Growing up, Maria’s mom did “easy work,” as the neighbors called it. She was a prostitute.
Sometimes Maria and her younger brother were left at neighbors’ houses in Montero, Bolivia, while her mother went to work. Other times, the children came with her.
Even though Maria was just a little girl, she understood what was going on.
“I remember where she worked. It was a specific place,” said Maria. “As soon as my dad left to work, my mom left to her ‘easy work,’ too.”
Looking back on that time of life, Maria, now 19, recalls feelings of resentment, abandonment, hate and sorrow. Besides her mother’s work, there was also violence at home. Her parents would fight in the streets, causing scandals, and once her father even tried to kill her mom.
When Maria was 9, she went to live with her aunt. But life didn’t get any better.
Maria’s aunt and her cousins were prostitutes, too.
About 30 people lived in the house. At first her family welcomed her, but as the days passed the welcome grew cold. Maria had to do all the cleaning, cooking and washing. If she didn’t know how to do a task, her family yelled at her.
Maria’s cousins started working as prostitutes when they were around 15 years old. As Maria became an adolescent, her aunt and mother insinuated that she could be with a young man who frequented the house and “had money.”
But there was one thing keeping Maria from this life of desperation.
When she was 7, Maria’s mother registered her in a Compassion center at a local church where she was sponsored by a family in the U.S. The center helped Maria practically, ensuring she had food, medical care, school supplies and hygiene materials. Maria still lived in the same negative home environment, but her life started to change as God began to work in Maria’s heart and mind.
“What I remember the most is that the center was a great help for my life, especially in the spiritual area,” said Maria. “It helped me very much to know about God’s Word, to get close to Him. The tutors also helped me with advice and listened to me.”
Unfortunately, the Compassion center wasn’t aware of Maria’s dangerous living situation. Maria kept it to herself. But Maria says she knows who protected her all those years: Jesus.
“It was complicated to witness all that, but I always had in mind that I would never do that,” said Maria. “I know it was God telling me not to be that way.”
Maria began to dream and plan for her future, even when all she heard at home was insults.
“I had been humiliated by my family since I was a little girl,” said Maria. “They used to say, ‘You won’t graduate. You will get pregnant. You will be like your mother. You won’t make it. Your head won’t work. You won’t study.’ All of those words hurt, but I continued. The Plan for Tomorrow we filled out in the center helped me write my story. It helped me very much, and that’s why I’m here. It helped me organize my life and have the dreams I have now,” says Maria.
My Plan for Tomorrow is a life-planning workbook that helps youths determine their dreams and set goals along the way. That helped Maria hear beyond the taunts of her family to envision a different future.
Although she didn’t have her family’s support, Maria graduated as the top student in her class.
She received a scholarship at the Evangelical Private University, where she is studying psychology. She is also studying linguistics at the Gabriel Rene Moreno Public University.
“With my career, I can help people,” Maria says. “I went through difficult times, and I feel I can help others, too. I know God can use me that way.”
Last year, Maria finally felt comfortable enough to share about her living situation with her pastor, Pedro, and his wife, Esther, who are both Compassion alumni. They immediately took Maria to live with them. Now Maria has a safe place where she hears words of encouragement as she prepares for her future.
“They are now not only my pastors and friends, but they are also my parents. God is too good,” said Maria. “I can’t believe they can love me so much.”
Thanks to the church’s guidance, Maria has learned to forgive her mother. She now thinks about her mom with love.
Sadly, Maria’s younger brother grew up with their father in area where there wasn’t a Compassion church partner. He is addicted to drugs and sometimes steals to buy drugs.
Maria knows this could have happened to her.
“If the center never existed, I would be lost. The center educated me and formed me into the person I am today,” said Maria. “At home, there weren’t values. My parents weren’t there to tell me what’s right or wrong, so I am who I am thanks to God and the center. Without the center, I wouldn’t be here. I would be working in the same things as my mother, and would probably already have several children.”
Instead of life as a prostitute, Maria is a resilient and emotionally healthy young woman. She has found peace and joy, an example of how God’s love can restore a life.
To all our sponsors: This is the kind of impact your support is having on young lives! To all those who haven’t yet taken the step to sponsor a child: