At 16 years old, *Paola already knows what she wants out of life – her own restaurant and a successful future for her 3-year-old daughter, *Amelia.
“I want her to see that she can overcome anything, like I did,” Paola said.
From age 8 to 12, Paola lived in a nightmare. Her mother would hit her; her stepfather treated her like a maid.
“I had to cook and clean. If I didn’t, he’d hit me,” she said.
One day, while sitting on the couch, Paola’s stepfather started touching her inappropriately.
“I didn’t like it so I threw the sandals in his face. He got mad. He had three sharp knives and hit me with one of them,” she said. Knives, sticks and cable wires were part of his typical repertoire of power. But soon the violence escalated to include sexual abuse.
For more than four years, Paola was abused every day. Her stepfather would choke her or hit her while he abused her, and would warn her that if she told anyone, he’d kill her mother and sisters.
“I didn’t want to say anything because I loved my mom and sisters. But I think my mom already knew,” she said.
One day, while Paola’s four little sisters and stepfather were in another room, she snuck out and went to her neighbor’s house. They saw her bruises and she told them how she was treated.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant at that time,” Paola said. “My neighbor explained to me what it was because I didn’t know what it meant. I cried because I didn’t want a baby.”
It wasn’t long before her mother found out where she was and came looking for her; Paola felt guilty for leaving and returned back home. That’s when the neighbor called the authorities and explained everything she knew.
When a social worker arrived to Paola’s home, she wouldn’t tell her what happened. So they took her to the judge, where they revealed a diary of all the abuses Paola had endured. Her neighbor’s husband had written down everything Paola had told them.
“I didn’t want to say anything because my mom was there, and I was afraid I would end up back home and they would beat me,” she said. “So they took me upstairs to read the diary from my neighbor. They asked me if it was true, and I said yes to everything. I didn’t know that there were cameras. My mom was watching me, and when I got out she was really mad.”
An examination revealed that Paola had been violently abused for an extended period of time. Doctors were concerned about her well being, as well as the baby’s, but there wasn’t anywhere for her to go. So they sent her to live at a government orphanage for girls.
Two months later, Paola gave birth to her daughter Amelia and the two of them were placed in a Buckner Transition Home.
“At first, I didn’t love my daughter. I would look at her and she reminded me of everything bad that happened. I remembered everything about how she came to be,” Paola said.
Paola would stay awake crying at night, and at first she relied on the house parents to care for her daughter. One day, when Amelia was 9 months old, they told Paola that they would have to take Amelia away from her if she didn’t start being a better mother. That’s when things began to change.
“I never want what happened to me to happen to my little girl,” Paola said.
Paola started caring for Amelia and going to school. Today they are receiving a top-rated education. They each attend a private home school and Paola goes to baking classes where she’s learning how to be a chef.
“I know that God has brought me here,” she said. “This is a great place. They’ve helped me in so many ways. My little girl is learning, too – the kind of learning I wouldn’t be able to give her myself.
“I feel like I’ve overcome everything that’s happened to me now. I’ve learned to let go of my anger. I work on that a lot. One day, I want to go out and tell people my story to let them know that if they’re in this same situation, they can leave it, too.”
To learn more about the ways you can support Buckner Transition Homes around the world, please call Buckner Foundation at 214-758-8000 or email email@example.com.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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