The kids at Hope Unlimited come from different backgrounds. Before they are sent to us, they might endure neglect, abandonment, abuse, exploitation, or even torture. Our staff and social workers labor tirelessly to help our students leave the darkness of their pasts behind them, but each child will forever bear emotional and often physical scars.
We are their safe haven, and in order to protect their privacy, I will always change the names of the students whose stories I tell, and I will never tell anyone’s story without permission. Last year a visitor from the U.S. asked one of our older students, Ileana, to tell a bit of her life story. Ileana responded that she would rather write it down. These are her words translated into English.
When I was 8, my stepfather went to prison. My mother became a drug addict. We did not have much money, so she told me to go out and make some. I started collecting tin cans and other trash in the streets to recycle, but my mother always complained that I was not bringing home enough money.
One day the owner of the grocery store on the corner told me he thought I was beautiful. I told my mother, who became very quiet. That night she left the house very late, and I went to sleep before she returned. When she arrived back home, she woke me up and told me to go into the little plywood storage shed in our back yard. I did not understand, but when I arrived, the grocery store owner was waiting for me, smiling and drunk. My mother asked me to lie down on the bed, and then she left. The grocery store owner tied my hands and feet to the old bunk bed that was there. I started to cry and asked him what he wanted . . . He started to hit me, saying that I was useless and that he, Sr. Joao, was the owner of a grocery store, and then he began to abuse me.
The next day I was not allowed to leave the storage shed. I was locked up there for about three months, being abused 2 or 3 times a week. The first time they let me out, I was terrified of everything.
My mother stopped taking drugs, and she asked for my forgiveness. But my happiness did not last long. In less than two weeks, the nightmares began again. This time I don’t know how long I lived like this, being locked up for weeks at a time in the shed.
When I was 13, I stole some money my mother had hidden away that she had made from my prostitution. I ran away to my grandmother’s house in São Paulo, where I had traveled a few times with my mother. I lived with my grandmother for one year, and then my mother came to visit, begging me to come back with her saying that this time it would be better.
It was better. She was only smoking marijuana, and I did not have to go out with anybody. But one night I slept at my older sister’s house, and when I came back home, my mother was completely high and started to beat me, and I was raped by her boyfriend.
I ran away again to live with my grandmother. While I was there, I went to Campinas to spend a few days with my cousin. One night I walked with her to the supermarket to buy some ingredients to make a cake. She told me to sit on a bench in a park down the street and wait for her. It was about 10:00. Suddenly two men came by in a car, pulled me inside, and stopped under a train overpass. They pulled me out of the car and tried to take my clothes off. I was able to get away and ran down the street to a taxi stand where they called the police.
From there, the police took me to the government emergency shelter. I could not go back to my cousin’s house because she might have been involved in what had happened. They decided I should not go back to my mother’s house either.
Having nowhere to send me, they brought me to Hope Unlimited. Today I believe in transformation. And I am sure that my mother can change. I have not seen her since I ran away, but I have forgiven her and ask God every day for her salvation.
Today I have found Jesus, and am very happy. I have the chance to study and hope to achieve my dream of becoming a nurse, so I can come back to help the children here at this place, where I learned to walk with my head held high.