On May 25, 2014 I received a letter from two students from our school in Playa Prieta that I had mentored for five years. In the letter they told me how excited they were about a pilgrimage they went on to Cajas in Cuenca (Ecuador), where Our Lady had appeared as “Guardian of the Faith.” After that, they made a Spiritual Exercises Retreat. As fruit of both of those activities, they decided to take their spiritual life more seriously by forming a small group along with some other girls. They called their group: HM YPEP, which stands for Home of the Mother – Yo prefiero el Paraíso (I prefer Paradise). And their main objective was to mutually help each other and get up after their falls.
After mentioning each of the girls in the group, they wrote the following, “Valeria is very united to us and with her simplicity, she helps us a lot.” That was Valeria: a very simple and thankful girl.
Valeria as a student in the school of Playa Prieta
I got to know Valeria in May of 2011, right after her eleventh birthday. One of her aunts had a son – Dandy – who studied at our school in Playa Prieta. One day, she came to ask us to help her nieces, Valeria and her sister Jennifer. Up until that moment they lived in Portoviejo, but because of serious family issues they moved to a little house very close to our school. Valeria, her sister Jennifer, their maternal grand-mother and their very elderly great-grandmother, who Valeria greatly loved and who died soon after, all lived in that house. Their grandmother was like a mother to them because their mother had died when they were very little. Their father had killed her in front of them.
Her aunt pleaded with us to admit them in our school, even though classes had already begun. In the southern hemisphere, the school semester begins at the end of March or beginning of April. Our response was to immediately accept them and tell her that we would do whatever we could to help them, because they were having a lot of economic difficulties. Their situation broke our heart and we quickly got to work.
Thanks to the Missionary Groups of the Home of the Mother (MGHM) we could sponsor the family and provide a scholarship for Valeria. They didn’t know how to thank us for everything we did for them. Every time we took food to their house, her grandmother cried out of gratitude. Valeria’s transparent gaze and huge smile said it all.
It was amazing to see how hard she tried to catch up with all her classes and be at the same level as her classmates. She was observant, silent, responsible, always with a big smile, looking out for everyone… The teachers loved her a lot. We were really proud of her. Her grandmother always told us how good Valeria was, how hard she worked in her studies. With her good example she also helped her sister, who didn’t like to study and would let laziness get to her.
There was a time when we asked the families who had children on scholarships, as a sign of gratitude, to help us clean the common classrooms (computer lab, library, kindergarten classroom, bathrooms) every two months. Valeria, her grandmother, and her aunt never missed a day even though they were dead tired because they were honest, hard workers. They never tried to get away with doing the minimum like many of the other families.
Valeria never took advantage of her situation of poverty. I still remember how hard it was for me to get her to accept a new backpack with some school supplies in it. Our Sisters in Jacksonville had brought the backpacks as Christmas presents for the neediest children. She wanted us to give it to another child who needed it more. She said that she could still get good use out of hers. She only accepted it when I told her there were enough for everyone and that we wanted to give it to her as a gift. She thanked us with her usual smile.
That’s how Valeria was: simple, joyful, very thankful, responsible…
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to know her.