unicefYuleini lives in Barrio Petare, one of the many slums perched perilously on the hills around Caracas, Venezuela. The thousands of houses that make up the neighborhood are cobbled together out of scraps of corrugated metal, slabs of wood and a few bricks. The home that Yuleini shares with her mother, her stepfather and her four brothers and sisters is among the most dilapidated, even by Petare’s standards.

During the day, when Yuleini’s mother and stepfather are at work, it is up to the 13-year-old to keep the house and care for the four younger children: cook their meals in an old stove, wash their clothes and hang them on the metal sheets that double as walls and play with them amidst the rubble that surrounds their home.

Since 2004, however, Yuleini has been able to do something she had never done before: go to school. A joint project of UNICEF, the Light and Life Foundation and UNILEVER has enabled her to attend community classrooms. This program, according to Global Impact charity partner the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, is especially designed to provide an education to children deemed “excluded and invisible.” “Going to school has changed my life, I’ve learnt many things and made friends,” Yuleini says.

The classroom has become a safe haven for Yuleini and the 5,000 boys and girls who are currently benefiting from the project. So far, 60 percent of the children attending the community classrooms have been integrated into the formal education system.

The many difficulties that Yuleini has faced in her short life have made her wise beyond her years. “I’ve seen what happens to other kids in my neighborhood who don’t go to school,” she says. “They spend their days sniffing glue, begging for money and getting into trouble. I feel sorry for them.”

She is especially mindful of what can happen to young girls who live in poverty and have little access to education. “I don’t want to get married and have children, at least not anytime soon,” she declares. “I want to work and study.” Thanks to these community classrooms, Yuleini and thousands like her are getting a chance to write their own destinies.