Vilma sews clothes for her two sisters. Vilma, who is 22 years old, is now raising her younger two sisters.
Vilma Canales did not have a typical childhood. Her mother struggled to provide for three daughters on a small salary as a maid. And her mother depended on Vilma, the eldest daughter, to help care for her younger sisters. Each day as Vilma's mother watched her daughter prepare meals and wash loads of clothes, she prayed for a simpler, better life for her little girl a future that included an education.
A Simple Life
Those prayers were answered when Vilma was registered in the Mas que Vencedores Student Center. Being in the Compassion program changed Vilma's life on many levels. As a young girl, she received Christ, and her faith continued to grow as she attended camps and retreats with her friends. She grew close to Pastor Celio Reyes and his wife, Naomi, who both actively served at the project and encouraged Vilma as she grew into a young woman.
Those relationships would prove to be invaluable when Vilma's mother died suddenly. At just 19 years old, Vilma was now responsible for raising her two younger sisters. In the days following her mother's death, Vilma was overcome with grief. But the love and support of her church and the project staff helped give Vilma a strength that far exceeded her years.
Surrounded by Support
When Vilma's mother died, Vilma was just months from high school graduation. Faced with the overwhelming task of raising her sisters, it would have been easy for Vilma to drop out of school. She could have found a job as a maid, earning less than U.S.$1 a day. She could have pulled her sisters out of school so they could work as well. She could have chosen any of those options, and no one in her community would have judged her. Many of them had been forced to do the same.
But Vilma knew her mother's dreams, and she refused to let those go. Project staff spent hours with Vilma following her mother's death, and as she slowly regained her footing, they were there to cheer on each accomplishment. With the prayers and support of her friends, Vilma was able to complete high school, an achievement that only one out of five children in her community accomplishes. Her graduation day was bittersweet Vilma desperately missed her mother, but her heart was filled with the love and prayers of those who had helped make that day possible.
Soon after she graduated, Vilma began working as an accountant at the Compassion-assisted student center. She also taught Bible studies and served in the church worship band, all while raising her teenage sisters. She has since earned a computer technician degree, and she currently attends a university with the goal of graduating with a computer science degree.
"Thank You for what You have given me."
Vilma knows she is not alone in her efforts to provide for her family. Friends from church and the Compassion project come by often, sometimes with a hot meal, others with a simple word of encouragement.
Each evening Vilma sits with her sisters at the worn kitchen table, helping them with their homework. After her sisters go to bed, she pulls out her own books and studies her assignments. After checking on her sisters one last time, she kneels by her bed and says her prayers. Although she often prays for strength and energy, her prayers always end with the same words: "Thank You. Thank You for what You have given me."
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