Reflecting on her nearly 30-year career as an SOS Mother, Elida López has a lot to be proud of.
In that time, she has raised around 20 children in the SOS Children’s Village in Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Under her care, they have overcome a difficult start in life on their way to becoming self-reliant and independent adults.
“I think you plant a seed in every child,” Elida emphasizes. “For me, success means that the children are doing well. That they can overcome what they have stored in their heart, that they can release it. They come with a heavy burden, and I hope they can gradually let go of these things.”
Supporting children to overcome difficulties
Caring for children who have been through difficult experiences at an early age is not always easy, Elida adds, and sometimes she wonders if she will be able to manage the challenges. But over time, she has learned that mapping out her priorities in her mind allows her to also master the difficult moments.
One of the challenging moments she remembers was when she started taking care of little Juana,* who arrived at the SOS Children’s Village when she was just 23 months old. When she turned 2, she still could not walk or speak.
“That is when I learned how important early childhood stimulation is,” says Elida. She focused on supporting Juana in every possible way and also encouraged the teenagers in the house to support the little girl.
“We are all on the same page here – we want the best for every child who comes to live with us,” she says. “The children know that they have to help the others; that we have to set a good example for the other children so they can be happy. Because every child is a story.”
The efforts and dedication paid off. Juana eventually started to catch up on her developmental milestones. Today she is a teenager, and Elida encourages her to do the best she can to reach her goals.
“I tell her that it is important to study and to actually enjoy the things you do, at work and at school. If you have to force yourself to do things, they won’t turn out well,” she says.
Elida sees her emotional connection to the children as the key factor in her role.
“I feel that the most important thing for the children is to feel loved, and that they learn to love so history doesn’t repeat itself. This way they can be better parents in the future. I tell them that the love of a mother and a father is essential. That’s what we teach them, especially the teenagers.”
Preparing young people for their future lives
Preparing young people for the future is also crucial for her, so they know how to take care of themselves when they live on their own.
“Here they are protected, but when they are out there, we’ll be far away,” she says. “I tell them that they have to learn to be strong enough to say no, and to question what others are proposing to them. They have to be able to judge. We won’t always be there to tell them ‘be careful, you’ll fall.’”
After three decades as an SOS Mother, Elida says that she knows by heart what she has to do to care for the children in her SOS Family. At the same time, she knows that the SOS social workers are there to help her when she needs support.
If a child needs specific attention, she works with the psychologist to see that the child’s needs are met. The entire team’s work is based on an individual child development plan that helps to guide the support the child needs at different stages in their development.
For Elida, having a good balance in life is essential in her role, because being an SOS Parent is more than just a job.
“This is my second family, my second home. I share my life with the children here. This has kept me in good health, and without health, you cannot do anything.”
*Name changed for privacy protection / Photo: Gerrit Reinmüller
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