So, it seems like every day that I’ve been here, I hear another amazing story of resilience and strength. Yesterday was no different.
Our day began with a visit to the home of Iliana. To us, she was the “Jewelry Lady.” We were excited to visit her to do some Christmas shopping for folks at home and then move on to the next stop on our schedule. When we arrived and met her outside her home, she began to tell us her story, and we stood, listening, rooted to the spot.
Nine years ago, Iliana had a baby boy. Her son was born with Cerebral Palsy. Iliana’s husband wasn’t able to handle the stress of having a handicapped child, and he left her not long after their son was born. Suddenly, she was single mother with less than adequate housing. Her love for her son was fierce, and she did everything she could to help him as he grew, with whatever resources she could find to do so.
Her home was so inadequate to live in that she applied three different times to the Housing Committee of Chacraseca to receive a new home. All of her applications were denied. On top of all of this, sadly, despite all of her efforts to care for her son, he died at the age of 3.
Iliana sunk into a deep depression that lasted for a long, long time. Nothing could make her happy now that her child was gone. Her relatives, in an attempt to give her something to take her mind off of her sadness, gave her some beads and string so she could make some bracelets. She made a few, and her friends and relatives were impressed. They encouraged her to make more and then sell them. She decided to give it a try…and her life was never the same.
Over the next six years, Iliana’s popularity as a jewelry maker grew. Since she had been refused a new home by the Housing Committee, she decided that she was going to build her OWN house! She had something now to keep her working toward the future. She would spend money to buy her jewely supplies, and put the rest aside to save. She grew sesame seeds and corn to sell at the market to add to her income.
Finally, she had saved enough money to build a new house. Her companion at that time offered to build the house for her, saving her a great deal of money. She started with a small square home and little by little added on to the original structure. Today, she has a beautiful home…truly beautiful and well appointed, unlike the homes that we have seen during our visit to Chacraseca. She has two bedrooms with beautiful tile flooring, painted walls, and beautiful wooden dressers. She has an indoor bathroom, with toilet, bathtub/shower and sink. She has two kitchens, one for cooking with propane gas and the other with the traditional wood fire stove. She also has a small “apartment” in which she houses people who need a place to stay for a period of time. Currently, she is hosting a delightful young woman named Hope, who is teaching English to the children at the school in Chacraseca. She also has an area in her home where she has a small “pulperia” – a convenience store – selling snacks, soft drinks, etc.
Iliana had all of her jewelry beautifully displayed on her workspace countertop in her kitchen when we entered her home. We took our time looking at all of the bracelets, necklaces and earrings, marveling at her talent. She just beamed as we made our purchases, and we were all so happy to give her our business.
Iliana’s story is one that I will never forget. Words cannot describe the amount of respect and admiration I have for this woman. The smile on her face is one of genuine happiness. She keeps her son close in her heart – he is her angel, and he will be with her forever. She now has another son, who is in preschool and is “muy inteligente,” as his teachers tell her.
Iliana is in a very good place now. Her future is bright. She came face to face with desperation and conquered it through faith, strength and sheer determination.
I didn’t want to leave Iliana’s house. I could have stayed all day, talking to her about her life. Alas, I had to board the bus and move on to our next stop, but I took Iliana with me in my heart, along with the lesson that she taught all of us that day: Never give up…there is ALWAYS hope.