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June 1, 2002

Girl Power

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You're never too young to change the world. Marie Claire talked to girls who are crusading for what they believe in, starting their own organizations and making a difference.

Cindy, 12, president of Ecuador's Children's Government.

Mission: To create better opportunities for children living in poverty.

Twelve-year-old Cindy Espinoza is acutely aware of the poverty afflicting the children of the dusty shantytown where she lives in Ecuador.

"It's sad, but a lot of children in my neighborhood can't go to school," she says. "Their parents don't earn enough money, so they have to put their children to work."

So, two years ago, hoping to make some changes, Cindy ran for president of Ecuador's Children's Government, an initiative launched in 1996 by a UK-based nonprofit organization called Plan International. Her motivation was to encourage Ecuadoran children living in poverty to take action to improve their communities. Among the promises Cindy made as a candidate: literacy courses and a community house where the neighborhood children could study and play safely.

"Most children here don't get to do enough of either thing," she explains.

Apparently, Cindy hit on a need. In May of 1999, she was unanimously elected for a two-year term. As president, Cindy has already established a community center. She spends time there every day, helping kids with homework and setting up literacy courses for adults and sewing classes for unemployed mothers. She also launched a program to teach home health remedies to mothers who can't afford doctors.

Since being elected, Cindy has met the mayor of Guayaquil and has been interviewed several times by the local newspaper. Already, her dreams are beginning to come true.

Learn more about Cindy and the Ecuador's Children's Government at www.plan-international.org.

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