Cristina with her schoolbooks and bag, ready for her classes.
Feb 8 2017

Never too old

Sponsored elder follows dream to go back to school

Cristina and her husband, Epifanio, in their home.

Cristina and her husband, Epifanio, in their home.


Whether it’s providing workshops for sponsored members and their families or encouraging children and youth to stay in school, education has always been a pillar of the Unbound program. And we know that each person has unique needs and abilities, so Unbound social workers work with sponsored members to find the education that’s the best fit, from taking formal classes during the week or opting for technical school or a training program.

With the assistance they receive from Unbound, individuals around the world are choosing to continue their education, and some are even able return to their studies after having to take a break. And Unbound doesn’t just limit the encouragement to children and youth. One of the best examples of this is sponsored elder Cristina from Guatemala. Cristina is 63 years old and has been a part of the Unbound program for more than four years.

Thanks to her sponsor, Nancy from Georgia, Cristina has access to regular benefits through Unbound, like nutrition items or medicine, and a supportive community of her peers. But growing up, Cristina’s family didn’t have the economic resources to keep her in school.

“When I was a child, I had big dreams of going to school, graduating and working in a nice office,” Cristina said. “Unfortunately my reality was much different; I only finished third grade, and my dreams seemed to have ended there.”

Cristina got married at the age of 20 to her husband, Epifanio, whose family also struggled with poverty, and they had 11 children together. Throughout their marriage, she shared with Epifanio her regret of not completing her studies.

Then one day, Cristina got the chance she had been waiting for.

“A teacher from a neighboring town told me of an opportunity for adults to finish primary education,” Cristina said. “She explained how it worked, and I got excited, I knew this was my chance. I told my husband, and he said, ‘If you think you can do it, I support you.’ …

“I believe God gave me the opportunity,” Cristina said. “He sent me the teacher, and it was not a mere coincidence, it was my long-awaited chance to pursue my dream.”

The very next day, at the age of 59, she enrolled.

Cristina with her schoolbooks and bag, ready for her classes.

Cristina with her schoolbooks and bag, ready for her classes.

Cristina’s dream was to complete her primary school studies, which she recently accomplished. She is currently in her final year of middle school. And though she’s had difficulties with certain subjects, especially math, Cristina looks forward to starting high school.
She also looks forward to the possibility of going to college one day.

“I would love to be a social worker,” Cristina said. “I think it may be a profession that would fit to my interest of helping others.”

As much as Cristina looked forward to starting school again, it wasn’t easy at first. There are 58 students in her class, and most of them are younger than she is.

“I was very nervous my first day of school,” Cristina said. “I packed my school bag, took a deep breath and went. Many thoughts came — I was afraid, I thought people would make fun. Some people did make mean comments, but most have encouraged my decision and say that I have inspired them. They say things like, ‘We see that there is no age limit for getting an education.'”

And despite her initial nervousness and occasional difficulties with math, Cristina has excelled. She has been the valedictorian of her class for the past three years.

“Education is fundamental,” Cristina said. “It is basic for the person and it is essential for him or her to move forward in life. Education is the key to your future; without it you don´t have much access to opportunities.

“I am also happy to be a good role model for other adults in my community, for my children and for my grandchildren. I hope they can be inspired to pursue their dreams and be good students.”

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