Many times these paths are not what we have expected, believed or imagined’, like the songs goes, but these paths make us go to every kind of place, sometimes with unexpected stops, extended joys or brief sighs of emotion. We are driving towards our objective and life surprises us during our journey. Yomaira is 41 years old and is fulfilling her dream, to become a Teacher. Since she was very young she has dreamt of educating others, to keep them away from the poverty and violence in which they were immersed. With no hesitation, she set down to teach the kids who couldn’t access school, while peeling yuccas and breastfeeding her baby in her humble house located on the south of Barranquilla, Colombia, in the neighborhood ‘7 de Abril’. Nothing and no one could make her lose hope that someday, this longing which in part she was already accomplishing, could be multiplied and get bigger beyond her expectations.
On the other side of Barranquilla, in the old and pretty neighborhood of Prado, Martha, after working as a bacteriologist for many years, taking care of her 4 children, seeing them grow up and open their own paths; she wanted to look for an activity to spend her time. The hot and humid Colombian coast, engaged in getting them together in this marginal neighborhood, through a friend of Martha whom she helped periodically in this humble community hall that Yomaira had obtained to dictate classes to 45 kids in 30 square metres.
The paths of life crossed them in ‘7 de Abril’, and they complemented mutually and gave each other strength to carry on a project that would change the soul of this district which was immersed in misery and knocked down by drugs and violence. Yomaira, originally from Barranquilla and born in this neighbourhood, knew in detail the needs of her community, she just needed a couple of hands loaded with the same drive as hers, to achieve her dream. They mutually recognized in the other an unlimited potential to prosecute what they proposed and they were not wrong. Together, they are dynamite. Martha remembers when she met Yomaira: “She was 31 years old and I saw that with nothing she did so much! She could do even more with just a little push. She was prepared and well informed, she had studied maths, pedagogy and other things; she was strong and knew exactly what she wanted. If you see a value like this you have to use it, I couldn’t leave this kid alone!”
At the beginning Martha and her friends started by reinforcing breakfast on Wednesdays, bringing scrambled eggs, oats and guava, milk, bread and bananas, thanks to the food being donated to her and the help of the lady who worked at Martha’s house. Wednesday was a happy day at ‘Milagro de Abril’ (April’s Miracle), everyone would come to help bringing the food from Martha’s car, as soon as she appeared at the soccer field. Martha recalls: “I don’t know how we grew, that was dreadful, dreadful…. the little house was ghastly! So we started to bring some of tiles and sanitation equipment that we had left over and slowly started making it better. When the opportunity came to purchase the house which was next to the soccer field, it was great. We had to get it! So doing bingos, selling bread and with the contribution of some companies we made it. I have a very positive attitude, I set on an aim and I work and work towards it until I reach it. I would say ‘let’s go, let’s go!’ and would close my eyes, and this is how we made it! Now it is beautiful, we have complete elementary education, a dining room with free breakfast and lunch for 180 kids; 8 teachers, projects of ‘flauta dulce’ (recorder or English flute), ‘flauta de millo’ (ditch reed flute) and drums; a project of healthy and affective way of living together and Kumon (a Japanese method of teaching math in Spanish). With a lot of effort, we had recently obtained help from the Government, but I say it is the presence of God because it is really a miracle everything that is happening there, this is why we call it April’s Miracle, so you better ask for what we don’t have because we have everything! We are also developing a school for parents, a psychology program, a program for the older adult and numerous parallel activities. Sometimes it is hard to get extra hands to help, because the human being thinks only about himself, having a good time, getting benefit from everything, without getting engaged in helping, only on the surface, like doing something for a little while, but they don’t get involved. Sometimes I get disappointed, but I’m already in this and I enjoy it! When I decided to get fully involved, many supported me and fortunately keep on supporting me!”
What began by buying a fridge or getting gas to avoid making a fire every day to give the kids hot chocolate, after 9 years of tireless work it has become a great school. What surprises and thrills us is the love that you can feel there, where the kids are in a healthy and safe environment, away from the harsh reality of the neighbourhood. Their drawings that would express their dreams of becoming like their parents, while pushing a hand-cart picking up recyclable materials from the garbage, is slowly turning into a dream of becoming nurses, teachers, doctors and engineers. Their games are being transformed from violence into just having fun.
