Ever since I was a young girl, I loved seeing Mother Teresa on the news.
The first time I saw her on my TV, she was sitting on the dirt floor inside a slum in India. Instantly, she gained hero status in my heart and mind. What type of person dedicates their lives to the wellbeing and caring of the poor? Even as a child, I would ponder that question.
When I was 18 years old, I went to India for three months. Mother Teresa died five years prior, so I never got to meet her. But walking along the streets of the country she loved so dearly helped me feel closer to her and her heart of loving people and seeing them as God does.
I always wondered what it would have been like to know Mother Teresa and to hear her speak to the people that she loved with all her being and to see what whole-hearted generosity looked like.
Little did I know that I was going to one day meet a woman with this same heart and passion for the poor.
One day in 2018, I got an e-mail with the invitation to visit the schools and impoverished areas of Latin America with One Child Matters.
I had to go! My heart had been aching to leave for years, and I knew this was the opportunity that had been stirring in me while I waited for my own children to grow old enough for me to leave on another international trip.
Going with One Child Matters was particularly special to me because it is the child sponsorship organization I have partnered with since I returned to the US from India. It was my way of making a difference while I couldn’t go around the world and actually do something myself.
I couldn’t wait to see what they were doing for children in Latin America. While I knew it would be incredible, I had no clue that what would impact me the most is the story that had been unfolding for the past ten years there.
Meeting Mama Yolie
About a day after I had been in Latin America, I realized that this trip was a lot different from the several others I had been on in the past.
I found myself listening to story after story told to me by someone who was affectionately called Mama Yolie.
As we walked the dirt streets of villages in the Dominican Republic, I saw person after person run over to embrace Yolie. They would begin to share stories of the people in the village and she would tell us about their lives and share about what she remembered from the last time she was there.
“When was the last time you were here?” I asked.
I honestly wasn’t sure that I could believe her when she first answered me.
“It was ten years ago,” Yolie replied.
Did I actually hear her right? How could someone have such rich and deep relationships with people she had not seen for ten years? They recognized her as though they had seen her a month ago, not ten years ago. Yolie was not just an old friend or an acquaintance. She was knit into their community and loved as a mother.
The Story of Mama Yolie
One day as we were going on a morning walk in one of the villages, I turned around to see Yolie stopped with a young man. He was on his way to school and stopped his bike because he recognized Yolie.
By this time, I was not surprised that Yolie had been spotted in the streets. That was starting to become normal.
But this encounter was even more amazing. After the sixteen-year-old boy hopped back on his bike and finished heading to school, we asked Yolie who he was.
“He’s my sponsored child,” Yolie replied.
“Did he know you would be here?” I asked.
“No, he did not know I was coming,” she replied.
“So, he recognized you from 10 years ago? From when he was six years old?”
“Well, I send him letters and pictures,” she said.
Later that day we heard more about Yolie’s sponsored child. She sponsored him and all of his siblings. Not only had she sponsored them — she saved them.
The Mother Teresa of Latin America
It all started back in 2007 when Yolie had visited the Dominican Republic. She went to find local leaders in the churches there who could help build schools for the impoverished families. These schools are called Hope Centers — the perfect name for what they do!
This story doesn’t begin with hope though. It is quite dark. I felt it was important to share the details, as dark as they are, since it is the only way we can start to fathom what actually happens to the people in the world around us.
While Yolie was in the Dominican Republic, she noticed children throwing rocks at boys who were walking by. The boys had no clothes on, were pale, and appeared as though they hadn’t eaten in days.
When she told the children to stop throwing rocks at the boys and asked them why there were doing this, the children replied that it was because the boys were Haitian. I was given a quick history lesson about how the people of the neighboring country were resented and the racist treatment they received.
Yolie walked with the boys back to their home. Their home wasn’t a place that you or I would ever identify with as a home. It was a one-room shack without a door and a few pieces of wood on the ground. The entrance was covered by a dirty sheet and inside of the shack was a cardboard box that was used by several of the children as a bed. The other “bed” was a bunch of springs covered by another dirty sheet.
Yolie found some shorts for the young boys and took them to the local convenience store to get something to eat. They ate in such a hurry — as though they were racing against time in case someone was going to come and take it away from them. Yolie knew she couldn’t just walk away from this family. She said,
My heart broke into a million pieces. I could not go back home and just leave them.
Yolie met their mother and heard about her story. It turned out that the mother was brought over to the Dominican Republic when she was fourteen-years-old. She was brought through sex trafficking, and the man who took her from her home continually came to rape her.
Although it wasn’t noticeable, the mother was pregnant with her sixth child. She had no job, spoke no Spanish, and was completely hopeless and desperate. Weekly, she faced the harsh reality of being attacked by the man who brought her over as a child. She never knew what it was like to be a child herself, yet there she was in a strange country with six little ones.
The man who smuggled her over intended to put her to work, while he pocketed the profits. This proved to be impossible because of the hatred toward Haitians. No one wanted a Haitian to work for them. Not even to wash their clothes.
Right away, Yolie knew she had to intervene. Her first priority was to find them a safe home and to rescue their mother from the man who stole her life.
This was proving to be nearly impossible. There was no landlord who would take them in because they were Haitian. But Yolie wasn’t willing to take that for an answer. She found a temporary solution while working on getting them their own home.
Yolie found a piece of land for the desperate mother and children and purchased it. Then, she hired builders to build a house for them. Quickly, their lives were being restored, and the first step was with a real home.
They went from living in a dirty shack to a house with real wood and a cement floor. A house with actual bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and even a porch.
Yolie told me,
I wanted them to enjoy a spot to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. It was a true home for the mom and children.
The Power of the Hope Centers
The six precious children were given a new chance at life. Each of them was enrolled in the child sponsorship program at One Child Matters.
If offers them:
But much more than that, child sponsorship has given them hope.
Mama Yolie says,
The Hope Center has taught them the truth, the word of God, and they have learned to love others. They have healed from their abuse, and little by little, the community has accepted them with the help of the Hope Center.
They know I am there for them too.
Yolie is a modern-day Mother Teresa. When I told her that this is who I considered her to be to me, she told me that she had heard that before. She said that someone once called her the Mother Teresa of Latin America.
Yolie has not just impacted this family though. She has helped children over all of Latin America. Right now there are 1,000 children through One Child Matters on the waiting list for a sponsor.
As someone who has traveled around the world and met children in sponsorship programs and hugged them with my own arms, I can tell you that this is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to change lives.
My own family started by sponsoring 2 children after I returned from India, but over the years, we’ve decided to open up our hearts to more children. We now have five sponsored children, and I consider it one of the most important ways to impact our world for the better.
In the Western World, childcare costs about as much as a mortgage payment. But to sponsor a child in Latin America (or any other part of the world through One Child Matters), it is just $39 (USD) each month.
If you have wanted to make a difference, but didn’t know where to start or wanted to work alongside a reputable organization, I ask you to consider making a difference with me and Mama Yolie in the lives of the 1,000 children waiting in Latin America.
You can see all of the beautiful faces on the waiting list and make a difference right away. If you do and want to share it with me, I’d love to hear about it.
Want to hear more of the amazing stories from my trip?
What to Write to Your Sponsored Child – Teaching Mama
How to Teach Kids Kindness in a Sometimes Selfish World – The Chaos and the Clutter
Why Meeting Your Sponsor Child is Worth the Time and Expense – Math Geek Mama