Crossposted from UN Women.
It is 5 a.m. when the alarm clock rings at Thaiza Vitória da Silva’s home in Anchieta, a neighbourhood in northern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The sun hasn’t risen, but the 15-year-old handball player is already up and getting dressed. She walks to the bus station with her father Marcos and her little sister Thais Maria.
When the bus arrives, the two girls say goodbye to their father and start a one-hour ride to Santa Monica Educational Centre, a private school with a strong sport tradition. The sisters haven't always studied there. Thaiza started her formal education in a lower quality public school because her family couldn't afford a private education.
It was her outstanding performance as a handball player that earned her an athletic scholarship to study at Santa Monica. Inspired by Thaiza, her sister too plays handball and has been awarded a scholarship to study at Santa Monica. To keep the scholarship, Thaiza must maintain high grades in other subjects, in addition to being a good athlete. Thaiza enjoys the endeavors. “I’ve learned that being a leader is not about bossing around, but being able to become an example and listen to others,” she says.
After classes end for the day, Thaiza takes off to the Olympic Villa of Mato Alto in Jacarepaguá, a neighbourhood in the west of Rio de Janeiro. It is one of 22 public spaces with free sport facilities managed by the municipality.
From 3 to 5 p.m., she practices handball. Once a week she starts her training an hour late so she can join 20 other girl athletes to participate in the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ workshops. The workshops are part of a joint programme by UN Women and the International Olympic Committee in partnership with the organization Women Win.
The workshops offer a safe space for the girls to talk about gender inequalities, to work on their self-esteem and leadership skills, to learn about their bodies and health, to gain financial literacy and knowledge on how to access public services if they experience gender-based violence.
Myriam Romi, one of the 50 facilitators in the programme, says the workshops have helped Thaiza, who used to be a shy and introspective girl, to express herself with more confidence and build her own identity.
On the court, Thaiza has always been determined, focused and strong. She runs, jumps, laughs, shouts, insists on fairness from referees, and cheers her team on to victory. Through the programme, she is now expanding this energy to other areas of her life.
During the Torch Relay for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Thaiza has a very important duty. She’s excited to be carrying the torch representing the 400 girls currently participating in the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme. “There is a new path of opportunities opening in my life, in our lives,” she says.