11-year-old Angelina shares how her learning disability made her a better student and person.
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15 November 2018 | Volume 1, Issue 10
  A note from our editor:
11-year-old Canadian student Angelina Tropper’s essay for this issue is particularly close to my heart — her journey of discovering that she has a learning disability. As someone with a form of dyslexia, so much of Angelina’s story felt familiar to me. I wish I could have read her piece when I was a student grappling with my own similar challenges, but I’m so glad that through Assembly, her words will reach and help girls around the world.

Also in this issue, Phalonne Pierre and Philomène Joseph tell us about using photography to capture the strength and beauty of their communities in Haiti. We share a startling statistic about how girls around the world aren’t learning the skills they need to realise their ambitions. And Melanie Dantés, a 17-year-old student from Mexico, discusses what life is like for girls in her country and what needs to change.

I hope you learn as much from these young leaders as I did.

Student Essay
Before I knew about my learning disability, I was afraid of going to school.
  By Angelina Tropper
A couple of weeks ago one of my friends inspired me to come out and talk about my ADHD and learning disability. Before I kept my struggles to myself, because there are kids and teachers that judge too quickly. Some kids even bully. But my friend Callia told me about how she overcame some difficult times by writing the word courage on her arm to remind her to be strong. This is what inspired me to speak up about my learning disability.

Before I knew about my learning disability, I was afraid of going to school, because I didn’t want to get embarrassed when reading out loud or solving math problems at the board. I tried to hide it as much as I could. I believed that no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t be as good as the other kids in my class. Funnily enough, my grades were never that bad so my parents and teachers didn't really notice at the beginning.

I would get homework that was supposed to take me only 20 minutes but for me it took over two hours, especially math. I would just sit there not understanding anything. It was like I was stuck underneath a pile of rocks and couldn’t get out. It was especially hard when it came to reading out loud or copying from the board. For many students, it is probably the easiest thing to just copy something, but for me it isn’t. It is hard for me to focus on lines when I am reading and often I skip letters, words or even sentences. Some of my friends used to say that they could read a book in one day or a week. It took me many weeks or even months. That really frustrated me, especially because I LOVE books. I really love stories and telling stories.

I felt discouraged, embarrassed, different and left out because I always had to work harder than all my friends. It didn’t matter how hard I worked — it was never enough. At home, my parents were also starting to lose their patience and sometimes they didn’t believe me when I told them that I did study or read my homework. I would think to myself: "Why can’t I read a book that fast or do my homework that quickly? Why is it so hard for me to understand or remember things?” I was sad. I started not being able to sleep at night, getting anxious and having lots of attitude.

Read more.
Behind the Lens 
  By Omolara Uthman
In Philomène Joseph’s hometown of Gwo Mòn — a rural city in northern Haiti — there was a photographer named Mr. Antoine. “He was the only one in the community taking pictures and everyone knew who he was,” Philomène explains. She had an unwavering curiosity about Mr. Antoine and his pictures: “I wanted to document my community and what I see around me.”

Philomène moved to Zoranje, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, but didn’t let go of her fascination for photography. She started attending an after-school programme held by a local nonprofit called FotoKonbit. The organisation teaches Haitian students and adults to use photography to explore and represent their lives, ideas and communities.

Thanks to the FotoKonbit workshops, Philomène is now a published photographer. Philomène uses the money she makes from selling her photographs to pay for her high school tuition, which she says is “really expensive in Haiti.” She credits the organisation with her success: “Fotokonbit has taught me everything I know about photography.”

Through her images, Philomène aims to show the realities of her country while also highlighting its best attributes. “I am proud of my culture and I think it shows in my photographs,” she says. “I want my photographs to convey the pride I have for my country and the strength and uniqueness of my people.”

See more photos.
Did You Know?
Investment in education, better technology, gender equality: what this 17-year-old wants to see change in Mexico
  By Luzelena Escamilla
Melanie Dantés knows the potential of an educated girl. At 17, she already speaks five languages (Spanish, English, French, Chinese and German) and has won “Best Delegate” at several major Model U.N. conferences. But Melanie recognises that many girls in her home country of Mexico don’t have access to the same opportunities.

In Mexico, almost one in four girls will marry before her 18th birthday — often ending her education. Latin America is the only region in the world where rates of child marriage are increasing rather than decreasing. Melanie sees the direct impact of high crime rates, underfunding for education and poverty on her peers.

I spoke with Melanie about what life is like for girls in Mexico, her work to support students in her community and what she hopes to change about her country when she becomes a politician.

Luzelena Escamilla (LE): What barriers to education do girls face in your community in Mexico?
Melanie Dantés (MD):
In the public schools here, I see conditions that are shocking. Sometimes there's no toilet paper in the bathrooms or markers for the boards. It is the government's responsibility to create more access to education.

The crime rates here in Mexico are also really affecting the children. I have kids telling me, “I do not want to study. I want to be a narco because narcos have everything. They have a lot of money and they travel.” I do my best to try to make those thoughts go away and explain that with an education they can travel and have a lot of money. It is sad for me to hear the kids think like that. Yet, I know that it is the reality because they are always exposed to that kind of information.

(LE): What else is holding girls back in Mexico?
There is a high rate of teen pregnancy here in Mexico. I have seen this a lot. Girls who were my close friends and went to my school got pregnant and were forced to drop out.

Conservative ideas also hold girls back. For example, my grandmother is always asking me why I study a lot and travel. She thinks I should stay more at home and close to my family. I love travel because I am able to learn more. But here in Mexico, people believe girls should stay at home. There's a lot of people who still think that way. That is why education is so important — you must teach a girl that she is not limited because she is a woman.

Read more.
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  Assembly publishes original work by girls, for girls. And we would love to include your voice! Send us your ideas and you could be featured in the next issue.
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