Elisama was always early, always prepared, always positive and always photo-ready! She shines so brightly in a place that is so full of darkness. She was so excited to be a part of our program and wanted more than anything to be a successful and professional hair stylist. We all believed in her and in her potential. Her laugh to this day is infectious. Her charm is endearing. Her story is inspiring.
Elisama has asked me to share the intimate details of her life in hopes that her story will give other women the strength to fight the same demons that have wreaked havoc on her past and to give others hope. Elisama grew up in another part of Brazil far from where our school is. As a heavier girl, she was an obvious target for bullying. Unfortunately, the bullying began at home. Victimized by verbal, emotional, and physical abuse by both her parents, she quickly lost hope and was brainwashed to believe that she would never amount to anything more than the words that had scarred her. Her mother would call her names that parents should never call a child, let alone their own child. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Worthless.
As these evil words and torturous actions were embedded within her, the cycle only continued as she became involved with an abusive boyfriend at the age of 13. At 15, their relationship turned sexual by force. He became not only verbally and emotionally abusive, but also extremely jealous, possessive, and physically abusive. As a girl, she loved to sing. He was in a rock band and asked her to do the vocals for them. When she was unable to sing songs the way he wanted them to be sung, he told her she couldn’t sing and continued to berate her. She felt as though she could do no right. In her own words, “He hurt my soul.”
Between the abuse at home from her parents and the abuse to her soul from her boyfriend, Elisama hit rock bottom. She knew if she ever wanted the pain to stop she needed to get out. She needed to escape the toxic environment in which her life had become trapped. Somehow she gathered the strength and courage to leave. At 17, she saved up enough money to leave her home and her boyfriend forever. With only 60 Brazilian Reals (the equivalent of $30 American Dollars) in her pocket, she hopped on to a bus and made her way to Rio de Janeiro to move in with a family friend, letting go of everything she knew in search of hope. For years, her parents chose to have no connection with her. Her heart towards them is filled with painful memories, yet she still wishes to have contact with them. She continues to ask God every day to give her the grace to forgive her parents.
Religion was forced upon her in the most bizarre ways as a child. She wanted to seek God on her own. She wanted to know if there was more to a relationship with Him than just the rules and rituals that her parents taught her. Elisama made friends at a local church in Rio and slowly began to regain confidence. Singing has always brought her joy, so she joined the choir.
The pianist at the church took a liking to her, but Elisama was in no way looking for a relationship. So he waited. And waited. And waited some more. Two years later, he finally confessed his feelings to her and they have been tied together ever since. They were married January 18, 2011. He is completely in love with everything she is and everything she wants to be.
Since she has been living in Rio, she has dreamt of being a mentor to other women and girls who have been in similar situations as hers or have stories in need of hope. She just didn’t know how to go about this dream of mentoring. But when she heard about the beauty’s school program, she knew exactly what to do. Elisama’s plan in attending our beauty school was to host makeover parties in the favelas and invite women in the community who are in abusive relationships, involved in prostitution, and have poor self esteem.
Our beauty school education team spoke to the girls in our class about the importance of self-worth and self-image. Now, Elisama has decided to incorporate these topics, turning her makeover parties into beauty seminars. Her hope is to reach women from all walks of life, connect with their story, share the importance of the beauty of self-worth.
This is an all too common story in the favelas, but Elisama’s is one story with a happier ending. This story is a story with a promising and beautiful future. Elisama shows nothing but mounds of appreciation for her opportunity to learn. She goes out of her way to let us know how thankful she is. She only speaks Portuguese, so she uses Google translator to write to us in English so we can fully understand how thankful she truly is for this experience.
The intention of our project has always been to teach women a new and better trade than the skills they have been subjected to. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” With that being said, our specific purpose is not to evangelize. However, the way I act will clearly show the reason why I am here: to show these women love in a way they have never experienced. As believers in God, we are called to go into the world and help those in need. During my time there, Elisama gave me one of the best compliments I have ever received. In Portuguese she said, “I don’t know if you are a Christian or not, but either way I see God in you.”
Elisama, I see God in you, too. Eu ti amo