For girls in Latin America, turning 15 is a really big deal.

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In Latin American countries, including Guatemala, a girl’s fifteenth birthday is called a quinceañera and is considered a rite of passage. Although celebrations and rituals are different in each country and traditions can vary between families, a quinceañera has one objective: to celebrate the transition of a young girl from childhood to womanhood.

“Turning fifteen for me is a big privilege. Me and my family are really happy about what Safe Passage has done for all of us. I didn’t like the celebration, I LOVED it! It was such a big surprise for me.” -Linda, 2016 quinceañera

The journey from childhood to womanhood is an important shift for girls at Safe Passage, and we strive to make their celebration meaningful, empowering, and full of love.

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This year, 13 girls participated in the annual Safe Passage quinceañeras celebration. In the week’s leading up to the event, the girls were a part of a number of workshops and informational discussions about responsibility, values, health, relationships, and more.

Even though they knew the big day was approaching, the girls did not know what to expect! We kept the details a secret so that the girls would be delightfully surprised when they arrived. In fact, the girls thought they were attending a simple dinner with their families!

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As a special treat, cosmetology students at Junkabal (a technical school that partners with Safe Passage) provided the quinceañeras with makeup and hairstyles. When the girls arrived back at Safe Passage just before the quinceañera was about to begin, they seemed anxious, happy, shy, and excited all at once.

“At first, none of the girls wanted their picture taken. They were very shy. After a moment, their shyness disappeared and and the girls had much more confidence!” -Carlos, Safe Passage staff member

As families arrived, they whispered excitedly about how beautiful the decorations were, and they were right! 16 Safe Passage volunteers and staff transformed our simple cafeteria into a space of celebration. Tables, chairs, tabletop decorations and more were donated by Guatemalan sponsor, Thelma Morales. Each quinceanera was able to invite 9 people and the dining room was packed with smiling faces. Most girls invited family, and some invited their Safe Passage social workers and teachers.

One by one, the girls were presented to the audience. Colorful dresses, beaming smiles, and delicate roses accompanied the applause as each girl entered the room. Todd Amani, Safe Passage Executive Director, shared a few words of motivation and many mothers cried tears of joy as they watched their daughters with pride.

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After the ceremony, the real fun began! It started with a toast. To life, to the quinceañeras, and to Safe Passage. After the toast, the girls danced with their parents and friends long into the evening. A large blackboard became a space for the girls to write their hopes and wishes for the evening, for their friends, and for themselves.

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At the end of the night, we asked one of the quinceañeras, Gloria, how she felt about the event:

Where do you imagine your life would be without Safe Passage?
I have been a student here for three years now. I wouldn’t be studying if I was not coming to Safe Passage.

How has your time at Safe Passage helped you think differently?
Being able to share with many people is one thing that can open your mind. Here, we share our time with many people from all over the world.

How do you feel now that you are fifteen?
It feels different! At first I thought it was just another year. Now I feel like my life is changing.

Did you enjoy the quinceañeras celebration?
Yes, totally! It was a surprise for all of us. We didn’t know we were getting a big party. My family was really happy, too! I wouldn’t have celebrated my Quinceañeras if it wasn’t for Safe Passage.

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