Valeria’s journey to Pa’nibal
Valeria was born in the late nineties to a small home in an agro-industrial town a few hours’ bus ride from the Guatemalan pacific coast. She had four siblings — one younger and three older — all from different fathers. Her mother had several boyfriends during Valeria’s earliest years, most of whom were verbally and physically abusive to Valeria, her mother and her siblings.
Valeria’s mother was unable to afford enrollment fees or the various costs associated with a Guatemalan public education like transportation, uniforms, books, writing supplies, etc. Valeria was noticed by a local NGO, Proyecto Esperanza, that offers public education scholarships and light-touch mentorships for impoverished families. They managed her early education for several years.
When she was eight years old, staff members at Proyecto Esperanza noticed a marked change in Valeria’s behavior. She had become extremely timid and was avoiding communication with her teachers and classmates. Further investigation revealed that Valeria had been sexually abused at home by her mother’s boyfriend. Proyecto Esperanza pursued legal action against the man living with Valeria’s family, but a lack of cooperation from the mother complicated the process. A compromise was reached whereby Valeria was sent away from her family to live at a home for orphaned girls until a more permanent solution could be found.
Valeria lived at the home for girls, just eight years old, for six months. One of her older sisters was able to visit her on occasion, but otherwise she had no contact with her family. At the end of six months the home put Valeria in the care of one of her aunts.
For five years Valeria lived with her aunt and attended school, still sponsored by Proyecto Ezperanza. When she was thirteen years old her Aunt informed her that she would not continue providing a roof over her head if she didn’t work to support herself. She became a daytime niñera (nanny) for a nearby family, and her school attendance suffered.
Two years later Valeria’s aunt withdrew her support, saying she could no longer afford to care for Valeria and that she was old enough to take care of herself. Fifteen years old and unable to afford a place to live, Valeria returned to her family home. There she found her mother’s relationship had taken a turn for the worse — she was suffering physical and verbal attacks, and had taken to vehemently defending her abusive partner. It wasn’t long until the mother’s boyfriend took an interest in Valeria. He began harassing her regularly, and pressured her on several occasions to go alone with him to a nearby hotel. Valeria had her sixteenth birthday in her family home.
For nearly two years Valeria lived with her mother. She spent much of her time and energy avoiding confrontations and the advances of her mother’s lover. She continued her schooling, took work at a local hotel, and spent much of her time away from home.
Valeria’s mother married her boyfriend. She advised Valeria not to refuse his advances, saying that he now had the same rights with Valeria as he had with her. Nonetheless, Valeria continued to evade her stepfather’s advances which became more and more physically aggressive. When she was eighteen, Valeria’s stepfather attacked her after she refused him. She was woken by volunteer firemen who found her injured outside of her home. She had been unconscious for several hours, and had suffered blunt force trauma to her head. The volunteer firemen took her to the hospital, where the organization that sponsors her education, Proyecto Esperanza, were contacted.
Proyecto Esperanza knew that Valeria needed to leave home, and contacted Pa’nibal to ask if we had space for her. Within a few days Valeria was living in our home. She has continued her studies at a nearby school, participates in a variety of home activities, and spends her weekends with school friends and other Pa’nibal residents at the nearby park or in the Antigua area.
“She’s only contacted her mother twice since she arrived,” comments Concepción, one of the monitors at Pa’nibal, “which is for the better. She likes it here and is pursuing her studies.”
Valeria invites a schoolfriend over to Pa’nibal some Fridays to watch movies. She begins an internship at a travel agency at the end of the month, and is hoping to pick up some weekend kitchen work to start saving money. She visits a therapist regularly, and has begun regular medical and dental checkups.
There’s certainly no rush on our part — Pa’nibal is honored to provide a longterm, stable home life and a robust suite of education and work opportunities for Valeria and other young women like her. We’re excited to see where she’ll take her life given a fair chance.
* Names in this post have been changed to protect privacy.
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