When Maria was just six years old her big sister, Isabel, disappeared — the victim of gangs that have made Maria’s hometown, San Salvador, El Salvador, the female murder capital of the world.
Even at such a young age, nothing could shield Maria from her sister’s fate: “[My mother] looked for Isabel for three years, but we all knew she would never come back.”
The harassment continued.
When Maria’s brother, Michael, refused to join a gang, he was beaten. Fearing for his life, Michael — when he was only 13 — made the perilous journey to Mexico alone.
Maria also was in danger. Threatened at school, she was forced to drop out in the sixth grade. She couldn’t even leave her house.
As the gangs continued to terrorize the citizens of San Salvador with extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault and murder, Maria’s parents made the heart-wrenching decision to leave everything behind. It was the only way to protect their family.
"[My mother] looked for Isabel for three years, but we all knew she would never come back."
After a long, exhausting journey, they arrived in Mexico where UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is providing lifesaving and hope-restoring assistance. Maria, now 14, sees a UNHCR-supported psychologist to help her cope with the trauma she’s endured. And she spends her days at a UNHCR-supported center where she enjoys hot meals, attends classes and plays with other children.
Thanks to the UN Refugee Agency — and the generosity of USA for UNHCR donors — Maria is facing the future with confidence. Her wish list includes finishing high school, studying graphic design and becoming an architect. She also has plans to move to Japan, where she wants to build an aquarium and collect blue crabs.
Maria is one of thousands of Central American children who are on the run, fleeing the gang warfare and horrific violence that have ravaged El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But today there is hope. UNHCR is working tirelessly to bring peace to these shattered lives and give them the safety, protection and dignity they deserve.
Here’s how you can help …
No child should face the violence and persecution that Maria has endured, but you can protect her and refugees all over the world by joining USA for UNHCR’s monthly donor program. It’s the most convenient, effective and efficient way you can help people living in and fleeing from conflict. Start your monthly gifts today.