A Woman with a Heart of Gold
This month we invite you to meet Cristi, part of UPAVIM’s bakery team. She also works in the crafts program making UPAVIM’s handmade products and is now learning how to sew. Cristi is a woman with a heart of gold and she wears a smile from ear to ear at all times. She has a calming presence, and despite her youth in years she is a true mother figure, caring for everybody she meets.
During the civil war that scars Guatemala, Cristi, who is indigenous, lost both of her parents when she was just eighteen months old, leaving her and her six-year-old sister in the care of their grandparents. They lived in Patzun, Chimaltenango, a rural part of Guatemala. Raised by her grandparents who only speak Kaqchikel (a Mayan dialect), Cristi did not learn Spanish until the age of six when she began school. Before school each morning she would start work at 5:30 a.m. in the fields, then run to school at 7:30 to return home after a few hours of studying to work some more; doing all of this without ever having a pair of shoes. Cristi says that even though her family did not have very much, she remembers living there with so much joy, it was such a beautiful place and for what little they had they were all so grateful.
Cristi and her sister had to drop out of school during the fifth grade to take on a more full-time work schedule at home. Then her sister got married and left home at the age of sixteen. Once her sister was gone Cristi felt very lonely and unhappy so she left not long after, at just twelve years old, to come to the city and work making tortillas.
At fourteen years old Cristi met the father of her children and became pregnant with her first son, Henry. She says it was a very difficult time, she had to work long hours to support herself and her new baby.
[blockquote]They lived in La Esperanza at a time when it was very different; there were no paved roads and no constructed houses. But the gang violence and the danger didn’t exist either. [/blockquote] She was so very happy to have her baby. She thinks she had her children at such a young age because she missed her own family so much, she wanted to be part of a family herself. At sixteen Cristi and her husband had a second son, Abner.
Two years later they had their first daughter, Erika and two years later, their second daughter, Leini. When Leini was four years old, a neighbor told Cristi about an opportunity to work at UPAVIM. Even though she wanted to take the opportunity, she was scared, scared to make a change and fearful of her husband who was verbally and mentally abusive. He would accuse her of being out with other men whenever she left the house and it caused a lot of problems in their home. In 2007, her friend who had told her about the opportunity brought her to UPAVIM to start working. Coming to work at UPAVIM, Cristi received so much support, and it really boosted her self-esteem, she says. The women would take part in different group activities and trainings that were designed to help them feel empowered.
Cristi’s husband is an alcoholic, a problem that affects so many families here. Despite their many problems they stayed together for seventeen years. Cristi became pregnant with a fifth child two years ago. Her husband then left the family while she was still carrying the baby. She suffered a lot because of this. Despite always having been the main caregiver for the family, the thought that she really was in it alone and was going to have her baby all by herself was terrifying for Cristi. But she put on a brave face and every day she came to work with a smile, just as one would expect from the Cristi we all know and love.
Her third daughter, Katerin, arrived one year ago, and she is a beautiful baby girl. She has brought so much joy to Cristi and her family, but the reality remains that another baby is a huge challenge for Cristi, now raising five children alone.
Cristi takes a great deal of pride in her children, and rightfully so, as they really are children to be proud of. She talks about her children and her face lights up, she only has to remind herself of them and a new strength surrounds her as she talks about fighting through the everyday struggles. Cristi’s biggest hope for her family is that all of her children finish their studies. She hopes that they can go on to higher education, to become teachers, doctors or nurses, to be able to help their community in some way.
I asked Cristi what she would have liked to become, if she had the opportunity to study more, and she told me she would have liked to study natural medicine. She talks about how her neighbors and friends often search for her if they are sick, to brew them a special tea, or to seek her advice. She is a natural healer, perhaps because of her huge heart. She cares about everyone.
Cristi’s hope for UPAVIM is that we can continue to give work for the women of the community, and perhaps expand to have the capacity to help even more women. UPAVIM is so lucky to have amazing role models like Cristi.