Smiling Through the Struggle

It was almost a year ago that we first met Cayetano. The impact of his smile, his determination, and his strength has not left us since that time.

This fall we were able to visit Cayetano again. Cayetano recognized Josh as soon as Josh approached him.. This time Josh had returned with his two daughters and a meal, to meet and spend time with this man who had become a symbol of strength and courage in our home.

Just as with our first meeting, Cayetano continues to teach lessons in the way he chooses to live his life.

Cayetano was only a six-year old boy when he lost his ability to walk. It’s not completely clear, but there is a good chance the loss of his legs was due to a condition that might have been prevented if he had access to the appropriate healthcare as a child. Instead of running, playing and exploring as a six-year old boy should do, Cayetano lost his ability to fully use his own body. The use of his legs completely disintegrated.

This did not stop Cayetano though. He persisted to live life in the best way that he could despite having no use of his legs.

Today, Cayetano has no means of employment and so in this one area he depends on the generosity of others and spends his time asking for money, six days a week, ten hours a day. It is likely only because of his persistence that we had the opportunity to meet him.

Seeing Cayetano, you yearn to help him, to make his life easier. However, it is the struggle that he has had to endure which has also made him strong and allows him to teach the lessons he does today.

Cayetano lives 20 minutes away from Central Park. He makes this commute walking with his hands, using wooden blocks to protect his fingers. When he reaches his home he has to climb, up twenty-nine stairs. He lives independently with no assistance. That means, on his own, he completes all the activities, you and I do, to live on a day to day basis, but he only has the use of his arms to assist and maneuver in these activities–shopping for and preparing food, cleaning his home, taking a bath and more.

He regularly washes his laundry by hand. Upon hearing this, our instinct was to feel compassion for him and sorrow for how hard simple tasks are for him, sadness that he had to complete so much work on his own. However, upon further reflection, what a great gift he has given to himself to not have to rely on others for his daily needs.

Despite his kindness and smile, Cayetano’s life has not been an easy one. He battles depression. Instead of giving into despair, he has found ways to use the strengths he has. He regularly memorizes different things to keep his brain active and his mind occupied. He has memorized all 50 of the United States and gave us a demonstration of his admirable knowledge.

Instead of becoming dependent on others to care for him, he has become a teacher. He has taught us, no matter how difficult your life is, you can be happy. No matter what weaknesses you have, you can focus on and improve your strengths. No matter how enormous the obstacles that lie in your path are, you can overcome them.

Perhaps the greatest lesson Cayetano teaches us is that YOU are the master of your life and YOU decide what your life will be, no matter how easy or hard the circumstances of your life are.

Written by Shalyce Cluff

Where Strength and Beauty Overcomes

The house and yard are well-manicured, perhaps better cared for than any seen in the village.

There is a charm and beauty that does not often show itself in areas oppressed by poverty.

The cleanliness and order bring with it a sense purpose and peace, a relief from the circumstances that surround this home.

In every detail you can see that someone spends their time and energy to maintain the simple charm of this home to nourish beauty around them.

Elmedina is a testament to the ability to make the best of your circumstances, to overcome your struggles and to continue pressing on despite continual and persistent adversity.

Elmedina lives with her son Pedro. They pay rent by caring for the home in which they live. Pedro never finished school, but works in masonry and brings home what he earns to care for himself and his mother.

In comparison to many, Elmedina and Pedro fair well financially, but that is just a part of Elmedina’s story. As quickly catches the eye, Elmedina suffers from a significant medical problem.

For 25 years she has suffered with a painful goiter in her throat. In the last two years it has become more inflamed. She takes thyroid pills, but it has done little to provide relief. In any first world country, this is an issue that would be quickly resolved with a surgery, but for Elmedina, that is not an option. Instead it is a constant reminder of the discomfort and lack of resources that poverty yields.

Her medical problems and lack of resources are only a part of Elmedina’s story. Elmedina has known severe loss, loss that can be crippling if one allows it to be. Elmedina is a mother of 10, but only Pedro remains with her. While several of her children have made their own lives, one of her daughters was taken, when she was just born, by her former partner and never seen again. Another child died at birth, and one at only 9 months old from meningitis. A third died at age 29 after he was crippled by and eventually succumbed to mental health struggles.

Though a story of tragedy, Elmedina has instead chosen to make her story one of beauty and reprieve. She stands as an inspiration to keep moving forward, to keep trying and to spread goodness as you do.

Emeldina passed away in November, 2019.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

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In a Different Place

The Perdomo family is strikingly beautiful. Their eyes are haunting and mysterious.

If they lived in a developed nation it is easy to envision how their life might be different.

A beautiful young mom taking her children to the park in the morning,

the star football player who would soon have girls swooning over him,

or a future cheerleader.

However, in their circumstances, they are merely fighting for their survival. They don’t have the luxury of extracurricular activities, or hours of time and extra money to spend shopping or worrying about how they look.

Their concerns are simple and stem from necessity.

Will there be enough money?

How will they pay for school supplies?

What will they eat tonight?

Two of the children live elsewhere–the oldest son where he can be sponsored for school, and the oldest daughter with her grandmother, where there is more room than in their one-room home. The family being separated is heartbreaking, but seems to be for the best.

Rita lives with her husband, who works to provide for them, but employment is a struggle and opportunities are sparse.

It is difficult as a parent to feel that you can’t fully provide for your children. Having to sometimes go without the necessities of life which so many throughout the world take for granted is a source of both concern and sadness for Rita.

There is a sense of hopelessness, as Rita relies on the chance that she will one day be able to see her children succeed so that they might care for her.

The bag of groceries we have to give to this family will serve to ease their burdens, only for a short time.

And bring a spark of joy for a moment.

Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya

Thank you for joining us on this journey!