Born in Villa El Salvador, southern Lima, Peru, Rosa Cueto Vega was surrounded by hills, sand and poverty. She experienced hunger and suffering. In the midst of her family’s struggle for survival, she didn’t have the luxury of dreaming for a future.
Surviving in a House With No Walls
“When I was a child, my house didn’t have real walls. There was just a fence and we also had a hole as a bathroom; money was very scarce,” says Rosa.
“I was aware of the poverty around me. Sometimes I cried because I was hungry. And my mom was desperate and gave us boiled potatoes mashed with oil for the whole day. We didn’t have enough clothes and I had to wear my oldest siblings’ torn clothes for months. So we just lived like that…”
During her early childhood, this was the life Rosa lived, never imagining better plans for her life. But near her house was a church partnering with Compassion. Rosa had the opportunity to be registered at the child development center through sponsorship when she was 7 years old.
“I was excited and I enjoyed going to the center because I was able to eat varied meals and meats and I enjoyed making crafts. It was a different world compared to my house,” says Rosa.
Surviving in a Family With Mental Illness
After two years attending the center, Rosa’s mom was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“My mom had her first schizophrenia attack when I was 9 years old, and she had to stay in the hospital for three months. My older sisters took care of us, me and my younger siblings. Then, my mom came home but she was really bad, vomiting every time she ate. She was numb and we had to take care of her, making sure she took her pills,” says Rosa.
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“Those were the most difficult months because we had to ask for money from other relatives and my mom was going through hard mood changes. She was happy and suddenly she was sad or angry. She wanted to commit suicide many times. She used to burn our clothes.”
Having a parent with schizophrenia changed Rosa’s life completely. Her father abandoned the family. Her siblings preferred to be out of the house and developed unhealthy relationships. Rosa became isolated and shy.
“I remember my tutor [at the center] said to me, ‘Rosa, we know what your family is going through. God won’t give you more than you can handle and we are here to help you.’ So I said to myself, ‘I can handle this.’ I used to suffer but I knew God was with me. God helped me to really focus on who He was for me and for my family instead of focusing on my mom’s illness.”
Motivation to Dream for a Better Future
While struggling with her mom’s illness at home, the center gave her the opportunity to dream and expand her horizons. Her mom’s illness also motivated her to be better.
“Thanks to the staff at the center, I was motivated to study and fulfill my dreams. I was 16 years old when I finished high school and my center director told me they would help me pay for my pre-college preparation. That was a huge support. I had already decided to become a fishing engineer due to the vocational orientation I had received at church,” says Rosa.
“That was a good year. In spite of my mom’s condition, the Lord helped me enter the university and my dad returned home. I couldn’t be happier.”
Dreams Powered By Relationships
Rosa received her support through the Leadership Development Program, and it was there where she got to know her sponsors, who played an important role in her development.
“My sponsors are still a great blessing for my life. They helped me by raising my self-esteem and my desire to go on. Sometimes I felt very insecure. I felt I was not pretty at all but their words really helped me. I remember the first letter. They wanted to know everything about me. They came to visit me three times!” says Rosa.
“In the letters, my sponsors always told me to show my beautiful smile. They sent me verses saying that everything turns out for good to those who love God. They encouraged me to do my best, to be well-planned. They were really passionate about my life,” shares Rosa. “My relationship with my sponsors taught me not to hide my problems, but to accept them and get rid of them. So I was released from shyness when I told my sponsors about the problems I had at home. God used them to help me in that way.”
Rosa also says, “With their support, I was able to improve my house condition. My house now has walls, a floor, a roof and a proper bathroom. I was able to buy a laptop, new clothes, a wardrobe, and everything got much better. I am thankful for their faithfulness throughout my studies.”
From Surviving to Thriving
Rosa graduated from university in 2011 as a fishing engineer and started work on her thesis, which took two years. After finishing her thesis in 2013, she received a scholarship to get a master’s degree in marine biology at Vigo University, in Spain. She chose to apply for the scholarship at Vigo University because it gave her the opportunity to visit her sponsors in the Netherlands.
In 2015, Rosa returned from Spain and married her best friend Arturo, who is also a fishing engineer. They both share the same passion for the sea and now raise a sweet baby, Adriana.
Arturo, Rosa’s husband, says, “Rosa learned to progress in life throughout the adversities, and she has achieved many things that are difficult to achieve even by people with money. Having all against her, she is going far. She is my harmony and peace. She balances my life. She is the best mom and professional. She is smart and self-taught, and she’s learned to dive without knowing how to swim. I am very proud to be her husband.”
In 2016, Rosa submitted her thesis to the National Fisheries Society and won first place in the Aquaculture Research Category. Her thesis, “Influence of Some Environmental Variables on Gonadosomatic Index of Argpecten Purpuratus Scallop in Paracas Bay,” won $3,000. The topic of her thesis is important because scallops are exported to France and the United States, generating income for Peru. Rosa’s work helps scallop producers know when maturation begins for scallops so they can plan their harvest in advance.
Breaking a Family’s Cycle
Rosa’s parents are very proud of her and the whole family is progressing. Due to her influence, her siblings are studying at university as well.
Rosa’s mom is doing much better and helps take care of Adriana. She says, “I am very proud of my Rosa. She has suffered a lot with my illness and the poor situation we lived in, but she has always been hardworking and full of faith.”
A New Cycle of Dreams
“Compassion’s work as an intermediary between me and my sponsors, as my faith teachers and service formation has been rewarding.” says Rosa. “I finished my career, I’ve got my master’s degree, I have a lovely husband and a strong marriage so far, with a beautiful baby. There is much peace in my family. We’ve been able to build my parents’ house and we are starting a new cycle in my family, without poverty.”
And what’s next? A Ph.D. in marine biology at Franco-Peruvian Doctoral School where she recently received a another scholarship. She will also teach a master’s course at her former university starting in March 2017.
Rosa’s plans for her immediate future are to teach and encourage students to help the country by encouraging conservation of the environment to protect their resources and all life.
At 27 years old, Rosa is reaching further than she’s ever imagined. Behind a reward, a professional degree or true success, there is a journey of suffering and pain. However, how Rosa responded in those moments defined the measure of her success.