01-02-2009 - Traces, n. 2

stories of hope

Heavenly Eyes
Thirty years of pain and suffering, angry with God, then an encounter. An unexpected grace came into the life of this woman in Ecuador, which makes her say, “Christ’s love for me has been great, because it has stopped me from losing myself. He insisted, until He saved me”

by Stefano Andrini

Saved by a glance. So it was that something unexpected came to change her life, marked by a pain so heavy it seemed a bottomless pit. Her name is Amparito Espinoza, 38 years old and she is a teacher. She lives in Quito, Ecuador, in the Pisulli quarter, on the outskirts of this capital city, like many others in Latin America, with almost 3 million inhabitants, many contradictions and a lot of poverty, and many stories that start off like hers. She had a difficult childhood, but a happy one, “Even though sometimes I had no bread, I never lacked the affection of my grandmother, who educated me in the faith.”
Then everything changed, and Amparito’s life became sweat and tears. Her mother ran away from home leaving her, at the age of 16, to look after her younger sisters. She worked as a house servant for four years. Then came love, and maternity. “My first child died a cot death when she was 16 months old. That was the time I felt the greatest sadness in the world.” Soon she was expecting again. “I was sure that the Lord wanted to give me another chance to be a mother. With my daughter Amanda, who is now 15, my happiness returned.” But is was not to last long. The child’s father ran off to marry another woman, then he came back, and Amparito got pregnant again with her third child, but her companion ran off again, leaving her alone, eight months pregnant, with a child to bring up and with no money. Even the child she was expecting had a sad destiny; he was to die at the age of four of a heart condition. “In that moment everything was dark,” she says, “I was angry with God. I wept; I screamed, and told him ‘What do you want from me? If I am not evil why are these things happening to me? I don’t want to weep any more, send me wherever you will, but where I can be useful to others.’”

“They Simply Accepted Me”. The day after she was called by one of the sisters of the Holy Side, the School where her daughter studies. It is a job offer. Thus she gets to know Stefania Famlonga, the head of AVSI projects in Ecuador. (AVSI is an Italian non-governmental organization promoting development). Amparito says, “She had the sweetest smile and the kindest look I have ever seen. I realized at once that she was not pitying me, but simply accepting me. So it was that one year after my son’s death, in November 2004, I began to work there.”
Stefania is 37 and has been in Ecuador for five years. “After an experience in Romania I had the offer from AVSI to help some nuns who were working in the outskirts of Quito. The project was called PELCA, which means a kind of home-kindergarten. The idea was to meet groups of mothers from time to time in order to help them educate their children. We started from scratch; we had only a list of children the nuns had given me. We needed someone to start off with me and the idea was to work with people who had suffered in some way in order to get a piece of land, a house and a job. So I asked the nuns and they introduced Amparito to me.

Curiosity.  For four months they went around the houses together, visiting the children, getting to know them, their families and their circumstances. “We met on the road in the morning and divided the names of the children. Then we would meet up again at five in the afternoon, again on the road, to tell each other how it had gone. Some months later, Amparito was invited to the vacation of the Movement. “I had never seen so many people together. Most of them didn’t know each other, but they seemed to be great friends all the same. It was an encounter that changed me. I felt I was no longer alone. It was as if that companionship had always been with me. This reawakened my curiosity. How was it that these people who didn’t know me accepted me as if they did? My daughter was happy, too, she got on well with everyone. When I came back from the vacation, I asked Stefania to tell me more. So she invited me to the School of Community. Since the place was vary far from my home, I asked if we could begin a group in my quarter, and now the School of Community is held here in Pisulli, too.”
There are more staff on the project, too. Another three people have started working. “And thanks to the Christmas Tents three years ago (the annual Christmas fundraising campaign), we have opened a kindergarten called “Ojos de Cielo” (Heaven’s yes) which today houses 35 children, and seven family kindergartens have been started. This answers the needs of working mothers who are almost always forced to carry their babies to work on their backs, tied up in a sheet to keep them still. Now they have a safe place to leave them. There is also an after-school study group as well as some initiatives to help them find jobs, like formation courses and a small tailoring shop.

Restless. The educative perspective is never left aside. Stefania says, “When the number of children increased from 280 to 550, I was concerned about how we would reach all those children and their mothers. It became clear that we needed to do what Jesus had done: choose a few in order to reach them all. We keep on accompanying the people who are working for us. Every Monday morning we meet to help each other discover the meaning in what we are doing. We read Fr. Giussani, and compare it with our life and with what we are doing.” The change begins there; in a word, a miracle. “At times, I am afraid when I see what is around me,” says Amparito. “There is a lot of violence where I live; drugs and lies. But for the first time in my life I feel safe. I am happy with the life I am living. I have to say thanks to the companionship that Christ put on my road. This encounter has taught me to accept others as they are, to accept myself as I am, and give the love that is in my heart without asking for anything in return.”
We asked her what she wants most, now. “I want our hearts to remain restless, so as to see the reality surrounding us; so as to be like the living Christ who has saved us from our selfishness, filling our humanity with a heart full of love, because in this way we can give to others as He did to us. Today I can say that thanks to the pain my life has changed. The pain has not disappeared, it is my companion, but I understand that death is not the last thing, but the beginning of an encounter with destiny, which is Christ. One day I will see my children again and will be happy and grateful to find them once more, but Christ’s love has been great, because it has stopped me from losing myself. He insisted, until he saved me. And I think it should be like that for all those around me.”