Maria’s Front Step

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Children on front stepBy definition, a house is really a building; a place of residence. Somehow, that word falls totally short of what it means when you say the word, “house”. Your mind automatically goes to your attachments to that definition: what it was like growing up in your own house, getting home from work and being able to relax, coming in from the cold and finding it warm inside, security and what it’s like to feel like you are home. Across all cultures, no matter where we are from or what our experience has been, there is an innate desire to know where home is, and for that home to be a place we can take refuge in.Almost daily, CNN, BBC, CBC, CTV, and every other possible acronym bombards us with images of homes destroyed, people running in search of shelter, and lives being wounded and scarred from loss. Quite honestly, it is really numbing: if just becomes too overwhelming. I can only process so much; I need to know that there are lives within those numbers. I can’t feel attached to a number; a number is unable to look into my eyes, hold my hand, make me laugh or move me to tears. A number will never fully represent reality; only a life can do that.Building HouseWhen we walked up those front steps that Christmas day, I was filled with anticipation. Earlier that year, Hero Holiday had poured the cement that I was now standing on. Over 200 different pairs of hands had helped to put this house together in some small way throughout that summer in Dominican Republic. It was bigger than the normal house that we had built, as we wanted to be able to fit the whole family in there and we wanted it to be built to last. It was built for Maria. Maria was the mother of 7 children, two of them mentally challenged and living with her as adults. There was no father in the picture. I was never quite sure what happened to him and did not want to be too nosy. Clearly, this family was no longer his concern and he had moved on and left Maria to pick up the pieces.Mother and ChildMaria was a gentle but strong woman. She was intensely grateful for this home, as it changed everything for her family. The family had been living in a tin shack, sandwiched in between other buildings,  in a muddy sinkhole just off of a busy street in this small city. They had very little income, and there was never enough to eat, let alone get a proper house. The children were getting sick all the time and there was no way to avoid it. Until now. By the end of that July, when we came to say good bye and present the house, Maria’s family was standing on the front step of a new home that was clean, safe, and equipped with proper sanitation. It was a dream come true for them.Though they were left without a father, they were now living in something that gave them hope.However, when the door opened up that Christmas day, I was not prepared for what I found there. One of Maria’s older sons answered the door, and when he saw the Christmas gifts in our hands, tears came to his eyes. He reached out and hugged me and began to murmur in Spanish in my ear. His voice was so low I could not understand what he was saying, and had to get my friend to help with the translation. It broke my heart.When Maria’s husband left a few years earlier, he failed to leave them anything to survive on: no money, no food, and barely a home. However, he did leave Maria with one thing: he infected her with HIV. After moving into her new home in July, by the middle of the fall, Maria’s life was slipping away due to a virus she was unaware of. She died later that year. Maria was a number: 1 of 2.9 million that died that year of AIDS. But Maria was more than that. She was a mother. She was a woman of courage and determination. She was a respected member of her church and community. She was loved by her children. She was filled with hopes and dreams. She had been a part of many of our lives. And now, standing on her front step, I realized that the world was a better place because she had lived. A disease may have ravaged her body and taken her life, but her legacy was looking back at me from the doorway as I stood there.Through tears of loss, he smiled sadly. “Thank you for all that you have done for our family. Please tell everyone how grateful we are for the gift of this home. She was so proud of our new home, and it gave her hope for us. We are working together to honor what she has given us.” Together, they were working and building a business that will provide better for the rest of the family. This home was invaluable to them, as they based it out of there. This was what a mother’s love could do: it could hold a family together in a home that still held so much of her.A quiet life has left a strong voice for us to hear. She wasn’t just a number to me because I knew Maria and I knew where her house was. I stood on her front step on Christmas day. 
BuildingEach year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) takes hundreds of people just like you to areas of the developing world, and we are able to help many family’s like Maria’s. Through building homes, schools, and other much needed projects, we are choosing to add our voice to theirs. Your help is wanted and needed! Please consider donating to one of our projects, joining us on a Hero Holiday, or helping us come to the schools in your community.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 3rd, 2009