“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” -Maya Angelou
This upcoming Sunday, January 24th, I’ll be running in the Miami Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for Misioneros Del Camino—a home for orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children in Guatemala. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be writing about Misioneros Del Camino and sharing the incredible background story of one brave woman’s calling from above to make a difference, as well as various success stories of some of the many children who grew up at MDC.
Born and raised in Cuba, Leonor Portela moved to Miami where her husband served as an American Air Force pilot. At the age of twenty-six, Leonor’s husband was called for duty to during the Bay of Pigs, but unfortunately, his plane was shot down and crashed in the ocean. Years later, after hearing about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, Leonor was moved to action and decided to assist in volunteer efforts abroad. She traveled to Guatemala to offer her assistance, and was shocked at the country’s destruction and the conditions that the children were living in. After returning to America, it took a few years before Leonor was able to find the financial help and support needed to return to Guatemala and follow through with a calling from above.
In 1986, Leonor sold her home and moved to Guatemala with $2,700 raised by her prayer group—where she opened a Home for children—currently known as Misioneros Del Camino. Leonor, also known as Mami Leo, started the Home with three children, and worked tirelessly to collect donations to bring in more children. One of the first children was a two-year year old girl with tuberculosis who weighed only 12 pounds. Doctors swore that she would have no more than two weeks to live, but she is currently living in the United States with a masters in social work. Another child taken in by Mami Leo had been dipped in scalding water by his parents, and had undergone other atrocious treatments by them as well. Mami Leo carried him in her arms for days, and during that time, he did not move or utter a sound. As she put him to bed on the fourth night of continuously caring for him and holding him, he broke his silence and asked, “Por que me quieres?” which translates to “Why do you love me?” He is currently attending law school and returns to the Home to help out whenever he can.
There are so many children living on the streets in Guatemala—many of whom are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Mami Leo once exclaimed, “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.” Throughout the years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided educational, nutritional, and medical support for thousands of children.
In honor of the work Mami Leo has done, in continuing her legacy, and to help provide a bright future to the current generation of children at Misioneros Del Camino, I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help fulfill Mami Leo’s mission, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link.
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.
On the medical mission I attended this past summer, a mother exclaimed that her son had become closed off after the recent passing of his father. She asked if there was anything we could do to help, so I sat with her son and tried to get him to open up. It turned out, his older siblings did not talk about the loss of their father, and he didn’t want to upset his mother with his sadness, seeing as she was still grieving as well. All it took was someone to help this young boy realize that it is okay to grieve the loss of his father. Helping him understand the importance of speaking up about his sadness was also essential in letting him feel as though he was allowed to talk about the pain he was experiencing. Even though I was only able to provide a lending ear, that was all this child needed at the current moment in time—someone to listen to him.
On the last medical mission I attended in June, one of the volunteers purchased customized soccer jerseys for all of the children at Misioneros Del Camino. Not only did they get brand new jerseys, but they also received matching shorts, socks, and hats, to make it official. The second they put on their new soccer uniforms, they separated into two teams and started playing. The children were so excited to have been given what so many of us take for granted, and that in itself was truly a beautiful sight to see.
Last summer I participated in a medical mission trip to Guatemala, and after the trip, my father, brother, and I spent a few extra days in Antigua, Guatemala. Over the next few days I’ll be posting about my travels in Antigua because it’s better to post this late than never, right?
After the medical mission ended, we arrived at our hotel and had a light lunch before resting for a few hours. I ordered a black bean soup with a corn tamale on the side, and it was delicious; just what I needed to help me take a nap. When we woke up, we walked around the city and came across two individuals pushing their small vehicle onto its side to fill it up with gas. We also walked past a building designated for Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings before stumbling upon a lively restaurant with karaoke where we ordered chips and guacamole for the table, and chicken quesadillas for me. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel to get a good night sleep before waking up early the following morning to further explore the city.
Having recently returned from a medical mission to Guatemala, we had over one thousand people waiting to be seen by the various doctors in attendance. Keep in mind, this was the very first time that many of these individuals were ever seeing a doctor. As patients waited in line for hours, some of the volunteers from the mission trip passed out peanut butter sandwiches, since so many of the individuals had not eaten all day long. Watching a woman patiently wait to receive medical attention and be so appreciative for a small sandwich was truly a beautiful sight to say the least.