In the Face of Abuse

On the medical mission trip I attended this past summer to Guatemala, a young girl in her early 20’s asked if she could speak with someone. One of the volunteers asked me to go over and talk to her, so I sat down alongside her and began conversing. She explained that her uncle had recently passed away from alcoholism and his death had left her distraught because he left behind his wife and young children. His wife is not able to work since her children are so young, so his family was left hungry and without any money. This resulting effect had left the young woman in a state of depression, and she could not stop thinking about her uncle’s passing and what would happen to his family.

Upon inquiring more into her background, I learned that this young woman is married with a newborn. She and her husband live with her parents, but the issue at hand though, is that her husband has been physically abusive by consistently beating her. When her husband wasn’t abusing her, both of her parents would take turns beating her, and if she experiencing such severe mistreatment from either of her “loved ones,” her mother-in-law would verbally abuse her and put her down at any given moment.

While many young adults in the United States are in college and finding themselves at such a young age, this young woman was being abused by everyone in her immediate family. Regardless of the awful situation she was facing, she was still concerned about her uncle’s family and what would happen to his children and wife. Through her way of speaking and her mannerisms, you could tell that this young woman was such a strong, resilient, and caring individual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to interfere with her situation at home, because upon leaving our medical mission, the situation could intensify and we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it back in the States. However, for the first time ever, this young woman was able to open up about her life behind closed doors.

While the concept of not actually being able to help her situation at home was painful for me to accept, together, we discussed what an incredible mother she has been and what an incredible mother she will continue to be. She alone will break the cycle of abuse when it comes to her child, and she will teach her child the right way to treat others. We were able to collect numerous nutritional pediatric drinks for both her baby and her uncle’s children.

Such stories are more common than we would like to imagine, which is why we must do everything we can to help prevent abuse and domestic violence here at home and wherever possible. No one should have to experience any form of mistreatment by others, and if we could come together to make this a point across the globe, so many lives would be saved and improved. But in the meantime, somewhere out there is a brave young mother tolerating awful abuse by her “loved ones,” but still continuing to care for her newborn baby and young, hungry cousins.

I will not be posting a picture of this young woman, but instead, I decided to post a picture of a sunset during the mission. Although the nights may be dark, a sunrise will always follow. Therefore, there is always hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

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Misioneros Del Camino: A Legacy of Unconditional Love

There are thousands of children living on the streets in Guatemala. Hundreds of them will die of malnutrition and hunger. But as Mami Leo exclaimed in a previous Radio Marathon, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” For nearly thirty years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided interim care to thousands of children. During her time in Guatemala, she also provided educational, nutritional, and medical support to countless children in the country. And because of her persistence, medical mission trips have helped provide medical attention to thousands of other Guatemalan citizens in need. Mami Leo has truly made this world a better place, and it is up to us to continue her mission. 

Mami Leo was an incredible woman with a beautiful soul. She has taught us that with passion and unconditional love, anything is possible. For nearly thirty years, she has saved thousands of children from abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition. She has also provided help and care to children with neurological disorders who would have otherwise been cast aside by society. She impacted the lives of families throughout Guatemala by teaching them how to provide proper nutrition to their children, but above all, she spread love to every person she ever came across. Her love is what is helping break the cycle of abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition across the country. Her love has given countless children a brighter future. And her love is what will keep us working to fulfill her legacy. And as she once put it, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Together, we can help continue to fulfill her dream.

Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.