By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ATACO, EL SALVADOR — Ataco is a picturesque town located in the Apaneca Mountains not far from the Guatemalan border. Homes and businesses are painted pink, yellow, blue and green with flowers and harvest scenes or religious images. Cobblestoned streets pop up in the midst of asphalt, and curbs are high to keep water from heavy rains or flooded streams from getting into buildings. Banners of Pope Francis hang from street poles on almost every block. People are friendly and the nearby mountain tops disappear into the clouds.
Delmy Garcia (21) lives with her family in a house painted yellow. She has been sponsored for about 15 years, and was recently awarded an Unbound scholarship to attend the public university in Santa Ana, an hour or so away.
The freshman is studying English, Spanish grammar, psychology and Visual Expression, an education course. Delmy hopes to be a teacher.
In order to be on time for her first class, at 6:45 a.m., she gets up at 4 a.m., and takes two busses to Santa Ana. “The busses are really crowded,” she said, “and sometimes it’s difficult to be polite because I don’t want to be late for class. But I try because I like to be kind.”
She gets lots of practice at being kind: she is one of 14 people living in the house, which belongs to her grandmother. One of four families living in the home, hers lives there rent free, as her grandmother insisted that any rent her parents would pay be directed toward their children’s education. Delmy also works weekends at a restaurant in Apaneca, about 15 minutes from Ataco.
Besides transportation, Delmy faces other challenges to completing her education. The biggest challenge is that she doesn’t have a computer or the Internet at home, which causes problems when her teachers want homework or papers emailed. The computers in the center at the university often don’t work and she has to compete with other students to use the computers that do work. She often gets home late and the cyber cafes are closed, and “they aren’t very safe anyway.”
Her scholarship helps pay the weekly tuition costs, but she works to cover other expenses, including transportation, cyber café charges if she needs to use their computers, food and photocopies.
Delmy is confident that she will succeed.” I don’t believe in obstacles!” She wants to teach children of all ages, in a public school where instruction in English may be lacking.
Right now she finds it easier to write in English than to speak it. She proudly, but shyly showed off an essay she had penned.
“My dream house will be in New York City. It will be original. The rooms will have a TV, a sofa and a hot tub. It will be three floors, and the color will be blue and white. There is a pool and there is a big garden. There are many trees. There are two garages because I will have two cars. I will share my dream house with my mother, my father, my sister and my brother.”
She has dreams, oh yes, and her sponsor’s monthly contribution and encouraging letters are helping her get closer to realizing them.
“I feel great,” she said. “The foundation is great to my family. I have learned to be responsible and to care for others. The biggest benefit I have received is the opportunity to continue my education. I come from a humble family and it would be very difficult if I wasn’t sponsored.”
Delmy’s brother, Saul, is 10 years old and her sister Jancy Zisela is 16. Although neither is sponsored, Delmy tries to share by teaching Zisela some English when she helps her sister with her homework.
When she’s not attending classes, riding busses, working or studying, Delmy enjoys music and the company of friends. She also likes to paint sometimes.
She said she would encourage teenagers to “believe in yourself and most of all, believe in God because he will be there to support you. If there are obstacles, don’t let them stop you. Continue with your dreams, God is there.”
As we rose to go, Delmy darted into her room and reappeared with a painting wrapped in plastic. The pastoral scene showed the sun, the moon and three stars predominately positioned. “A friend painted this for me. He said the moon represents my father, the sun is my mother and the three stars are Saul, Zisela and me.”
The painting was obviously very special to this young woman, and I felt tears in my eyes; they overflowed when she hugged me. She reminded me of my own daughters, determined to succeed with her dreams.
After lunch with the Unbound- Ataco staff and social workers, we paid a visit to Iglesia Ave Maria, a century-old Franciscan church. I found myself saying a little prayer that the dreams of Delmy, Marlena, Julio, Faustina, Carlos and their families come true. I suspect the others in our group were also whispering hopes for the families they had met on this trip to the Presence in the beautiful church.
To learn more about sponsorship opportunities through Unbound, visit their website, www.unbound.org or contact Unbound, 1 Elmwood Avenue, Kansas City, Kan., 66103, (800) 875-6564 or (913) 384-6500.