Growing up in Columbia South America, Maria was no stranger to terrifying situations. She and her siblings were often stopped and threatened to be kidnapped by members of the guerilla army who would hold people for ransom. A little over a decade ago, Maria and her son moved to the United States, and what began as an exciting new journey, ended in the most difficult situation she had faced. Escaping an abusive marriage and then battling through a difficult divorce, complete with many immigration challenges, she found herself without any supports and in need of a place to restart. She and her son moved into a Catholic Services of Acadiana program formerly known as Bishop O’Donnell Transitional Housing (BOTH). She didn’t know any English, was unfamiliar with the culture, and although an eye doctor in her home country, she was unlicensed to practice optometry in the United States. These obstacles fed her determination to overcome her situation and not be defined by her circumstances, “I was a professional in my own country and I was going to be a professional in this country,” she recounts.
Shortly after moving to BOTH she set a goal to go back to school to become a teacher. She often recorded the lectures listening to them over and over to help her learn English and understand the material. Maria graduated Magna Cum Laude from ULL and went on to earn a Master’s Degree specializing in English as a Second Language. For the last seven years she has taught high school Spanish and recently purchased a home. She recognized the unique opportunity offered to her while living here to regain self-sufficiency, ”I’m so thankful for what the staff did for me, I couldn’t have overcome these challenges without them. I felt protected and cared for, but I was realistic too, sometimes you have to sacrifice...good things always come with hard work.” Maria visits the staff here at least once a year, on her most recent visit she shared her new goal: to teach adults in an ESL Masters program, “I was in those classes. If I could teach those classes I would become part of the process and share what has been given to me.”