A special part of UPAVIM is Reforzamiento, a place where students of UPAVIM and other children from La Esperanza can come and receive help and tutoring. In charge of the program is Reyna. She has celebrity status in La Esperanza and the reason is clear, there is so much charisma in this tiny lady it is impossible not to love her. She is always laughing, a laugh that infects those around her and soon everyone is laughing with her. She is also a dedicated mother; her children are all much-loved students here in UPAVIM. Lunch time with Reyna is a highlight of the day for many volunteers. With her quick wit and call it as you see it attitude, while also being inherently motherly to everyone who comes to UPAVIM, it is easy to forget that this extraordinary lady has had so much to overcome in her life. Like most of our beloved UPAVIMas Reyna’s life has involved struggles and a fights that led her to her work at UPAVIM.
Reyna’s family moved to Guatemala City when she was two years old. She was suffering from polio and was completely paralyzed. Her family had no access to healthcare in the rural area they were living so they moved to the city with the hope of finding Reyna help. Reyna’s mother was able to find a doctor who started her on treatments and she eventually started walking. However, soon her mother was unable to take her to the doctor because she was eight months pregnant with her brother. Reyna was walking, but only with the aid of a brace. Reyna began working at the age of seven and attended school in the afternoons. Her days were full, from early morning until late at night she was either working, selling fruit or in school.
[blockquote align=”right”]Barb and my neighbor carried me on their backs when I needed to go back to the doctors, after the operation.[/blockquote]
When Reyna was in 5th grade her mother was able to take her to a free medical organization in the City. She had a total of twelve operations on each foot and both of her legs were in a cast for eight months. She received help from people around her in the community, including from UPAVIM’s founder, Barbara Lorraine.
Reyna’s father was an alcoholic, and violent to her mother. She remembers a time when her mother was 8 months pregnant and her father was beating her. Reyna, forever the warrior says, “the only thing I could do was to pick up my legs (in the cast) with my arms, and kick him over the head. She saved her mother that time, but her father did not leave the family and was in and out of her life as she grew up.
Meanwhile, determined to get her education, Reyna continued working around the clock and going to school. Her mother had a store, where Reyna would work into the early hours. When she was 12 years old Reyna met the boy who would eventually become the father of her son. She discovered she was pregnant at 16, just at the beginning of the school year. She was fearful of not finishing her studies, and so she kept the pregnancy a secret. At six months pregnant, however; the secret was no longer one she could keep. She began working with her teachers, who were just as determined as Reyna that she would finish school.
Reyna was still living at home with an abusive, alcoholic father. He would hit her mother relentlessly, and this is what Reyna, like so many of the women of Esperanza, grew up around. She remembers her parents fighting, and one fight in particular when Reyna was far along in her pregnancy, that resulted in her father saying, “If Reyna doesn’t leave then I am going.” Her mother finally found an inner strength and told him “You leave then.”
Despite coming to the defense of her daughter, once her husband left, Reyna’s mother became less supportive and told her that if she was to have a baby, that she had to take all the responsibility. So when the time came to have the baby, Reyna was left standing on her own two feet at just 16. To add more stress for the young teenager, she had to leave her new baby, Nelson, in the hospital because his lungs were not developed enough when he was born.
She eventually had to leave her house, because of troubles with her brother and her father. The father of her baby belonged to the gangs, and her parents were not happy with them being together. So, at 17, she left. She was working, taking care of her baby and living alone.
Reyna came to work for UPAVIM after the birth of her son Nelson, who was in UPAVIM’s Cunas (Nursery) from just twenty days old. She says it was sad because she did not get to see her baby as much as she would have liked to, and she missed him whenever she was working. However, she was so happy to be making her own income and to meet the women of UPAVIM. She quickly became very popular at UPAVIM, thanks to her undeniable charm and amazing sense of humor! UPAVIM was becoming more successful at this time and work became more frequent for all the women of UPAVIM.
Things started to improve for Reyna, with her newfound independence, however this calm period didn’t last. Reyna had met a new boyfriend and she realized she was going to have her second baby when she was already six months pregnant. She was still living alone and was frightened of being just the three of them, her, her little boy and her new baby girl. When Zoila was born she was really happy. However she wanted to move to a safer area and build a new house. Men would knock on her door throughout the night, but she never opened it, she was too scared. Men were starting to look for and target women who were living alone.
When Zoila was two years old, Reyna started to work at the Reforzamiento. And this is truly where she belongs. Thanks to her position in UPAVIM, she was receiving a salary and Reyna was able to invest in a bigger and more secure home for herself and her two children. Reyna was starting to feel much happier, she felt things were starting to go right for her. She had always dreamed of being a teacher and she was finally doing it.
Things became difficult again thanks to her tumultuous relationship with the father of her second child, who is an alcoholic and would frequently take his aggression out on Reyna. She had two other beautiful little girls with him, despite his alcoholism and violent mood swings.
Reyna had always been a champion for the rights of women, fighting to protect her mother from her father, and then going on to become a protector of the friends she made in UPAVIM who were suffering from domestic abuse and violence. When she found herself becoming a victim, she didn’t know what to do. She felt helpless, and all of a sudden like a person who just accepted bad things happening to her. The friends who she had previously stepped in to protect from abusive men would ask her, “Where is Reyna? Where is the brave woman we know?” And she didn’t know anymore. She had always fought back and responded to terrible situations in a strong way, and then she became a victim of a man’s abuse. She stopped coming to work frequently and she was hospitalized from one of his alcohol driven attacks.
She explains that she felt like no one loved her, he convinced her that her parents didn’t care, and that she had nobody. Eventually an UPAVIM volunteer and friend came to find her at home. She had been badly beaten, and she finally knew that the violence had to stop. Now she comes to work proudly every day, she is the heart and soul of Reforz, and the key reason for the program’s success.
Reyna is an extraordinary example of the internal strength that women find and display, especially when they have their children to take care of. She is a wonderful mother and has made sure that she is the role model in their life and the one that her children take after. And take after her they do, each of them with personalities so big you have to wonder how they all fit in the same house, and each one with a laugh bigger and happier than the other. She also makes sure that education is their priority. Two of her daughters are currently UPAVIM students. They are star pupils, even if they do sometimes take after their mother a little too much and become the class clowns!
Reyna learns English with the volunteers here and understands a huge amount. As for her future, Reyna hopes to go on to study English full time and be able to teach English professionally. She says of UPAVIM “It is my home. I have been in UPAVIM for 17 years. UPAVIM looked after my children while I worked and they still do. UPAVIM helped me in every way.” She also added. “There are still so many women living with discrimination and violence, and they need UPAVIM.”
Her final thought: “I know now that I am strong and I am going to do it, I will keep advancing.”