“I know I am a result of my past, but that doesn’t mean I will always be a prisoner of that past.” — Johanny Amaya
Suicide was often on her mind as a 7-year-old. For Johanny, the dark shadow of depression, hunger and fear loomed over her childhood in Honduras.
“Going to school, I felt so different from my classmates,” she says. When she was called up to the chalkboard during lessons, she adds, “I’d just start crying in front of everyone. I thought I was not worthy.”
Johanny shows us the faint scars on her wrists. They weren’t her only attempts at self-injury. Swallowing her mother’s medications and getting rushed to the emergency room became a common occurrence.
After multiple episodes, “My mother thought I just had a stomach ache,” Johanny shares. “To this day, no one knows the real reason I was so sick.”
No one, that is, except one person: the psychologist Johanny credits with saving her life.
Recognizing the signs of depression, Johanny’s medical doctor at the local Children International community center arranged for her to see a mental-health professional for the next five years.
The support was critical in giving her the courage to face the next challenge of her young life: caring for her mother during an illness that rendered her bed-ridden for two years.
Fourteen at the time, Johanny dropped out of school to help her mother. That forced period of maturity created a dawning realization in Johanny: If she hadn’t been around, her mother would never have made it.
In retrospect, she also realized 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.
And, that 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 recalls. “And it was. I went back to school and started getting good grades.”
Johanny did so well in high school English that her instructor offered her an extra hour of private tutoring each week. Before long, Johanny was helping out in class. One day, she walked into the classroom the educator told her she would be leading the class.
“He pushed me,” she says. “I now consider that the push of my life. He pushed me to better things.”
During high school and college, she pinched pennies — often going all day without eating — while working at a bilingual school. Johanny earned one of only six scholarships awarded by the U.S. government to Honduran students and studied at Emporia University in Kansas for a semester. Back in Honduras, she graduated with a BA in February 2018 and launched a humanitarian foundation called “Empower Honduras.”
Her organization is in its second year. The nonprofit provides two years of English language courses (a skill that boosts employability in Honduras) and leadership and entrepreneurial training for orphans and kids in foster care.
“I really want to help others to pursue their goals and dreams and believe in themselves,” Johanny says. “I have a feeling that I need to help people. That’s the best thing I can do. And that’s what I really want to do the rest of my life.”