Unexpected Hope: Creating Miracles amid Dust and Chaos
The wind spirals desert dust from the dirt roads of Anapra, one of the poorest communities of Juarez, where houses are built of concrete block--or sometimes just cardboard. Many residents migrated here from other parts of Mexico, searching for a better life. One of them is an unlikely hero: Cristina Estrada.
Cristina herself dropped out of school to work in a Juarez maquiladora, a factory for export. Maquila jobs pay only $5 a day, not much when food prices here are similar to those across the border in Texas. So, when a severe job injury forced her out of even that employment, she fell into a depression.
But enter the unexpected: a missionary gave her some books from a library that was closing. That gift launched Christina on a new lifework: helping Anapra's neighborhood children stay in school so that they could have alternatives to low-paying maquiladora jobs. Education, she believed, was the ticket to a better life.
Her original goal was to help kids complete sixth grade, something she herself was never able to achieve. Using the library books, she started an after-school program to help kids stay in school. She found school supplies and shoes so the children could attend Mexico's public system and pay the fees required for inscription, uniforms, exams and graduation.
She succeeded. And her first class of sixth grade graduates had bigger dreams: middle school. But this requires real money for registration and uniforms, fees, more extensive supplies, bus fare and lunches. Cristina turned to a US Catholic priest doing mission work in Anapra who appealed to his friends. More donations came from US groups who visited Cristina and toured the simple library program she managed.
And the first group of students continued their education beyond sixth grade.
Middle school led to further dreams: high school...and the financial needs mounted.
And then the first high school graduate shared his dream of going to university.
Never ever had Cristina thought that she would be the instrument of her children graduating from a university. Neither did she have an inkling of how to finance it. But, Cristina says, "God provided funds." That first young man graduated from nursing school at the University of Juarez.
Now, in December 2009, Cristina supports hundreds of young people in their education:
Ten are in university. Each of them started in her after school program, and each plans to return to the community to work - giving back some of what they have been given.
Thirty-eight are in middle school. Seventy-five are in high school. And 80-200 children come daily for after school help and encouragement from volunteers in the program Cristina manages.
This all transpires in "the murder capital of the world" where drug cartel violence has killed nearly 2,600 people this year. As a result, few outsiders visit Cristina and her library these days; donations have dwindled. But Cristina still relies on help. Contributions not only fuel the education, but also enkindle hope that her children are not forgotten in the city's chaos. Sometimes that help arrives in circumstances that seem miraculous.
But then Cristina is a bit of a miracle herself.
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