection, the organization seeks to confront gender-based violence and to promote dignified and rights-based migration.
Nancy’s story is part of Global Fund for Children’s Role Model Series, featuring inspiring young leaders who are standing up for children and youth rights around the world.
Header photo: Young people participating in a Jóvenes por el Cambio gardening activity. © Jóvenes por el Cambio
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
86-90 Paul Street
London EC2A 4NE