CHILDREN INTERNATIONAL: You Saw Me When I Was Invisible

Johanny sitting on Emporia University's sign.
Unequal Opportunities
 
Johanny Amaya (26) became a sponsored child with CI at 6 years old. Her mother was the sole provider for her and her brother after their father abandoned them. The three moved in with Johanny’s aunt and her large family in a small, two-room shanty.
 
The support from CI was enormously helpful. Several times a week, CI provided breakfast – meaning she didn’t have to attend school on an empty stomach. CI also provided shoes and school supplies.
 
With a twinge of melancholy, Johanny reminds us — and herself — “Not all of us had the same opportunities.”
 
A Dark Shadow
 
Because of severe hunger, fear and depression, Johanny became suicidal at the age of only 7. It was then that CI provided the most integral care to Johanny.
 
“I started trying to kill myself,” she says. Johanny points to faint scars on her wrists. But those weren’t her only attempts at self-injury. Her mother had many medications. “I would just grab many of them…and take all of them,” she explains quietly. Hours later, in the throes of violent illness, she would be rushed by her mother to the emergency room. 
 
 “To this day,” she adds, “no one knows the real reason I was so sick.” No one, that is, except one person: a psychologist that Johanny credits with saving her life.
 
The doctor at CI’s community center recognized the signs of Johanny’s depression and arranged for her to see the mental-health professional regularly. The support was critical in giving her the courage to face the next challenge of her young life: her mother’s continuing illness.
 
A Slow Dawn
 
“My mom became so sick she couldn’t walk,” Johanny says. With her brother away looking for work, Johanny dropped out of school to help her mother. She was also no longer able to participate in CI’s sponsorship program. That forced period of maturity of two long and struggling years as a caregiver led to a realization in Johanny: If she hadn’t been around, her mother would never have made it.
 
Her sessions with the psychologist had kept her alive long enough to gain the strength and emotional health necessary to turn her attention and love outward, toward her mother. She was paying it forward, just as her CI sponsor had done for her. “I said to myself that, from now on, my life was going to be different,” Johanny says. “And it was different. I went back to school and eventually became enrolled in college and started getting good grades. I received a scholarship, studying English.”
 
During high school, Johanny did so well in English that before long, the instructor had Johanny introduce each day’s topic and assist with teaching responsibilities. One day, she walked into class and the educator told her, “I’m not teaching today. You are.” At first, Johanny felt so shy she didn’t think she could do it. “But he encouraged me,” she says. “He pushed me. I now consider that the push of my life. He pushed me to better things.”
 
Johanny ended up teaching at a bilingual school that paid enough to cover her educational expenses. She often went all day without eating, throughout much of high school and even while earning her undergraduate degree. But this resilient young woman persevered — and excelled — through it all.
 
A Voice … and A Light
 
Johanny’s dedication to learning earned her one of only six scholarships awarded by the U.S. government via the Global Undergraduate Exchange (UGRAD) program to Honduran students to study in the U.S. for a semester. Johanny learned that her scholarship would be sending her to Kansas-based Emporia State University. Last fall, as she searched the internet in preparation for her first trip abroad, she studied details of the area where she’d be visiting, and found out that Emporia is just a stone’s throw from CI’s headquarters. 
 
“I instantly had a feeling of deep gratitude,” she says. “Children International was crucial for me.”
 
She decided then and there that she was going to find a way to visit CI’s offices during her visit to the Midwest.
 
Communicating with staffers through Facebook, they arranged to pick Johanny up in Emporia and take her on a whirlwind tour of Kansas City highlights. On a Monday morning, her excitement was unmistakable as she finally walked in the doors of CI headquarters.
 
The once-shy young woman surprised everyone when she asked if she could share a PowerPoint presentation. She clicked through the presentation and showed a scarred and faded photograph of herself and two classmates. She asked, “Do you see something different in this photo? One of the children isn’t wearing any shoes. But two of us had shoes because of CI.”
 
“I have a feeling that I need to help people. That's the best thing I can do is help people. And that's what I really want to do the rest of my life,” she says. That perspective has influenced her hopes for the future: to attend graduate school, earn a doctorate and eventually start a foundation to help Honduran orphans learn English.
 
“They have no one,” she says, “and they have no advantages. But learning English changed my life. In Honduras, if you know English, you have real opportunities. So I really want to empower orphaned kids so they have a chance, too.”
 
A Message of Appreciation to All
 
Her wisdom didn’t end there, though. Johanny told us her motto for life:
 
“I know I am a result of my past, but that doesn’t mean I will always be a prisoner of that past.”
 
Visibly working to control her emotions, in halting sobs, Johanny summarized her presentation: “All of this happened because you saw me when I was invisible. You gave me a voice when I had none.”
 
On behalf of Johanny and countless other children, Children’s International offers their deepest gratitude. 
 
Photo credit: Children International