By Agueda Martin
Ruth beamed with pride as she accepted her certificate for nursing care from her teacher at the FEDES Vocational School. Graduation was a simple affair where mostly former housewives from low income families were receiving the first certification of their lives.
When I asked to take her picture she made sure the certification was included prominently in every shot. That certificate obviously meant a lot to Ruth, so as we shared refreshments afterwards I asked her why.
"I come from a broken home," she explained. "My parents separated when I was in my early teens and I had to drop out of school to help care for my siblings. Then my father got cancer when I was 16 and I cared for him until died at our home. Not long afterwards my sister also became ill with cancer and after a few years she passed away. I married and began having children, still trying to hold down jobs to support us. I held on to the dream of receiving an education and being able to support myself, but I was never able to resume my studies.
"I think education is very important to my children's future, so even though we've always struggled financially I saved up enough to pay part of private school tuition for my oldest son and he earned the rest in scholarships for good grades. It's been very difficult, but it's the only way he had a chance of attending university and having a real career.
"I'm now 45 years old, my husband is now suffering from a terminal illness and we have three children still in high school. My dream is to be able to send them all to college, but as things were, it wouldn't have been possible. I've worked in caring for the elderly and infirm my whole life, but the better situations always ask for certification to prove that you are educated in health care so I could never negotiate my working conditions or salary since I was considered unskilled labor.
"When I heard of this course, I was very concerned since it had been so long since I've studied anything, I was sure I couldn't keep up, but our teacher had a lot of patience. At the beginning she explained everything in simple terms so I could understand and with time my vocabulary and understanding improved. The skills I've learned here at the school, both in nursing and other competencies have empowered me to be able to demand a better salary and improve the quality of life for myself and my family. This gives me economic opportunities I would never have had, and when my husband passes away I'll still be able to support us, and my children will have a chance to receive an education."
Agueda Martin, one of the Project Managers of FEDES, a FCF Project in Chile contributed this story and photos.