Doña Mari
Promotora Emeritus

This is my story                                

My name is María de Ángeles Luna García and I'm 73 years old. I was born on July 9, 1944. I am the third daughter of ten children and I am from Puebla, México.

I grew up in Puebla, until I was in the 3rd grade and my family moved to Veracruz. Soon after we moved, my father took me out of school so I could help care for my mother who had fallen ill. As the eldest daughter it was my duty to help take care of her and help with the housework. I did eventually go back to school and stayed until the 5th grade when my mom got sick again and I had to leave school for good.

I was married at age 20 and like all marriages, we had days that we hated each other and days that we loved each other. I guess that's how all marriages are. We had seven children and were married for 24 years until my husband was killed. When he died, we followed the tradition of praying the rosary for nine days, and when completed, I decided to come to Tijuana with my seven children and two grandchildren. The journey was a long one! It took four days to travel from Veracruz to Mexicali and the heat was horrible. In Veracruz it is hot, but not like in Mexicali! From there we came to Tijuana; can you imagine how we were? Four days without bathing or changing our clothes... we arrived tired and dirty. There was a taco stand nearby and we were very hungry. There was a gentleman there at the taco stand and he asked, “Where do you come from?” We answered that we had just arrived from Veracruz. He was so generous, he told the taquero “Give them all the tacos they want, the whole family! I will pay!” I will never forget this kind gesture. 

My goal in coming to Tijuana was to make a life here for me and my children, so when we arrived, we all went to work. We found jobs in a factory and there they gave us food. In these days, there was land that some political leaders were giving to people who requested it, and you could pay the government in installments. I was persistent in my request for land and eventually I was granted a parcel on which I could build. And after two years in Tijuana, I had a house. I was very happy because in the end, I had achieved what I wanted.

I was introduced to the Los Niños de Baja California organization through a woman who was involved in their programs who was from my community. She had been a program participant at one point, and over time had become a community health promoter (promotora) through their programs. She invited me to a family gardening course. I always liked planting vegetables or planting plants in my home so I said yes, and I liked it a lot! The same woman suggested that I should continue in the program to become a community health promoter like her and I thought, “But how? I never even finished elementary school, how can I be a promoter?” She told me that it wasn’t necessary, so I continued my training and became a promoter.

I worked as a volunteer community health promoter for seven years, until the program director, Rigo, asked if I would be interested to be the program coordinator. The organization encouraged me to continue with my schooling to get my elementary certificate so that I could take the job. So I went to the INEA (National Institute for Adult Education) and got my elementary school diploma and became the program coordinator. 

Working with Los Ninos offered me many opportunities I would not otherwise have had. For instance, one day we were in a meeting and Rigo told me, “Doña Mary, we are going to surprise you! As a reward for finishing elementary school, we are going to take a trip to New York. What do you think?” My jaw dropped. It was the first time I had ever travelled so far. We went there to attend a women’s conference. I was so honored! A few years later I had the opportunity to travel to Canada with Los Niños to meet with a local non-profit, a Canadian University and a group of ladies called “women walking together,” to share our experiences with “promotoria” here in the border region. I couldn’t believe that I was traveling and going to countries I didn’t know. My experience in Canada was eye opening. While there, we encountered an educator who couldn’t believe we had achieved so much with very little education and did not understand why we were giving classes to others who also lacked education. Why would we be spending our time with that when we should be working on getting our own formal education! I told her that when you want to do good, you do not need studies. People don’t need to know how to read to do something good for their community. I also told her that often times someone with a higher education doesn’t want to be in the community helping, and if nobody wants to help, why can’t we help? If we can do something positive in our community we will do it. The teacher got so angry that she grabbed her portfolio and left!

As a result of the relationships we built on that trip, Los Niños later partnered with the Canadian University (Simon Frazier University) and a local university in Tijuana to begin a program entitled Education and Training for Community Promoters. This program is still running today, and provides a way for women who have undergone training through Los Niños’ promotora program to further their education and receive a university credential in Community Leadership Education! I am proud to say that I was a member of the first graduating class for that program and it taught me to be more technical, to do things more orderly and to do research in the community, to know what is needed and not to impose, but to investigate what it is that people want.

Of course, in order for me to complete the diploma I had to have a Middle School certificate, so as soon as I entered the program I started studying for that at the same time. I was still working in Los Niños as well, so from two to four in the morning every day I would do homework for middle school, then I would fall asleep for a while and at six I would get up and go the program class and from there I would go the office to work. When one year passed I felt pretty overwhelmed and I was about to quit, but I said, “No! If I've endured for a year, I can do another!” So, I finished the university diploma and finished middle school a week later. I felt very good, because it was something I had wanted to do since childhood. As a child I was at the mercy of my parents’ decisions, but now nobody tells me what to do. Now I make my decisions, I do not have a bossy husband or dad and I'm going to do what I want to do!

I have been involved in Los Niños de Baja California for 24 years. It has been an amazing time but I'm leaving because I want to fulfill another dream, I'm going to study fashion design! Los Niños de Baja California changed my life, I met a lot of good people, especially Rigo, who is a wonderful person and who I love very much. I can honestly say that Rigo was my lifesaver because he gave me a lot of good advice. I think he has changed the lives of all of us who are working here and I admire him a great deal. I am also very thankful for my teammates, for their patience, and for being so very good to me.

As a person I consider myself to be better than before. This has not been a job but rather a transformative life experience that I have been happy to share with other people. I leave feeling very content and with great enthusiasm for what comes next. I was a person who gave it my all despite my inexperience. I got so much satisfaction from sharing the knowledge I gained and I still do. Thanks to everyone at Los Niños de Baja California and Vía International.

To support the nutrition program, please donate today!