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How This Woman’s Painstaking Choice Left Me Breathless

A Mothers Choice; The Maria Hidalgo* Story

It starts the same way as many of the stories we’ve heard. A family moves from its rural homestead into the city looking for better work and a brighter future for their children. This time her name is Maria Hidalgo* from the rural indigenous community Saraguro 2 hours outside of Cuenca. Maria’s move, just 5 months ago, filled with hope and promise, has instead, been one fraught with hardships.

Maria* and her husband, Juan*, have 5 children, ranging from 3 to 10 years in age. 3 of their children attend the El Arenal Foundation, a partner organization of Hearts of Gold, located near Cuenca’s largest Mercado, the Feria Libre.

The El Arenal Foundation is a refuge for many of the forgotten members of Cuencano society and provides vital holistic support to many families that have no other resources accessible to them. While her children receive educational and nutritional support, Maria* has also been attending the parent counseling services that El Arenal offers. Parents are presented with guidance in a wide variety of topics ranging from children’s rights, proper nutrition, and how to manage a healthier home environment that is violence free.

One January afternoon, Maria found Juan*, her husband, sexually attacking Carmen*, her only daughter. Maria* felt angry, confused, and desperate. “How could this be happening?” and most importantly, as all mothers can attest, Maria* asked, “What should I do to help my children?”

Instead of taking justice into her own hands, or pretending it just didn’t happen, which is often viewed as the “best way” of dealing with these problems, she remembered a talk from the El Arenal on women’s rights and sexual violence and went to DINAPEN (the National Direction of Police for Children and Adolescents) to denounce her husband and attempt to save her daughter from his abuses.

Her initiative and newly gained knowledge worked! The Police and Social Workers came to Maria’s house to investigate the case, and Maria hoped, arrest her husband. Maria was relieved and grateful.

However, while there, the Police and Social Workers also noticed the shocking reality of poverty that Maria’s family lived. All seven family members lived in one room, and shared 2 beds. The structure was crumbling, there was no basic sanitation, and the space was hardly more than a shack, just larger than a backyard greenhouse.

After the social workers received the medical exams of the family, it was discovered that Carmen had been sexually abused numerous times by her father and that Maria was frequently physically abused at the hands of her husband. The sad result of the family’s physical health, living conditions and violent reality meant a decision had to be made. The DINAPEN officials arrested Juan and to Maria’s horror, forcibly relocated all 5 of her children into a government foster care until she could demonstrate a stable environment for her herself and her family.

Maria’s heart was broken. She knew in her gut she had done the right thing by calling the police, but was devastated and confused about what seemed like a punishment for her and children. It all felt so out of her control. She didn’t choose poverty, Maria loved her children. She wondered if it would have been better to never have spoken up, just forgotten about the whole thing, that way, at least, her family would still have been together.

Within the next few days, Maria received a call from Juan’s sister offering money and proper shelter, requirements that would allow Maria to get her children back,- but only if Maria would drop the charges against Juan. Maria was conflicted, confused and alone in a new city. She decided to reach out to Betty, the Director of El Arenal. Betty immediately brought the heartbreaking situation to our attention at Hearts of Gold. Together, we contacted the DINAPEN social workers, and requested the exact requirements Maria needed to meet in order for her children to come back home. Together, we helped Maria remain strong and confident in her initial decision to protect her family.

Maria has proven that she wants to give another reality to her children, a reality free of violence and abuse. So far she has secured a job washing dishes in a restaurant from 8am-6pm, but it only pays $120 a month. She has also found an available, safe place to live for just a $100 a month near her job and the El Arenal Foundation. While this is all a good start, Maria doesn’t have enough money to cover the rent, utilities, basic furniture, or food; requirements for her family’s release, and without these things, DINAPEN will not let her children come home.

Maria had the courage to do the right thing and is moving in the right direction, but she still needs our help. We want to show Maria that she’s is not alone and that making the right choice for her children is worth it. With your help, we can show that this world supports and needs more women like Maria who stand up for themselves and their family.

Maria needs your help to raise $1500 so that she can cover 1 years’ worth of rent and 3 months’ worth of food. After getting this initial help, Hearts of Gold is also planning to help Maria learn how to make jam at home so she can earn an extra income going forward. If this $1500 can be raised, Maria, along with her children, will also be able to continue receiving the services provided at El Arenal.

Your valuable support today means that Maria will not feel alone anymore, showing her that doing the right thing, while often very hard, always leads to a greater success.

Please consider making a donation today by clicking here or on the payment portal located to the right side of the page. Let’s help keep Maria’s family strong and united.

If you have any housing goods, clothing, or any other items you would like to donate, please come buy the Hearts of Gold Office (Av 1ero de Mayo & Av. Las Americas) to make your thoughtful donation.

Real change takes time. These slow changes and personal awakenings are just one example of how your support towards our programs and partners are having a positive and sustainable impact in the lives of the families we serve. Keep it up Heroes! We could not do it without you!

*All names have been changed to protect identities

How is Maria Hidalgo doing? Has she been reunited with her children? Click here to find out how this powerful story ends.

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