Ana leaves Pa’nibal
December 5, 2018
Ana came to Pa’nibal in the fall of 2016. Her one year old son was suffering from malnutrition and she had been living on the streets for several weeks after transitioning between various unsuccessful, live-in domestic servant positions. She knew that if the local authorities discovered she was homeless with a child in tow, they would take her boy, Sammy, into state custody. She had the equivalent of a fifth-grade education, had never worked any job besides domestic labor, and was terrified of losing her child. Sammy was hardly able to crawl due to malnutrition. Ana was nineteen years old and had nowhere to go.
Within six months of living at Pa’nibal Ana and Sammy had made significant improvements in their lives. They had been given an upstairs room with a bathroom and promised a home for the foreseeable future. Sammy recovered his health and began walking, playing with toys, and laughing with other kids at Pa’nibal. Ana had begun attending classes to close the considerable gap in her fundamental education, and had taken advantage of regular health checkups for herself and her son as well as regular individual and group therapy sessions offered through Pa’nibal. She also finished her middle-school equivalency courses through an adult education program.
The following year Ana — and several others at Pa’nibal — started an in-home manicure and pedicure course offered by an established esthetician. Sammy began going to pre-school. Within months Ana, having finished the in-home course, started working weekends at a local hotel offering manicure and pedicure services to hotel customers. A few months later, in the late summer of 2018, she received her first professional certification from a local, well established, vocational training agency. In addition to manicure and pedicure, she pursued hairstyling and makeup — receiving certifications in both.
Ana didn’t just pursue professional development during her time at Pa’nibal. She also created a variety of new relationships, learned about healthy parenting, spent plenty of time volunteering, received legal guidance regarding ongoing custody situations involving her other older son and her younger orphaned sister, and worked with counselors and therapists to better understand herself and her options in life.
Towards the fall of this year, Ana decided she was ready to leave Pa’nibal. She had been offered a home with a relative of a friend, and had been told by the PGN (Office of the Attorney General) that she could take custody of her younger sister, Nancy, were she to move into an un-assisted living situation.
After nearly three years with Pa’nibal, Ana’s departure was an emotional one. The home threw a going away party for her and arranged a schedule of telephone check-ins and visits over the coming months. When asked to talk about her stay at Pa’nibal, Ana had a lot to say.
The following was transcribed and translated from an interview between Ana Caja and Juan Calderón conducted on November 19, 2018.
I remember that they [Pa’nibal staff] told me they were going to help me, that they were going to do everything differently for me. That made me happy because I needed a change in my lifestyle, for me and for my kid, too. I remember them saying this will be your room, this is where your child will sleep. It felt good.
I remember when I first came into my room, I put my baby in his new bed and we started to play. The monitor [staff member] was there, and I remember I felt happy, a little glad. The monitor was saying let me show you the house, everything is going to be different now. And so I started to look through the house and the monitors introduced me to the other women. We were going to live together, and at first we didn’t really talk. Little by little I started talking more and getting accustomed to being here. For me everything felt very different.
When I arrived everything was sad, my boy was sick. But things were changing little by little. Everything was changing. Here in the house I was doing a ton of crafts. I learned how to do things I like… things like Taekwondo and calisthenics, also how to cook — because I didn’t really know how to cook when I arrived. I started cooking sometimes for everyone in the house! The monitors and women here taught me to cook, they said one day you’re going to leave here and you need to know how. So I learned how to cook — a ton of different kinds of foods — some of my favorites.
Later I learned other things, too, in classes. How to do manicures and pedicures, facial treatments, makeup and hairstyling. Things that I could pursue as work, that I didn’t know about before and that I learned here. A ton of things. Before I came here I used to think What am I going to do? And I only ever thought, nothing. But now I know how to do things.
Other things, too. Before I didn’t really know anything about childcare. But now I know how to take care of Sammy and have learned more about responsibility. I know how to care for him well, something I didn’t know before. And also things, for example, about my character, that before troubled me. Like if I want something I can pursue it, and before I didn’t see things that way. But my attention was called to that attitude, and I feel different now.
Things have changed for my boy, Sammy, too. Before he was very timid, he didn’t talk and he couldn’t walk. About a month after we came to Pa’nibal he started walking. It made me so happy. He really opened up, starting playing more and eating more. He started playing with the other kids.
I knew one day that I was going to leave, of course. That I was going to leave to take care of my own things. To find work, make money, buy the things that I need. I want to leave and use the things I know, the things I learned, here in the house. And so I decided to leave, because I don’t want to always depend on others.
I feel ready to do it. The house has helped me very much, but there are other people out there that it can help, too. If they feel alone, those people, they can know that they aren’t alone, that they can leave their situations if they want to, that they can do it, that they will accomplish it, like I accomplished it here.
So now I’m leaving here with a different situation, with different thoughts, and a different life than before.
Ana left Pa’nibal on November 20th. She is still facing a variety of real-life struggles, not the least of which are the care of her son and her younger sister. We will continue to provide long-term support for Ana and her new life. She will still work some weekends with other Pa’nibal women at an Antigua hotel selling beautician services, and she’s still welcome to take advantage of vocational scholarships through Pa’nibal programs.
When it comes to transitioning out of deep poverty complicated by domestic abuse, a lack of education, and the constant encroachment of hopelessness, change isn’t fast and it isn’t easy. We know that Ana will continue to pursue independence and stability in her new life, and we hope she’ll continue to rely on us in whatever way she feels most comfortable.
We also want to thank our partners for investing in people — people that are very far away, and yet very real, and very capable of positive change given the appropriate resources. Your support makes the difference.
Your donation gives women like Ana new hope and new options. Help us reach women who need a new chance at life — please consider becoming a monthly donor partner.