“The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” -Nelson Mandela
While blog readers across the country and bored Facebook scrollers have had a few months vacation of not having to read my posts, I figured today of all days is an important day to temporarily halt the hiatus and offer up a few words.
The past few months have been an incredible whirlwind, to say the least, and I’m so fortunate for the experiences I have been able to have. Moving back to Peru to gain more clinical experience and returning to Guatemala to serve the beautiful people of Sumpango were without a doubt among the highlights, but tonight’s focus is on Haiti.
Last month, I was lucky enough to have worked alongside an incredible group of mental health professionals in Croix des Bouquets with Global Trauma Research—an organization whose meaningful and impactful work goes beyond limits. While in Haiti, we had the opportunity to work with medical providers, teachers, lawyers, and both religious and community leaders—all of whom had one goal: learn more about mental health and find ways to provide sustainable mental health care in their community.
While I’ll go into details about the trip later on, I want to bring to light the fact that Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake on this day eight years ago that devastated the lives of so many. One and a half million people were displaced, between 200,000-300,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were left injured. While we read about natural disasters that take place across the globe on a frequent basis, it’s important to note the horrendous tragedy that struck this truly beautiful country as we remember those who were lost eight years ago.
While I have yet to learn Haitian Creole, I did learn the saying “Lespwa fè viv,” or “Hope makes one live.” Through all the adversity and challenges they have faced, the Haitian people have persevered time and time again. I saw firsthand how the people of Haiti continue to push forward with hope for a brighter tomorrow, and having worked alongside such inspiring leaders in the community while abroad, I truly believe that this brighter tomorrow is most definitely a possibility.
This afternoon, we participated in Trujillo’s Marcha por el Orgullo LGTBI (Lesbianas, gays, trans, bisexuales e intersexuales) in honor of Día Internacional del Orgullo Gay. The energy and feeling of overall love and acceptance at the march was truly beautiful and inspiring. Same sex marriage in Peru is still not legal, and alongside women and persons with disabilities, members of the LGTBI community are one of the most mistreated collective groups of individuals in the country.
One of the many posters that stood out to me was, “Porque mis amigos no pueden tener los mismos derechos que yo?,” which translates to “Why can’t my friends have the same rights as me?” Another meaningful poster that caught my attention was “Mi amor no es el problema. Tu odio, si,” which translates to, “My love is not the problem. Your hate is.” The parade was filled with members of the younger generation, and every so often, you could see an adult with a small child on their back carrying a pride flag alongside a trans pride flag.
The organizers of the march hosted a talent show afterwards, which showcased incredible local talent of children, adolescents, and adults—all of whom united as one for this important cause. A man and his mother attended the march and show together, and were asked to come on stage so that the mother could share her message of love and support to all of the children in the audience. One performer professed her love to her partner, and dedicated a song to her. One teenager in particular sang a song titled, “A quién le importa” by Thalía, and the impactful words really resonated on this powerful day. Part of the song (and a rough translation) can be found below.
Me apuntan con el dedo; They point to me with their fingers
Susurra a mis espaldas; They whisper behind my back
Y a mi me importa un bledo; And I couldn’t care less
Que mas me da; What more can I give
Si soy distinta a ellos; Yes, I am different from them
No soy de nadie; I do not belong to anyone
No tengo dueño; I do not have an owner
Me consta que me odian; I know they hate me
La envidia les corroe; Their envy corrodes
Mi vida les agobia; My life overwhelms them
Porque sera; Because it will be
Yo no tengo la culpa; It is not my fault
Mi circunstancia les insulta; My circumstances insult them
El que yo elijo para mi; It’s what I choose for me
A quien le importa lo que yo diga?; To whom is it important what I say?
Yo soy así, y así seguiré, nunca cambiare; I am like this, and so I will continue. I will never change
A quien le importa lo que yo haga?; To whom is it important what I do?
A quien le importa lo que yo diga?; To whom is it important what I say?
Yo soy así, y así seguiré, nunca cambiare; I am like this, and so I will continue. I will never change.
As we marched As we marched by a church, we received nothing but harsh stares and glances from church-goers. By the time we made our way back to the church on our second lap of the plaza, one church-goer grabbed a pride flag and waved it back and forth. Love and acceptance isn’t as hard as so many people make it out to be, and as one person yesterday mentioned, “Una no necesita ser gay para apoyar la unión civil, solo ser humano,” or “You don’t have to be gay to support civil union. You just have to be human.” And as Mother Teresa stated, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
No matter how unfair the laws may be or the maltreatment that so many experience on a daily basis due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the march continues, and it is one of pride because everyone should be proud of who they are. And if society could only find a way to embrace acceptance, the world would truly be a better and more loving place for all.
Last week, we lost an incredible individual who impacted the lives of countless individuals across the globe. This week’s Simple Quote Sunday will be in memory of Wayne Dyer, and although it is more of a story than a quote, there is still an extremely valuable lesson that we can all learn something from.
“I was preparing to speak at an I Can Do It conference and I decided to bring an orange on stage with me as a prop for my lecture. I opened a conversation with a bright young fellow of about twelve who was sitting in the front row.
‘If I were to squeeze this orange as hard as I could, what would come out?’ I asked him.
He looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, ‘Juice, of course.’
‘Do you think apple juice could come out of it?’
‘No!’ he laughed.
‘What about grapefruit juice?’
‘What would come out of it?’
‘Orange juice, of course.’
‘Why? Why when you squeeze an orange does orange juice come out?’
He may have been getting a little exasperated with me at this point. ‘Well, it’s an orange and that’s what’s inside.’
I nodded. ‘Let’s assume that this orange isn’t an orange, but it’s you. And someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, says something you don’t like, offends you. And out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, fear. Why? The answer, as our young friend has told us, is because that’s what’s inside.’
It’s one of the great lessons of life. What comes out when life squeezes you? When someone hurts or offends you? If anger, pain and fear come out of you, it’s because that’s what’s inside. It doesn’t matter who does the squeezing—your mother, your brother, your children, your boss, the government. If someone says something about you that you don’t like, what comes out of you is what’s inside. And what’s inside is up to you, it’s your choice.
When someone puts the pressure on you and out of you comes anything other than love, it’s because that’s what you’ve allowed to be inside. Once you take away all those negative things you don’t want in your life and replace them with love, you’ll find yourself living a highly functioning life.”
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.
In 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. For the past few weeks and remainder of the month, I’ll be highlighting many of incredible accomplishments that helped countless children in need, all thanks to one valiant and dedicated woman, Leonor Portela.
In 2001, the Emmaus Medical Mission group first started its biannual trips to Guatemala from Miami. The Emmaus doctors and volunteers treat a few thousand people each mission who have never before received medical attention in their lives. Mami Leo convinced a well-respected doctor from Miami who at the time was leading medical missions to other countries to bring his group to Guatemala because there were so many people in need of medical assistance. This doctor complied, and has since been bringing his Emmaus team to Guatemala twice a year for fourteen years now. Because of Mami Leo’s dedication to serve the people of Guatemala, thousands of Guatemalan citizens have received medical care ever since.
In 2003, a nutritional ward for malnourished children was started. Nourishment is provided to each child until they have fully recovered. Parents of children outside of the home are provided with a follow-up nutritional program that teaches them how to best feed their children with the available resources. As you can see from just one example in the picture below, the nutritional ward has positively impacted the lives of so many children. And again, this is yet another program that Mami Leo implemented to give children in such terrible, and often times deadly conditions, a chance at life.
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.