How Irma Got Her Groove Back

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Irma and her partner have six children together — five sons and one daughter. They live in the mountains of Ataco and they are poor. By our standards, life is very hard for this family.

But a few years ago, life was even worse. Their life of poverty and need was almost impossible not just because they had limited financial resources but because Irma’s man was a jerk.

I’m writing this with my First World words — what would be a better way to describe him? Well, let’s just say he didn’t make circumstances any easier for Irma and her brood. What little money he made, he used it on himself, leaving an already-poor family destitute.

“I’d like to say the truth,” Irma told me through our interpreter, “no matter how hard it may be.”

I gulped, internally. Irma had already casually mentioned that her daughter, her one girl out of all six children, had a baby at the age of thirteen. She mentioned this and I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. And then I watched for any sign of embarrassment or regret and Irma had none. It was a fact of life: girls have babies young. It’s no reflection on your parenting skills; it’s the way things are.

So here she was about to reveal the hard facts of a difficult relationship and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a hard life, and one day, Irma finally had enough.

“I suffered with the father of my kids,” she began, “he would drink a lot, he worked but spent all his money with his friends.”

Irma said she had to work in the fields, and also did someone else’s laundry.

“Their father would leave us for a year,” she said, “he would forget about us and then come back.”

In the meantime, through the support of her son’s Unbound sponsorship, Irma joined a Mother’s Group. In this group, women came together to begin a conversation about their children and about hopes and dreams. Stuff that is maybe typical for you and me but is revolutionary for the women of this culture.

As Ysinnia, Unbound’s Mother’s Group coordinator explained, even for these women to stand up and speak in front of others is practically unheard of. These Mother’s Groups show women the truth of their dignity and worth — that they are worthy and capable and allowed to stand up for their life.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Irma explained of her first encounters with the group, “because they had a discussion about empowerment of women. We [women in the group] learned we could make decisions.”

Irma started by buying herself a bed. A need recognized, a decision made. She would take a little of the funds donated for her son — to meet the needs of her family — and set that money aside. Once it accrued, she bought a bed for her home. From there her concept of savings has grown and the family is in the process of building a new room for their home. They are currently saving up for a new roof for the addition.

In the meantime, as Irma slowly began connecting with other women and learning to think more about her life and the future of her children, she realized it was time to change. That didn’t mean getting rid of her man or even giving him grief. She simply…moved on.

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“If you had met me before the women’s group,” said Irma, “I was very sad. I was very reserved with my kids.”

But making that connection with other women gave Irma what she needed to change her life — hope and a vision.

So she left. Not to prove a point, but to find work. For three years she traveled back and forth from Ataco to San Salvador, making enough money to support her family without relying on her partner. It was hard, but she had no choice.

“I would come home every eight days to see the children and take care of everything at home,” said Irma.

After three years she had enough. Her family was suffering and she realized it was better for her to be home with them and keep them out of trouble.

“It was very difficult when she had to leave,” recalls her son Carlos, “we made bad decisions and deviated from where we were supposed to be.”

Irma knew she had to return.

“When I saw my kids suffering,” she said, “I came back.”

It was a hard time for the family, almost unthinkable for us in our First World mentality. Who leaves their family like that? How could you do that?

But that is the life of extreme poverty, and of trying to provide. You do the unthinkable, which Irma did for as long as she could.

And then, Irma returned. She started making fried snacks to sell from a cart, and she prayed for a miracle.

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And then, one came.

“My partner, with time, he saw the support I had, that I didn’t feel alone,” said Irma. “When he saw the change in me, when he saw he couldn’t “handle” me anymore, he came back and made a commitment not to abandon us again.”

And so, the family is intact. They live together in their home on the hill where Irma is there to care for her children. One son is on the honor roll at school. Her daughter, who dropped out of school to have her baby, is back in school. Irma’s grandson is now sponsored through Unbound, which helps Irma’s daughter meet his needs and her own as well.

Irma’s partner, who now works as a guard for a local company, has remained faithful and is once again a part of the family.

“We thank ¬†God we are in this program,” he says, “we all benefit from it.”

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As for the women’s group, Irma’s own daughter is now one of the leaders. A women who had a baby at thirteen is now helping other women talk through small, important decisions about their children.

“What I learned being the leader,” said Irma, “I’m teaching to her.”

Irma’s daughter proudly — but quietly — explains her involvement with group leadership. How the women discuss their hopes and plans for the year, and then make it happen.

“We have a yearly plan of activities we are celebrating each month,” says Irma’s daughter, Mirna. “It makes me feel like a victorious mother that whatever we decide to do, we work for it and we do it.”

The group decides how to celebrate the children’s birthdays, and there is an annual Christmas celebration.

“We usually dress up a mother as Santa to give gifts,” says Mirna, “and we have a sleigh. We also have artistic presentations like a dance. It’s a joyful party, it starts at six and ends at 11 p.m.”

Dinner includes chicken, rice and soda. Simple and profound. These women decide what they want to do. And they do it.

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One important aspect of Unbound’s support can’t really be measured in dollars — it’s the sense of hope that it offers to those fortunate enough to be in the program. It is a reminder that life is bigger than this moment right now, and that there is assistance and support — not just a from a country thousands of miles away, but from your neighbor right across the path.

“I’ve learned to share,” says Mirna, “I used to see other mothers and if they happened to say hello that was fine. Now, I have friends.”

Comments

  1. When I moved here 8 years ago, I joined a MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers). It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I made friends in that group that I still meet with regularly even though I kids our now in elementary and middle school. The support and friendship and love I received from that group helped me maintain my sanity while the kids were young. I can only imagine how wonderful and helpful a ladies group is to the people who are truly struggling with every aspect of life.

    My family supports three kids in Honduras through Unbound. It is nice to know that not only are we supporting the children but also the mothers as well (and ultimately the fathers also!).

    Thanks for sharing these stories! I hope people will read them and want to support a child through Unbound. When we first decided to support a child, I had seen lots of bloggers supporting kids through Compassion International (which is also a great group). I talked to my husband about it and he said we could do it but he wanted it to be through a Catholic organization. I did some research and found Unbound (which at the time was called CFCA). It’s a decision I have never regretted and once you start sponsoring a child, you never miss the money. In fact, I would venture to say that God has returned to me every dollar I have ever given him.

  2. Very encouraging! We’re going to talk about supporting unbound. There are lots of generous people around willing to give if they know they’re supporting something that makes an impact as Unbound clearly does.