“What do you eat with your tortillas?” someone asked Maria Berta. “Sometimes there’s salt,” she replied.
Maria Berta had welcomed Cooperative for Education volunteers into her home in Cerritos Asunción, Guatemala after we inaugurated the Culture of Reading Program at her 9-year-old son’s school. She was demonstrating her tortilla making techniques with a quiet smile as the reality of this family’s poverty sunk in for us.
I stood a few steps back from the rest of the group, watching her impossibly cute children play in the dirt outside their front door and couldn’t help but think of my own children. What if I was Maria Berta? What if this was my life?
How could she witness her family’s struggles without hardening her heart or completely crumbling under the pain? In countries like Guatemala where malnutrition is more the norm than the exception, only two out of ten kids graduate from high school and over half the country lives in poverty, how could she not disengage simply to get through the day?
I turned my attention back to the volunteers as someone asked, “What are your dreams for your children?”
The patting together of maize paste stopped and Maria Berta’s eyes filled with tears. “My father died when I was very young,” she said. “We were too poor for me to go to school, so I started working right away. When I was 16, I met a boy and thought it would be my ticket to a better life. We married and had children, and at first he provided for us. That was before he took off. Now he doesn’t help us at all. No one does.”
Maria Berta went on to explain how she grows and sells vegetables to support their meager subsistence. But it is never really enough. Sobs wracked her body as she cried, “I want them to have a better life than I have. Sometimes it is hard to even afford the pencils they need but I make every sacrifice to keep them in school. I know education is the only way they will escape this life. They know how hard I work for them, so they work hard too.”
I stood in the background crying with this mother, who undoubtedly feels the same tenderness for her children as you and I do for ours, the same heartache, the same crushing need to protect and provide. She doesn’t dismiss or bury her pain as I surmised. She walks through it every day with untold strength, determination, and hope that if she just keeps trying, keeps pushing, her kids will have the kind of life that was never within her grasp.
Parents share a kinship that spans every divide – an understanding that our lives (and our hearts) no longer belong to us alone. Maria Berta shares her struggle with thousands of mothers across Guatemala who fight each day to give their children the educational opportunities that will lead to a life out of poverty. This Mother’s Day, we invite you to walk in solidarity with these brave women and celebrate the moms in your own life at the same time.
Donate $35 or more in honor or memory of each mother in your life by May 7, and we will send them a frameable Mother’s Day card showcasing women like Maria Berta whose families will be helped in their name. Let the moms in Guatemala know that they are not alone.