Mayra Ramirez stands in front of the garbage cliffs that surround her home in Eloy Alfaro, Ecuador. Because of high rates of violence, drug addiction and promiscuity, this rural community is considered one of the most dangerous in the coastal province of Manabí¼¯span>.
Mayra Ramirez lives with her family in a cramped house overlooking a garbage dump in Eloy Alfaro, Ecuador. The breeze that brings a tiny bit of relief to the stifling house also brings the stench of rotting vegetables and garbage. But to 15-year-old Mayra, that smell is better than the odor of the drugs that hold her family captive.
Not Another Statistic
In Mayra's community, where three out of four people are unemployed, drugs and illicit sex have become tools of survival for young women who have lost all hope. Mayra saw her sister succumb to the hopelessness of poverty as a teenage mother and drug addict. Sadly, cases like these are typical in Ecuador, where one in four pregnancies are unplanned and three out of 10 teens have their second child while still in adolescence.
Mayra, however, is determined not to become another statistic. And because of the help she's received from the Compassion-assisted Barrio Cuba Student Center (EC-369), Mayra has the hope and the strength to take a different path.
"One day, we were at home, and we didn't have anything to cook for eating," remembers Mayra. "My mother was crying, but I tried to comfort her, saying that soon I will be older - that I am nearly finished with high school and then I can go to the university. I want to work to help my parents and my siblings."
A Heavy Cross to Bear
Despite Mayra's determination, her path is not an easy one. She says the letters from her sponsors, a married couple in the United States, encourage her when her sadness feels overwhelming. And sometimes the sadness is too much. Mayra's father earns just $20 a week, yet must provide for seven children. Sometimes it isn't enough.
"Sometimes my father tries to sell worn or secondhand clothes, but many times he is not successful," explains Mayra. "Therefore we don't have anything to eat. Sometimes we have enough food to eat twice a day most of the week. But other times, we don't have anything to eat for entire days."
Even though such poverty can be devastating, Mayra says her sponsor's letters encourage her to keep striving for a better future. That's why she's determined to become the first person in her family to make it through her senior year in high school.
Providing an Alternative
In addition to academic lessons, the Barrio Cuba center offers young women an alternative path to the destructive lifestyles that are modeled by many of their peers. "In the project, they teach us about God and good behavior," says Mayra. "I understand that we must wait until marriage to have sexual relations because God wants to make us free of the consequences of (premarital sex), such as illnesses, unplanned pregnancies and even damage to the reputation of women."
Thanks to what she has learned at Compassion, Mayra holds to her relationship with Jesus, which keeps her from drowning in the misery surrounding her. She clings to the hope that someday her family will know that there is a better option - Jesus Christ.
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