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The big family

Warmth, affection and joy. That's what you breathe when you enter the maternal and child centre Ave María in Santa Marta de Tormes, in Salamanca. Some people refer to this place - that welcomes single mothers with children from 0 to 4 years old and pregnant women in difficulties- as "the house of Chari", its incombustible director. And it is there where, for several years, has lent a hand Marisol, volunteer of "la Caixa", for whom all these mothers and their little ones have become part of her big family.

Today a craft and a room decoration workshop is programmed. With the help of some of the mothers, Marisol organizes the tables, chairs and materials for the activity: wooden letters with the initials of the children, jewellery boxes that can be customized, paint, glue, glitter, scissors… While they carry out the workshop, two educators take care of their children. Since it’s hot, this afternoon, a water battle takes place in the garden.

Marisol worked as an assistant director at one of the CaixaBank offices in Salamanca. One day Chari appeared there, they got along, she told her about the centre she was running, and just after a while Marisol was collaborating as part of the crew. “Volunteering always called my attention and, when I met Chari, I began to help with some things. But it was when I retired that I had time to come much more often”. Here Marisol does every kind of thing, from babysitting to attending the second-hand clothes market that is organized regularly, an also cooking workshops or cultural visits.

The stories of the girls who live at the Ave Maria centre are very tough. Some spend more time there than others, but the idea is that they all leave prepared to continue with their lives in a better situation than when they arrived. It’s difficult not to get involved with them. Marisol remembers with special affection her relationship with Babita, who arrived pregnant years ago and had her second child there too. Marisol has seen how they were born and grew up and, to this day, that Babita lives outside the centre, but continues to maintain a close relationship with the whole family.

That is, perhaps, one of the great gratifications of her work as a volunteer: to see how, little by little, mothers manage to get ahead with their children. Begoña is a good example of this. “I came here on Christmas Eve 2015 and, since then, my life has changed completely”. When she arrived, Begoña had been living in the streets for three days, five months pregnant, after suffering a situation of mistreatment from her partner. His daughter Indara, who is now two years old, was born in the centre. Before arriving, she was very afraid, because she did not know what was going to be found, but as soon as she saw the colourful corridors, with toys in between and children running around, she realized that she was in the right place “People here have rebuilt my heart, polished it and made it shine. They have made me rise from the ashes“. Thanks to her work, Begoña not only has been able to raise Indara, but she has also been able to study, get a job and, soon, also a house, that she will share with Ana, another of the mothers. “There are other people who need my place in the centre and I, now, feel capable of moving forward. And that’s thanks to the people who work here, and to the volunteers. That’s why, when you go out, in a way you take them all with you”.

That is exactly what happens to Marisol, who is now part of the family of many of the mothers who have stayed here. She believes that this volunteering is also part of her life. “When you leave, you are fuller, you feel more useful and more satisfied with yourself. You receive more than what you actually give, there is no doubt about that”.

Text: María Arranz
Photograph: Miriam Herrera

You can read more stories like this on ALMA, the social social media, a digital space devoted to the social field, which brings a new look at the present and the future of society, from an optimistic and diverse point of view, and from all the initiatives that “la Caixa” Foundation promote.