I met Leda Gonzalez years ago, but I only started to get to know and work with her about two years ago. Her background is somewhat of a mystery. Leda is 57 and lives alone in a building with rented rooms and a communal bathroom.
Leda has a painful story. She spent the first 13 years of her life in the rural zone of the department of San Miguel. Her mother and then her father abandoned her at a very young age. Her grandfather raised Leda.
At the age of 13, she traveled with a friend to San Salvador, looking for employment. She found a job doing domestic work, cleaning houses for five years and then landed a job in a factory. She met a man there whom she liked; Leda wanted more than anything to form a family. She had three children.One day, when she was returning from her work on a public bus, they were in a bad accident. She broke several ribs and bones and had to be in a cast for months; as a result, she was unable to work. Her companion abandoned her and the children and started a family with another women.
Due to the trauma of the accident and the abandonment by her parents and partner, Leda’s physical and emotional state left her unable to protect her children, and they were taken away from her by Social Services. To this day Leda hopes that her children will want to see her and look for her; she has gone countless times to check the office of lost children, but her efforts were ignored, and they are now adults.
Leda supports herself by selling fruits and vegetables. As the top at right shows, she balances the heavy box on her head. It is so heavy, that someone always has to help her lift it up. The years of this sort of work have taken a toll on her body, her knees are swollen and she suffers from arthritis.
I started to think of other items Leda could sell to avoid the tremendous weight on her head. I asked her if she would like to sell soy popsicles. This has been one successful alternative, and now Leda comes twice a week to pick up the popsicles. And this week she has started selling delicious pizza that my friend Evelia makes.
With the money from these sales, Leda can at least buy food and pay bus fare. Our biggest challenge is looking for an opportunity to find a small piece of land and build a simple house for her. It has been a struggle for her to pay the monthly rent of $80.
What amazes me about Leda is her faith and perseverance. She never throws in the towel. Regardless of the weather—it’s rainy season now—or whether she has sold anything that particular day or if she is sick, she always tells me that “God will provide.”
Jesus says that discipleship involves recognizing the human dignity of every person and asks us to work for social justice. No one is excluded from God’s love.
Leda is marginalized. Perhaps in part due to a challenging infancy and adulthood, she is treated with little respect. Hopefully we will be able to continue to find items for Leda to sell. She knows that she can count on our support.