BOLIVIA – From an early age, 17-year-old Pilar* knew what it meant to hurt. Now she knows what it means to have hope.
At three years old, Pilar and her younger sister, Monica*, were abandoned by their mother. Their father was in prison, so they were sent to live with him there. After a short time, the girls’ Aunt Bertha took them in. Monica went to live in a shelter because their aunt couldn’t care for them both. For eight years, Pilar lived safely with Bertha.
At age 11, Pilar became curious about her mother, so her aunt did some searching and found her nearby. Upon first meeting, Pilar was worried about her mother’s character, hesitant to trust the woman who had abandoned her when she was just a tiny girl. After a few weeks, however, Pilar accepted her mother’s invitation to live with her, hopeful that they would have a future together as mother and daughter.
“The first few weeks it was going well,” she said. “But soon she started yelling a lot. After the yelling started, it graduated to beatings, and then something horrible happened.” For the next two years, Pilar’s mother used her daughter as sexual bait for men who would pay to abuse the young girl.
Pilar didn’t know why she was being trafficked, but she knew she hated her life and that she felt “nasty” inside. For a time, she wondered why she was even alive. Yet, she had hope.
“I remembered the way my aunt treated me [well], and I thought of going back to her,” she said.
With just two coins in her pocket, Pilar planned her escape. Telling her mother she was going to school she instead bravely boarded a bus that would take her to her aunt’s town. It appeared to have worked, but just three weeks later, while her aunt was traveling, her mother came calling with a government official, insisting she was required to return home.
Pilar argued and pleaded not to have to go back under her mother’s care. The official sent Pilar and her mother to a temporary shelter, where Pilar was able to tell a psychologist everything her mother had put her through. Likely in fear of going to jail, Pilar’s mother disappeared and hasn’t contacted her daughter since.
That was four years ago. Since then, Pilar has worked hard to heal and redeem her time lost to abuse. After two months at the temporary shelter, Pilar moved to the Operation Blessing supported shelter Munasim Kullaquita, “where, from the beginning, I found peace,” she said.
At Munasim Kullaquita, she learned that the life she had been forced into didn’t have to be her life going forward. She has also learned how to bake, a skill she has honed enough that she earns a base salary each month from the sale of cookies she bakes for the Bolivian government’s national nutrition program.
Operation Blessing recently provided Munasim Kullaquita with new bakery equipment, including industrial ovens, a blender, a dough mixer and more.
“Thanks to Operation Blessing for helping in the bakery training program,” she said. “And for giving us tools to work with dignity.”
With the money she has saved, Pilar has purchased her own bed and wardrobe for her aunt’s house, where she now lives full-time, as well as the clothes and shoes that she needs. She even has plans to attend university after graduating from high school next year, a dream she credits to the support she has found at Munasim Kullaquita. “It is the place where I found love, respect and the warmth of a family.”
Pilar’s strength in moving forward has given her a peace about her past. “I can say now that I have no bad feelings against my mother, because I already forgave her,” she said.
Pilar’s innate resiliency and support from friends like you have given her a sense of anticipation for the future, as she dreams of becoming a professional chef. Her once-impossible dream of seeing a safe adulthood is now on the horizon.
*Name changed to protect identity.