Santa Clara University

Casa de la Solidaridad

Students Reflections

Fall 2013

vaniah

Gratitude

I have this friend that always describes his days as “full” instead of “busy,” and I never could completely empathize with this understanding of one’s schedule until coming here. I am constantly tired, but everyday there is something that I am incredibly grateful for, something that reminds me what life is really about.

I spent this past weekend with the two families that I stayed with during praxis week, and it was such a gift. I don’t know what it is, but something about those dirt roads lined with so many bright shades of green, the mounds of trash that people from the city come to dump along them, the little shacks that are speckled along the way, with kids that peak out and yell many “hola”s when they hear you coming, and then that sudden break in the trees when I look down on the city below. The streets and paths of Las Nubes feel like home to me. Even more so, my praxis families feel like home to me.

One family that I feel extremely connected with, is this family of 3 generations of 5 women: a grandma, her daughter, and three granddaughters. It reminds me so much of my own family of 5 women (four daughters and our mom), just in the strength of women as an unbreakable unit, a team that recognizes the essence of their identity as being connected to those other four women whom they love. With that, one of the most difficult things for me to deal with throughout this semester has been living in a country that emanates sexism in almost every aspect of its society. Women are reduced to animals in common jargon that refers to females as “embras,” are talked to like animals on the street when they are relentlessly whistled/shouted at, and are given the value of nothing but an animal in the many forms of structural injustices that oppress their spirits and their ability to better their lives. With this background information, it makes sense that when the strength and love of these women in Las Nubes envelops me, it provides my heart with an incredibly needed sense of hope.

Here is a family of five women who work as a team, with the mom working from 6am to 5pm (6 days a week), the grandma running the house and raising the chickens that they sell for an extra source of income, and the daughters doing a lot of chores to keep the house running/cooking meals, while working very hard in their studies (something they have done completely on their own, due to a major lack of support for dedication to their education from their mom and grandma). These women to me are a testament of the strength of the women here, of their ability to carry on and find a way to support themselves apart from the normal dependency in El Salvador on men being the family breadwinners. Yet, at the same time, it breaks my heart to see their struggle, their incredibly long days, and no future change in sight. The story of these women, two generations of abandonment by husbands, is nothing unique in El Salvador, and the country is majorly lacking in mechanisms to help single mothers escape from the poverty in which they are stuck.

I always kind of imagined women as the backbone of the world, and now it is perfectly clear to me that women are indeed holding up the world. The great majority of the world’s population living in poverty are women and children, and these mothers in poverty live in a constant reality of the very essence of love: sacrifice. These single mothers living in poverty do not have the privilege of living a life in which they feel they have no purpose, and are struggling to find some abstract sense of meaning that so many of us living in developed countries are searching for. These women know the meaning of their lives, they are reminded of it 3 times a day when they try to find a way to feed their kids, or give them clean drinking water, or medicine when they are sick, or a warm place to sleep at night. And the meaning of their life, this struggle to keep their children alive and healthy, does come at a cost. The cost is the mother’s very life, often 12 hours of her day, every day a week. It’s a heartless cycle, often leaving mothers robbed of spending physical time with the kids she loves, because she is busy every hour of daylight living out her love for them through often difficult and dangerous work.

My mother too lived out this sacrificial love to provide for my sisters and my basic needs growing up. I see my own mother in my Las Nubes mother, Esmeralda. I see the plight of the world in this cruel poverty every time go to Las Nubes on Monday and Wednesday. The worst part is that I do not deserve to NOT have their life; there is absolutely no rhyme or reason as to why I am sitting comfortably typing on my MacBook tonight, while they are sitting around candle light and will probably be cold when they sleep. I am no better or deserving of a human than they are, and yet our lives are as if we live in two different worlds. And in a sense we do.

I have come to fall in love with not their world, but with the way they understand their world. I do not in any way to romanticize poverty, or to trivialize the constant fight that is the essence of their lives. What I have fallen in love with is the reason that they fight, which is due to their constant presence to the truest reality of all, love. Everyday they get out of bed, go to work, and carry on, because they love their families. They have accepted me into this powerful familial love of theirs, and taken me in as one of their own. It has been a grace to visit my family of 5 women in Las Nubes, to live with them, and to become on of their family. I don’t know why they took me in as they did, but their love and their bringing me back to the true meaning of life has been an incredible gift. And though it breaks my heart to think of leaving, I will not forget them, and I will not forget their fight. That abstract sense of purpose that I had been searching for, well, it is no longer abstract. My purpose is to live in this reality of love with not only them, but with all of the world’s poor. I am not sure what “sacrifice” will look like in my future as I try to live in this reality, but I will do my best to fight with them to educate the rest of the world as to what life is really about, and why things in this world must change in order for us to all live in the reality of our joint purpose as humanity, which is simply to love each other.

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