By Ellen Edgar, project specialist for Unbound
I’ve never met anyone like Rosa before.
Rosa in Chile is 74 years old and has the strongest spirit and the softest heart. You’d be hard-pressed to find a challenge she hasn’t faced.
Her mom died when she was very young, and at 13, she started caring for her siblings. At 16, she met and fell in love with her husband.
“I just wanted someone to take care of me and love me,” she said.
They were married for many years. Rosa had her first child at 17, and the child died. She went on to have and raise eight more children.
Rosa’s husband was abusive to her during their marriage. Sometimes he worked; sometimes he didn’t work — so she took up the slack. When he was working, she would go out and work alongside him in the fields. When he wasn’t working, she would still work.
“My children never lacked anything,” Rosa said. “They were always well dressed and went to school.”
Her husband passed away six years ago and didn’t leave her much in the way of resources. But Rosa had saved up enough money to buy a house through a government assistance program.
“The riches my husband left me were my children,” she said. “They [the children] never fought. They say, ‘We are who we are thanks to our mom.'”
Rosa misses her husband — though he was abusive, she spent the majority of her life with him, and it’s been a hard adjustment.
After he died, she told herself, “I didn’t have a childhood. I wasn’t able to be a teenager. My adult life has been hard — but now I’m going to enjoy my old age.”
Life had other plans. With the loss of her husband, Rosa became depressed. She also went blind in one eye, and she needed an expensive cornea replacement. So she took out a loan to get it and travel to Santiago for the surgery.
Her body rejected the cornea, and she had to have lens replacement surgery. More loans. She regained a small amount of her vision in her left eye, but went blind in her right eye. Her doctor recommended that she have another cornea replacement, but with no guarantee it would be successful, Rosa opted not to do it, for now.
Because of the problems with her vision, Rosa can’t live alone. One of her sons lived with her for a while, until he got married.
He planned to make her kitchen and bathroom bigger, and worked in construction. He promised to work on the home improvements even after he got married and didn’t live with her anymore. But a year ago, he contracted an illness that paralyzed him from the waist down. Rosa wept as she told me that the possibility of him ever walking again is slight.
Rosa’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter live with her now, as their mother, Rosa’s oldest daughter, is fighting cancer. The first thing Rosa told me when I arrived was that “they are my joy.” During our time together, Valentina, Rosa’s great-granddaughter, came and hugged her, kissed her and brought her a tissue for her tears.
As if all of that wasn’t enough for one soul to bear, Rosa also has a heart ailment.
I sat across from Rosa while she shared all of this, taking deep breaths as her story sank into my heart. She asked me what questions I had for her, and I asked her a question that I ask most families I meet: “Do you have someone you can go to when things get hard?”
“Yes,” she replied and began to point in the directions of her neighbors’ houses. “This neighbor, she’s also sponsored, she is always checking on me. And when I organized the soccer tournament recently, that one was the first to sign up to help out.”
“Soccer tournament?” I asked. This woman, who can barely see, cannot do any of the work she could do before, and has suffered so much, organized a community soccer tournament fundraiser for her daughter with cancer and her paralyzed son. She said, “I’m better off than them, because I can still walk.”
Rosa hasn’t been sponsored for very long, only since October 2015. She’s grateful for the support it provides for her medical care, and how that frees up resources to feed her granddaughter and great-granddaughter.
This isn’t a story about sponsorship solving all her problems, however. This is a story about the extraordinary human beings we have in the Unbound community — people who have experienced every type of challenge and keep fighting. People like Rosa, who have an inextinguishable spark inside of them.
You see, the real story of sponsorship is not about helping a poor person in another country. The real story is about how that poor person is already contributing everything they can to their community — and their community needs them.
And sponsors get to come alongside these amazing people and partner with them — encourage them, hear about their lives through letters, and witness hope that springs out of even the most difficult lives.
Partner with someone amazing. Sponsor an elder today.