Meet the future prime minister

By Allison McCrave
November 8, 2019

There are some things you never forget.

Your first public speaking experience is one of them. Standing on stage, staring out at a sea of hundreds of people, all waiting for you to speak. Talk about a lot of pressure.

Now imagine doing all that at 11 years old.

Terrifying, right?

Not if you’re Santina. She may be young, but she’s already an old pro at this. A natural-born leader, Santina is a member of Plan’s Disaster Relief and Risk Reduction group, as well as a Women and Girls’ Participation project in her village. She regularly travels around rural Timor-Leste with Plan, advocating for girls’ rights and helping more young people get involved.

So, for Santina, delivering a speech to a large crowd at an International Day of the Girl event was a piece of cake. When asked if she’s nervous, she just grins, dimples creasing her cheeks. “I’m used to public speaking!”

In fact, that wasn’t even the most exciting thing Santina had done that day. Because that was also the day she became Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.

Well, for a little while anyway.

Santina, along with more than a thousand girls in 68 countries, participated in Plan’s Girls Takeover Campaign on October 11, 2018. Officially declared by the United Nations in 2011, International Day of the Girl promotes gender equality, while increasing awareness of barriers preventing millions of girls from reaching their full potential.

Girls Takeover — a global one-day campaign celebrating International Day of the Girl — is empowering girls to be leaders, giving them a platform to make their voices heard. Around the globe, girls step into the shoes of CEOs, mayors, presidents and, in Santina’s case, prime ministers.

That’s how Santina found herself standing face to face with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak. Sort of. Not quite four feet tall, she barely reached the prime minister’s shoulders. But looking up at one of the most important leaders in her country, a man who literally towered over her, Santina wasn’t intimidated. She was excited.

“I felt very happy to speak to the prime minister because I could tell him how I felt,” she explains. “I think the prime minister should take care of girls and fight child marriage.”

Santina didn’t hesitate to share her concerns. After all, she’s seen firsthand the effects of child marriage on girls in her own community. Often, they are forced to drop out of school after they marry to start a family.

Girls who marry young face a higher risk of domestic violence, and complications of pregnancy is one of the leading causes of death for young women ages 15 to 19 worldwide. Research clearly demonstrates that educated women are healthier, earn more income, have fewer children, marry later and are better able to provide for their children in the future.

“When I took over for the prime minister I felt important and powerful,” Santina explains. She wants more girls to experience that same feeling.

Santina’s confidence is infectious. And unlike many girls in Timor-Leste, she was fortunate to be raised by parents who encouraged her to dream big.

“It’s a very different time now,” her father, Domingus, says. “I feel it’s very important to have girls participating, developing themselves, preparing themselves to be future leaders.”

It’s a good thing Santina is so comfortable with public speaking; it looks like there will be many more speeches in her future.

“I now want to be prime minister!” she declares, her face lighting up with a huge grin. “I want my voice to be heard.”

And she already has her family’s endorsement. “We hope our daughter will carry on to represent our nation one day,” Domingus said. “We believe she will!”

Changing the world isn’t easy, but Santina is up for the challenge.

Santina lives in Timor Leste