Longest-Serving Team Member Displays Faith in All Circumstances
When Orphan Helpers started serving in El Salvador 21 years ago – in June 2000 – Rosa Virginia Pelletier was one of the first facilities where work began.
About 400 girls between the ages of 10 and 20 were housed in this government center for a variety of reasons. Some were there for their own protection because they were victims of physical and sexual abuse in their homes. Others were there because they were violent offenders, serving sentences of up to seven years.
Orphan Helpers sought volunteers from the surrounding area to go to the center and visit with the girls. One of the volunteers was Edelmira Bejarano.
“In June 2001, I heard about the work of Orphan Helpers. A few of my friends invited me to an event at the Rosa Virginia Pelletier center,” Edelmira recalls. “We encountered so many girls there with so many tough backgrounds. I could not help but return to the center again and again.”
Soon, Edelmira began taking her nine-year-old son with her when she visited the girls.
“I ran a little candy shop business during the day. When my son Gabriel came home from school in the afternoon, we would eat and then go to Rosa Virginia in the evenings around 5:00pm and stay until about 7:00pm,” she says. “When we could afford it, we would ride the bus the four miles to get the center. But buses weren’t running later at night, so we would always walk home, even in the storms. We would be scared walking at night, but we
would sing praise songs to God and to ask for his protection along the way.”
Edelmira volunteered Monday through Friday for two years. In July 2003, Orphan Helpers
offered her a full-time job. “That’s when they started paying me,” she laughs. Not too long after her hire, the center started housing boys as well as girls.
“For me, it was a tragedy. I couldn’t see myself working with boys. I thought about going back to my candy shop business,” Edelmira says. “But my friends encouraged me to stay. So, I cried to God asking for a heart for these boys, His children. He gave it to me. Now, I’m starting my 21st year with Orphan Helpers.”
Over the years, El Salvador and Honduras have dramatically reduced the number of children placed in government-run orphanages, closing most of them. Today, Orphan Helpers serves in nine juvenile detention centers in the two countries where youth are incarcerated, but only one protection center where boys are placed for their own safety. That one center – CISNA in El Salvador – is where Edelmira currently serves.
Over the past 20 years, Edelmira has impacted countless young lives, serving as a mother figure to so many of them. Out of dozens of stories that could be shared about youth impacted by Edelmira, one story is that of David Carbajal. Edelmira spent extra time to teach David to read when he lived at the CISNA center from 2008 to 2012. He recently wrote this about Edelmira:
“I’m forever grateful for Edelmira’s love, support, motivation while I was in the orphanage. Thanks to her early direction, I was able to go on and earn a university degree and now I’m in a program for designing web pages,” David shared. “The work of Orphan Helpers and teachers like Edelmira make an impact that can really change the life of someone for the better.”
As for her biological son, Gabriel now has three kids of his own. He is a volunteer firefighter and works as a paramedic with the Red Cross emergency department. The experiences of serving at Rosa Virginia undoubtedly played a huge impact on his life and decision to help others.
“This journey has had its ups and downs, but God has not abandoned me. He has trained and prepared me in many ways I never thought possible,” Edelmira reflects. “Now, here I am 20 years later. I will be here, always striving for the best ways to teach and lead, until God tells me 'enough’ because serving my Lord and God is my privilege.”