A Mother’s Struggle for Hope: Amparo from Colombia
When Amparo’s oldest son told her he was going back to Colombia to earn money for their destitute family, she begged him not to go. She, her two sons, and disabled sister had escaped to Ecuador to apply for asylum. There, they were safe from the constant threat of violence they had been under. “I told him it was too dangerous to go back,” she says with tears. “But he went. Six months later, he was brutally murdered. It was as if all the life had been ripped out of my heart.”
Colombia’s multi-decade internal conflict had forced more than five million people out of their homes, and had left its mark on Amparo’s life from the time she was a child. “My family had a small property when I was growing up. One night, when I was nine, men with guns came and threatened to kill us. They forced us off our land.”
That night, it was only their land that was taken, but a few years later, it was her father. “He was kidnapped and they wanted a ransom even though my family was poor. They tortured him and burned the ends of his fingers. We got him back, but he never recovered from what happened to him. He was never the same.”
When she thinks about what got her through the traumatic events of her childhood and adolescence, Amparo says, “My parents gave me so much love.” It was this love through immense adversity that she carried forward when she became a mother.
“I only studied until grade three because I had to help my family, so I made sure both my sons graduated high school. I worked very hard to support them. Sometimes I left the house at 4am and didn’t come back until 2pm, a day and a half later. I got paid by how much cane sugar I packed for export. I raised my sons by myself. My husband was abusive, so I left him. When I was working, my mom helped look after the boys. They never got into trouble. How many mother’s can say that about their sons?”
When her mother died, Amparo took over caring for her sister who is in a wheelchair, needs help eating and cannot communicate with words. “She’s like my own daughter,” Amparo says. “She gives me the strength to continue in this world. When I’m sad I look at her and I see her saying to me, ‘I’m here for you.’”
While Amparo gained another loved-one to support, the situation in her country continued to deteriorate. “There was so much killing. Many of my family were killed; only a few managed to leave. I took my sons and my sister to Ecuador. My family couldn’t believe it, how I got my sister there. God is so big and powerful.”
And then, her oldest son was murdered. “I would trade everything if I could just have him back.”
Hope for the future
All Amparo could think about now was giving her surviving son and sister a safe life with a positive future. She gathered all the documents that were asked of her, answered all the questions that were put to her, and waited and waited. Finally, she got a response. “When they told me, ‘You’re going to the United States’, it was such a blessing.”
But settling into this new country was not easy. After the initial ninety-day support period provided to her as a refugee, Amparo still needed a lot of support. “I didn’t know how to do anything here. Lori [from Beyond90] helped me with everything. She spent a lot of time with me. ”
Getting Amparo financially stable took a lot of effort. “My rent became so high that I didn’t have enough money to pay it," she says. Another crisis was looming, but Amparo had somewhere to turn.
Beyond90 located an apartment unit Amparo could afford and that could accommodate her sister. However, she first had to gain full legal guardianship of her sister to be able to sign a new lease on her behalf. Lori helped Amparo through this lengthy process and made sure she got to all of her legal appointments.
Amparo then had to pay a penalty for breaking the original lease. “Donors partnering with Beyond90 provided Amparo with the funds she needed to cover the penalty and become rent stable again,” says Lori. “Our donors are amazing. They help families at a time of crisis so they can get back on their own feet.”
The struggle toward full financial stability continued. Lori worked with Amparo until she was finally approved through the long-term care system to be paid for twelve hours a week as a caregiver for her sister. Amparo is currently focusing on learning new skills like banking and paying bills on her own. “I am so thankful for my new life,” says Amparo.
She is also thankful that her son has now become a husband and father and is working as a tradesperson, providing for his own family.
Her dream for her son has come true.
It is these successes of supporting refugees toward self-sufficiency that fuel Barton and Lori’s own dream. “We can’t wait for the day Beyond90 has enough funds to buy an apartment complex for transitional housing for refugees. It’ll be a place where they can have the full time they need to work toward being self-sufficient and integrating into American society. Supporting them right where they live through a structured life skills program, in partnership with other area agencies, will give them a firm foundation for their new lives. It’s really going to be exciting!”