May 10, 2023 | Mothers

Finding Her Way

After a lifetime of obstacles, one mom is enjoying her new opportunities

By Larry Livingston

Mothers in Unbound communities throughout the world are their children’s greatest advocates.

Some of these moms have the support of loving partners, and some are on their own. While they live mostly in places where women have, historically, been disempowered, they’re tenacious, industrious and creative in finding ways to provide for their families.

Juana exemplifies the spirit of the Unbound mother. She lives in Costa Rica with her husband and two children, who are both sponsored through Unbound. She operates a small store in her home and recently expanded her business to another location.

Though things are trending up for Juana, it was a rough road that brought her to where she is now.

Working from an early age

Born in Nicaragua, Juana spent her early years on her grandparents’ farm. At 11, she moved to the city to live with an aunt and began her lifetime of work.

“… I sold everything — bread, tortillas, desserts,” Juana said. “… At 3 a.m., I would get up to go to the mill, at 5 I’d go help a lady until 11:30, and then I would run to school.”

As a teenager, Juana dropped out of high school for a few years but did, eventually, earn her diploma. While she was out of school, she met Osmín, who would become her husband.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch, one of the most destructive storms in Central American history, devastated Nicaragua, a country that already been torn by years of civil war. Though newly married, Juana and Osmín decided that their best option was for her to go to neighboring Costa Rica to try to find work.


Osmín is Juana's husband and the father of Osmín Samuel and Mary. An engineer by training, he works with his daughter at the store. For several years, Osmín stayed with his son in Nicaragua while Mary was with her mother in Costa Rica, but now the family is together.

A stranger in a new land

In the wake of the hurricane, thousands of people left Nicaragua for neighboring countries, causing resentment among some residents of those nations. Juana said she experienced hostility from some employers and coworkers in Costa Rica.

“The hardest thing about being an immigrant is that you are discriminated against a lot,” Juana said. “They get angry with you when you arrive at a place, and they don't want you.”

Juana went back to be with Osmín as often as she could and, on one trip, became pregnant. The baby, named Osmín Samuel, was born in Nicaragua. He remained with his father when Juana returned to Costa Rica.

By 2004 the couple also had a daughter, Mary, who lived with Juana in Costa Rica. At 11, Osmín Samuel went to be with his mother and sister. The elder Osmín would join them later. Life in their new country continued to be difficult for the family. Juana did what she could to earn income, selling tortillas and working in a local store.

In 2012, Osmín Samuel and Mary were both sponsored by Giles and Melanie Heuer of Florida, who met the family while participating in an Unbound Awareness Trip. Melanie has since passed away, but Giles continues to sponsor both young people and has even helped Osmín Samuel, now 22 and an Unbound scholarship recipient, with additional educational support.


Juana’s son, Osmín Samuel, 22, is an Unbound scholarship student about to graduate from university. Though they had often been separated as he was growing up, his mother is a major source of inspiration for him. "She has been a boost for my sister and me to move forward, seeing how, with her effort, I have been able to finish my education … she is everything for me.”

Daring to dream

As a member of the Unbound community, Juana had new opportunity. Her idea to open her own store started to take shape.

"It began when my son had to start university and we did not have the financial means for him to do it,” Juana said. “So, I talked to him and, together, we decided to begin selling some inexpensive juices and chips.”

Juana received a Small Business Accelerator grant as part of a new initiative being rolled out in a select number of local Unbound programs as a way to stimulate entrepreneurship.

“Essentially, Small Business Accelerator grants are small grants to families in the program, usually the parents of sponsored children who have a small business livelihood but face barriers to scaling that business for many of the same reasons we see across situations of poverty, such as lack of access to loans, investments and savings,” said Vice President for International Programs Melissa Velasquez.

With the children running the shop and Juana working nearby at a large retail store, things were improving, but there would soon be another obstacle to overcome.


Juana manages all the inventory and accounting for her stores, a task that’s become more complex as the product line has grown from simple snacks to a wide variety of grocery items. She hopes to open more stores in the future, mainly to provide employment for others. “I have always had that in my heart when people are looking for a job,” she said. “… If it were in my hands to give someone a job, I would give it to them.”

A step backward

People everywhere will remember 2020 as the year of COVID-19, but for Juana it was memorable for another traumatic reason. In August, while on her way to work, she was struck by a car and seriously injured. She spent 40 days in the hospital and another eight-and-a-half months regaining her ability to walk. Throughout her recovery, she stayed at the home of her sister, who lived nearby.

“All that time, my children had to take charge of the business and the house since their father was not in the country and could not enter due to the closure of the borders with Nicaragua,” she said.

When Juana had recovered to the point that she could walk with crutches, she moved back to her own home to be with Osmín Samuel and Mary. But, having lost her other job, she had no source of income.

She decided to take a leap of faith.

“Everything has a purpose, so I talked to my children and I told them that I was going to work full time in the business,” Juana said. “So we all put all our energy into it."


Mary, 18, is Juana’s daughter. She’s studying English and getting ready to attend university. She’s also following in her mother's entrepreneurial footsteps. It was Mary’s idea to open the second store, which she manages with help from her dad and cousins.

'Space to thrive'

Once she was able to dedicate all her time and energy to the store, business picked up. When her daughter suggested that they open a second store in town, Juana embraced the opportunity. A suitable property became available for rent, and she took it.

Juana named her store “Rehobot,” after a city in the Book of Genesis that means, “God-given open space to thrive.” The store is operated mostly by Mary, who’s now 18, with help from her father — who’s safely reunited with the family — and cousins who live in the area. It is indeed thriving, according to Juana.

“I want to sincerely thank [Unbound] and the sponsors who have trusted us, who have believed in our project,” she said. “I feel that this project means more because my daughter has put her heart into it, and I want to infinitely thank each one who makes up the Unbound family. I know that just as they have blessed my family and me, I will also give back by blessing others.”

With her family together and a future of possibilities opening before them, Juana is ready for whatever comes next.

“God is incredible and the plans he has end up surprising us always,” she said.

Everything has a purpose, so I talked to my children, and I told them that I was going to work full time in the business. So we all put all our energy into it.

— Juana, Mother and small business owner

Henry Flores, Oscar Tuch and Danika Wolf contributed photos and materials for this story.