Every time Martha arrives at April’s Miracle, all the kids try to hug her at the same time, the same happens with us who they meet for the first time (obviously it is more effusive towards her!). Their joy is tangible, they greet us singing in unison: “Good morning, sir”, and when asked how they are, they would sing back: “Very well, thanks God, and how about you?” from 5 year-olds to 5th graders. The eldest of the school are responsible to help with the daily tasks like moving the benches, sweeping, picking up garbage, setting the chairs and whatever is needed. Everything had to be in order, because the following day they were inaugurating a new building! We met Martha on the eve of the new building inaugural ceremony; without planning it, again we met these silent workers a day before a big event, the same as with doña Inesita from Villa de Leyva, who would give “Everything for her dear old people”. Coincidence?
Yomaira always had her destiny crystal clear. “Since I was a little girl, I had at home a small chalkboard and chalks; it was my dream and my favourite game. I live in this neighborhood, my house has mud floor, I know very well the needs and each of the students. My parents instilled in me the notion that wherever I was living, I had to study hard to become a good person. With a lot of effort from my parents, I started studying pedagogy, and I would go away all day without having lunch due to lack of resources, but I was one of the best students.” She graduated, met her husband and got married. She studied educational administration, but got pregnant and had to quit. Her husband had given her a very good sewing machine for mother’s day, but she didn’t want it, and he knew what she wanted: a school, so he bought her chalkboards, chairs and chalks! This is how it all began; she would undo her living room and would dictate classes to 25 children from Monday to Friday. “I wanted to teach them for more time, so my husband would buy buckets of water and rice and we would provide lunch to the kids. So their parents could go out to work and know their kids were being taken care of. Sometimes they would sit for an exam to enter 3rd grade in a school, and they would be told they had a 5th grade level, just imagine my happiness! As I was constantly pregnant (I have 4 children), the kids would help me clean the dishes and would teach my little ones how to walk.” She started to be popular in her community, but she kept on dreaming with something more, she was able to see that this couldn’t grow much like this, without a license, so she moved in search of her dream again. She studied maths and Kumon; but her jealous husband, didn’t want her to work in a school, even though he had supported her in everything; so she registered as a volunteer in a program close by, and this is how she met Martha, who was brought there by a friend. “She came with other ladies; the “pretty ladies”, who sat down opposite from me and listened to me talk. They didn’t tell me anything, just asked for my cell phone number, a few days later they started bringing breakfast every Wednesday.”
Martha saw that these kids needed and deserved much more. Yomaira decided to leave the room where she worked with them, because she didn’t see any possibilities in making it legal and she wanted more, she wanted a school. When she told Martha that she was abandoning it, she answered, “Find a house to rent!” And they started: “I brought all my chalkboards, my benches and we started to work to obtain the license. We were 5 teachers, sometimes I would have to cook while teaching because we didn’t have any help. We would earn 60,000 Colombian pesos per month (USD 30), but we really believed in the project, we were risking it all and we were happy! Besides, Martha was always aware of our needs, she would get us some clothes, would help us in a thousand ways to keep us motivated and hopeful. I would fall in love with some drums, and Martha would get them so the kids could learn to play them. I frequently dream and she tells me I’m crazy, but then everything appears, she obtains everything; and some other times it is the opposite, we take turns.”
Together, they make possible this April’s Miracle, which is constantly enlarging its sense of belonging to the neighborhood and vice versa. They complement each other, Yomaira in the battle field and Martha behind the scenes, making calls, pulling the strings and getting donations, scholarships and materials, with the support of her son who works in construction, her multi-task daughter and her husband who is a doctor with his foundation and his networking. Each one contributes with its own specialty, health campaigns, cleaning and care for the school campaigns, etc. Their last madness together was to finish the last building that has a play center with A/C, a lab (telescope included!), a well equipped library, a set of washrooms and a mini cinema. We had the chance to share with Mariu, our sister in law hostess in Barranquilla, the building inauguration, with all the elegance that it deserved, a ball with the Queen of the Carnival, dance with drums, flutes and general cheerfulness.
The paths of life crossed their lives so together they could start this project that is transforming so many people. Along this vertiginous and sinuous road, both had to overcome hard tests in these few years. Martha suffered the loss of a child of 35 years old and Yomaira the loss of her husband. Nevertheless, with a heart full of love and strength, they confess: “I believe that God put me in this project to be able to overcome the loss of my child” And Yomaira tells us something similar regarding her husband 6 months before. “I believe that my husband was here to help me get ready for all this”. These women made of steel are really changing the world, starting with their own world, of the neighborhood ‘7 de Abril’, in Barranquilla, Colombia.