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Sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, pulsing nausea–the symptoms that mark a fear of public speaking are universal.
Four years ago, facing her audience in a newly built classroom, Lucia Yasaca Daquilema was trying to control her nerves. She took a deep breath and steadily looked the audience members in the eyes, just like her dad told her.
She had a speech to make.
If it went well, the 13-year-old would be the youngest member to join the inaugural Girls Club in her community of San Miguel. The age requirement was 15, and she was asking to be the exception.
At 10, Lucia suffered severe burns from the torso down. At first, she found walking too painful and rode on the back of her brother’s bike to get to school.
As her physical strength came back, her self-esteem did not.
“I was so afraid,” Lucia remembers. “I was so shy to talk to anyone.” The trauma had crippled her confidence.
When the Girls Club program came to her community in the mountains of Ecuador, Lucia’s father saw an opportunity for his youngest daughter.
The club is a WE Village initiative to keep girls in class. It teaches leadership skills while providing income opportunities to help families pay for school.
Lucia’s three older sisters never went to high school. As she shares, “The dream of my father is to have at least one of his daughters graduate.”
Lucia didn’t want to wait two years to join the club. But to be considered, she had to make a speech. “My father told me that I need to be strong,” she reflects. “That made me brave in the moment.”
Addressing her teachers, community leaders, and potential fellow Girls Club members, she said she would work together with the other girls. She was young, but she had already overcome more than most.
Lucia became a founding member. Four years on, she’s a club leader who confidently explains the group’s activities. She proudly details how to raise healthy guinea pigs–a high-protein staple of the region’s diet. She goes into the way to weave one of the beautiful cintas the girls fashionably sport in their hair. And, she easily rattles off financial facts from the group’s microcredit initiative.
As for talking about what Lucia sees as the largest benefit garnered from her experience with the Girls Club: her newfound confidence–the answer to her former fear of public speaking.
Lucia’s friends outside the Girls Club sometimes remind her of her younger, timid, self. She gets them to practice introducing themselves. A budding leader, she’s using her voice to help others find theirs.
Wanda O'Brien loves finding out people’s stories and learning from different cultures. A Canadian abroad, she’s worked on four continents.