CFCA stories

CFCA helps grandmother raise grandson

November 4, 2009

Mercedes and Manuel from El Salvador
Mercedes, 71, is raising her grandson, Manuel, 16, who has a
disability. CFCA sponsorship helps her to put food on the table
and get medical care for her family.

CFCA sponsorship helps Mercedes, 71, raise her 16-year-old grandson, Manuel.

There is no one else to care for Manuel. Mercedes’ son, Manuel’s father, died 13 years ago and Manuel’s mother abandoned him.

“I take care of him because there is nobody else to do it,” Mercedes said of Manuel, who is paralyzed from the waist down because of a childhood illness. “The special care he needs is my major concern. He needs help in all aspects.”

Both Mercedes and Manuel are sponsored through CFCA. Mercedes said the monthly benefits are vital.

“It helps us so very much,” Mercedes said. “Food is probably the most important one for me because it helps us get through the month. He also gets checked by the doctor and receives what he needs in the health clinics.”

To generate additional income for food, Mercedes continues to work. She raises chickens and puppies to sell.

“I can’t work as I used to,” said Mercedes, who used to pick coffee, raise corn and clean houses for a living. “My arms and legs hurt very much. However, I’ve got to find ways to provide for Manuel.”

The story of Mercedes and Manuel illustrates a growing phenomenon in El Salvador and other countries. More and more, grandparents must raise their grandchildren.

Yesenia Alfaro, coordinator of the Santa Ana, El Salvador, project, said the incidence of grandparents raising their grandchildren is increasing in El Salvador. A key reason is migration of fathers and mothers to other cities or countries to find work. Increasingly, the parents don’t send money back home for support or the parents may not return.

“In addition is the uncertainty of who will step in to raise the child when the grandparent dies, especially when their age is advanced or there are many infirmities,” Alfaro said. “In general, these are considered special cases in which it is necessary to begin sponsorship as quickly as possible.”

Being older creates a number of additional challenges for grandparents raising children.

Many grandparents may suffer poor health or, as in the case of Mercedes, they don’t have the physical stamina to work as much as necessary to earn money for the household.

Even if grandparents are able to work, employers sometimes believe the aging no longer are productive members of society and won’t hire them.

Because the grandparents have not established positions of authority early in the children’s lives, the children often are more rebellious than they were with their parents, according to Alfaro.

“For this reason, the education of the children is very, very difficult and therefore is considered a challenge,” Alfaro said.

When the child has a disability, the challenges are multiplied.

Henry Flores, director of the El Salvador Communications Center, visited the home of Mercedes and Manuel. He said the small home is constructed of wood, metal sheets and plastic. Even though Manuel owns an older wheelchair, it is nearly impossible for Mercedes to push Manuel outside because the home is located on a steep hill.

They live there because the local parish built the home on property where Mercedes does not need to pay rent. CFCA sponsorship provides monthly food benefits.

Mercedes doesn’t have to walk long distances to get water because running water is available two days a week. However, the house does not have electricity. Mercedes and Manuel power a small TV and radio with a car battery they take to a local shop to be recharged for $2. 

Manuel spends much of his time sitting on the bed because it’s difficult to transfer to the wheelchair and Mercedes doesn’t have the strength to help move his 180-pound weight.

Manuel has not been able to attend school but local parishioners have taught him to read and write. He has an aptitude for repairing things and managed to fix a broken radio set so he and his grandmother could listen.

The CFCA staff in El Salvador is investigating additional ways of helping Mercedes and Manuel, including making their home more accessible, providing products such as transfer boards (for scooting from one spot to another) or finding professional care for Manuel.

Regardless of what the future holds, Mercedes does not regard having to raise her grandson as a burden.

“My life would be empty without Manuel,” she said. “He is my company. We talk, we care for each other, we even argue sometimes. But nobody will love him as I do.”

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