News: Marine uses personal experiences to help Afghans
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - When Lucy Lopez sees Afghan children on patrols, she can’t help remembering a time in her life when it seemed the poverty around her was boundless and receiving a good education was unattainable.
When Lopez’ mother was only 12-years-old, she gave birth prematurely to Lucy, in a Bogota, Columbia hospital. While baby Lucy, barely the size of an adult palm, struggled for survival, her mother abandoned her in the hospital.
Up until age 6, Lucy was raised by her aunt, when her mother came back into her life. With an occasional gift and smile, her mother also brought a history of alcohol, drug abuse and violence.
Sometimes her mother would leave her for days at a time, forcing her to panhandle for money to eat and survive. When the violence and neglect got to be too much, Lucy was taken into Colombian child services.
The next eight years Lopez spent in and out of foster homes and was rarely allowed to go to school. The few schools she did attend she would either get kicked out for behavior problems or be sent to a new family and therefore disenrolled. By age 10, she started teaching herself the alphabet and how to read and write.
“People kept telling me, wherever I went, that I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I wanted to prove them wrong,” said Lopez. “Once I started to learn the alphabet I started picking the letters out in words, I would see in books, and that is how I started to learn to read.”
Lopez said her foster families in Colombia weren’t interested in sending her to school. She liked learning so much she would try to take any classes the orphanages offered.
By the time Lopez turned 14, she passed through four orphanages and more than 50 foster homes. “I was a bad kid. I was completely disrespectful. I did not care about anyone,” Lopez admitted. “I just didn’t want anyone disrespecting me the way my mother had. At the same time, all I dreamed for was a chance at a normal life.”
Lopez’ prayers would soon be answered by a family from Nashville, Tenn., when Lopez, 14, and her younger sister, Maria, 11, were adopted. Lopez was home schooled until she graduated from high school.
Lopez received her high school diploma from the Heritage Christian Academy in 2008, where she also picked up her love for sports, especially volleyball and bowling. She also received her black belt Wado-ryu, a form of martial arts similar to Ju-jitsu.
A year after high school, Lopez was interested in joining the military.
“I was on my way to see the Air Force recruiter and got lost. So I stopped at the Marine Corps recruiting office to ask for directions, and ended up going to Marine Corps boot camp seven days later,” Lopez said with a smile.
Today, Lopez, 21, is a lance corporal and a female engagement team member for Regional Command Southwest. When patrolling through Helmand province, her main responsibilities are to assist the local women, or their children with any help they might need.
Lopez said she is very thankful for what she has and thinks this deployment is a great opportunity for her to share her experiences with the Afghan people and let them know that education is a very important tool that can help them throughout their lives.
“We have been going out to talk to the women and teach them the importance of education and hygiene, and give them different hygiene products,” said Lopez. “We also talk to the children about school and what they have been learning. Sometimes we will teach them an English word and if they can repeat it back to us and show us what it means, we give them some candy as a reward.
“Whenever I go out to one of the villages, I try to teach the children the importance of education,” said Lopez, who hopes to one day open up her own orphanage. “The more educated you are, the better opportunities you will have in the future.”
From panhandling for survival and teaching herself to read and write in Colombia, to graduating high school in Tennessee and becoming a U.S. Marine deployed to Afghanistan, Lopez has overcome more hardships in the first 21 years of her life than most do in a lifetime.
While her future is bright, for now Lopez just takes it one day at a time, hoping she can continue using her life experiences to help every Afghan child and family she meets.
Date Posted:11.19.2010 06:39
Location:CAMP LEATHERNECK, AF
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