Blanca might be a single mother living in poverty in Ecuador, but that doesn’t stop her from doing everything in her power to see her daughter Naomi, who has Down syndrome, succeed. Through the love and care from Blanca and the encouragement from her local Compassion staff, Naomi has a bright future.

She’s an athletics champion, has earned medals in dance and played music for the Supreme Court of Justice. This sweet, loving, joyful 14-year-old adores her family and studies hard in school in Machala, Ecuador.

What you wouldn’t know from this list of accomplishments and bubbly personality traits is that this unique teenager has Down syndrome. This is Naomi.

Thankfully, Naomi also has a determined mother who knows her worth and potential.

A mother who, after being abandoned by her husband, has worked tirelessly as a single parent looking for every opportunity she could to help Naomi discover her talents and improve their living conditions. She’s moved multiple times just to maintain affordable housing for herself, Naomi and Jean Pierre, Naomi’s brother. This is Blanca.

Because Naomi requires full-time care, Blanca quit her job as a domestic employee and now works at home making crochet purses. By selling two or three a month, she can pay for their rent and electricity. Their simple home is made of cement with an iron roof and glassless windows.

Naomi and Blanca outside their home

The cognitive disability common to children with Down syndrome doesn’t allow Naomi to compete academically with teens her age. But this hasn’t stopped Naomi from being physically active.

“She’s very alert and has a lot of energy. She’s been a good runner ever since she was two years old,” says Blanca.

That’s why Blanca took Naomi to the El Oro Sports Centre to help develop her motor skills. Naomi has won several medals for dance and folklore contests as well as in athletics. Last year, Naomi took fifth place in a national tournament.

“She was the 2011 promising champion and won a medal. At the Special Olympics, she won two medals: silver in athletics and bronze in long jump,” says Blanca proudly.

Sports aren’t Naomi’s only interest—she loves music. When her mother realised this, she did everything she could to ensure Naomi would succeed.

“I spent a year going to the Conservatory, trying to get them to help my little girl, but the children there are older and know how to read and write … it was rather difficult, but the Lord opened doors and the director said, ‘Ok, Naomi. No problem. You’re accepted,’ and he helped me,” Blanca says.

Naomi playing piano

The fact that Naomi didn’t know how to read or write didn’t deter them. After trying the violin and the flute, Naomi finally decided on the piano. Naomi’s piano teacher, Eulogio Marquez, even developed a new methodology for teaching her.

“It’s a new experience,” says Eulogio. “With her, it takes a little longer, but she’s definitely learning!”

Naomi’s passion shows as she practices every day and expresses herself through music. She’s even played in several musical presentations for national authorities.

“She was invited to an event at the Supreme Court of Justice and also to one held by the El Oro Provincial Council,” says Blanca.

At 59 years old, Blanca’s journey hasn’t been easy but she hasn’t had to do it alone. When Naomi was seven years old, Blanca enrolled her at the local Compassion child development centre.

Naomi working with firends

Through the Child Sponsorship Program, Naomi receives tutoring to help her in special needs school, medical check-ups, school uniforms and supplies. When she developed Type 1 diabetes, she received medicine and food to help manage her condition.

The local Compassion staff are not only helping meet Naomi’s physical and intellectual needs, they are helping her develop spiritually and emotionally by giving her the love she needs to feel accepted. With the help of her tutor, Magdalena, Naomi has developed her self-confidence.

“She arrives at the centre in a very happy mood. She says hello and kisses all the staff and the other children too,” says Ana Molina, the director of the centre. “The other children have accepted her very well and they’re friends. For the different activities, they say, ‘Naomi! I’ll help you with this.’ There’s a very good spirit of comradeship in the group.”

Naomi and her friends dancing

“She’s aware of her tutor’s support. She understands that the tutor is always near and aware of her, ready to congratulate her every time she tries out a new song or learns a new letter or distinguishes a different colour. This has helped Naomi open her heart and show affection and love,” as Ana emphasises, Naomi is truly “a sweet, loving girl”.

Naomi’s sponsors have also invested in her development, both emotionally through letters and financially through gifts for special occasions. Naomi loves it when Magdalena reads her the letters from her sponsors because she understands that she has a friend who lives far away.

Magdalena and Naomi

Naomi will always have cognitive limitations, but she will also always have the help of her church, the centre staff and her sponsors. And so will Blanca. The church and staff have come alongside her offering support and encouragement, congratulating her each step of the way during her daughter’s journey.

“They’ve helped me a lot with food and education. They’ve given me the right amount of financial help,” says Blanca. “I have Naomi there because it would break my heart if I had to take her away.”

Blanca is one of the parents and caregivers of the 6145 youth with special needs who are enrolled in our program. These are students who have a wide range of special, physical or developmental needs like albinism, epilepsy, polio, hearing or sight impairments, Down syndrome or hydrocephalus, just to name a few.

Alongside the support they receive through sponsorship, these children benefit from our Health Fund to provide the additional ongoing support they require. Donate to the Health Critical Need to support children like Naomi.

Words and photos by Cecilia Yépez

This previously appeared on the Compassion International blog and has been republished here with full permission.

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