Rosa Coj Bocel

Meet Rosa – a young and vibrant Mayan woman from Peña Blanca, Guatemala. She was first introduced to the world in a documentary called Living on One Dollar. In the documentary, Rosa voices her aspirations of becoming a nurse to help the members of her village.

Like many girls growing up in extreme poverty, Rosa did whatever should could to help provide for her family. At the tender age of 10, Rosa began to work; she was pulled out of school to take care of her younger brothers. Unfortunately, this is the reality for over 130 million young girls worldwide. In many Global South countries, education for a girl is simply not an option.

By the time she was 14, Rosa left her small village in pursuit of a career in Guatemala City. Rosa put all of her trust into one male friend who promised her employment and shelter. Unfortunately, his promises were toxic. Rosa’s friend raped her and at 14 she was pregnant with her first child. Abandoned and scared, Rosa sought comfort from her parents, who rejected her and her growing child. Rosa was banished from her family and home, yet she was determined to have her baby.

Rosa’s daughter, Heidi, was born with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a medical condition in which there is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding one’s brain. As a young child, Heidi was operated on three times by medical specialists. Treatment for any kind of illness is expensive for those living in extreme poverty, making it nearly impossible to acquire any medical attention at all. Women in the Global South are often considered to be burdens or second class citizens, which makes finding adequate medical attention that much more difficult. As a result of the costly treatments, Rosa and Heidi were living on the streets of Peña Blanca. When asked if she was ashamed of her daughter and the illness, Rosa said, “I am very proud to have a special daughter.” Unfortunately, after two years and nine months, Heidi quietly passed in the arms of her young mother.

Rosa’s experience with Heidi’s illness helped her recognize the need for medical attention within her small community. Like those in many Global South countries, her neighbours are forced to travel long distances in order to receive basic medical care and medication. Rosa was determined to change and lift the systematic barriers affecting her community. She decided to work towards obtaining a nursing degree so that she could provide medical care within her village and set up a pharmacy.

At the age of 27, Rosa graduated secondary school and was accepted into a nursing degree program. Six months after graduating, she attended her first day of nursing school. Rosa’s success is unprecedented within her community. In most Global South countries, women are rarely given the opportunity to finish primary school, let alone attend an established university.

Rosa is an inspiration to women worldwide. Her story offers us a glimpse of a woman’s life in poverty. It is a story of hope and light – things that are desperately needed in a world that seems to celebrate darkness. As we reflect on Rosa’s journey, we are reminded of not only the strength of women, but their potential and their necessity within their communities. Like Rosa, we believe that all women have the strength and ability to fulfill their dreams and inspire other women to do the same.


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