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Gilda Temaj – San Francisco’s Latino Youth Leadership Awardee

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These days, it can feel like the news is all bad. It’s important to gain inspiration from the real stories of struggle and success in our communities. IFR is proud to share with you Gilda’s success story:

Growing up in Guatemala as the fifth of ten children, a 10-year old Gilda Temaj was often pulled out of school to care for her younger siblings. At home, she helped her mother clean, cook and babysit her brothers and sisters; she was taught that women belonged at home, caring for the men and children. Gilda often questioned this, asking why her mother always agreed with whatever her dad said. Her mother simply replied, “because that’s how things are.”

At 16, Gilda decided she wanted more out of life. Most importantly, she missed school. Against her parents’ wishes, she left the small town of Venecia, Guatemala in search of a better future in the United States. Gilda made her way to San Francisco to live with her older brother feeling scared, nervous and unsure of what life would be like in a different country. At the same time—and for the first time in a long time—she was happy.

Once she settled in, Gilda enrolled in high school. Education gaps and language barriers made her first two years of high school extremely challenging. Still, Gilda managed to learn English in one year. In fact, she’s been so committed to her studies that she currently holds a 3.9 grade point average! When asked how she did it, Gilda says that she accepted all the help she could get, including getting tutored every day after school, and then again at home.

As she grew more adept at English and her studies, Gilda realized that she also needed a space where she could express herself and build community. She joined Latinas Unidas, IFR’s group for young Latinas and overseen by IFR’s Program Coordinator Georgina Gutierrez. Latinas Unidas provided Gilda the support she needed to succeed; the group also empowered her to help others with their homework and pursue their goals.

All this time, Gilda’s teachers and peers took note of her academic success and community leadership success, despite living so far from her parents. In her junior year, she was nominated for the 2016 Koshland Young Leader Awards, earning a $7,000 scholarship for college. Recognizing Gilda’s will to succeed, Georgina nominated her for San Francisco’s Latino Youth Leadership Award. In October 2016, Gilda won the award.

On the day IFR interviewed her, Gilda also learned that she’d just she won the 2016 Good Tiding Community Service Scholarship for $10,000 for college. Expecting to graduate in May 2017, Gilda has been long working on college applications, and is taking Biology and Science courses this semester at City College of San Francisco. Gilda plans to apply to several four-year colleges where she plans to major in Biology.

Today, Gilda and her family have mended fences. Her parents are proud of her accomplishments, and supportive of her future goals. Gilda encourages young Latina immigrants like herself not take for granted the opportunities available in this country:

You came to this country for a reason. Be mature, make the most of every situation, and be thankful for the support you receive. You can’t always expect things to be easy or turn out as expected, but never stop pursuing your goals and desires.”

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