The last of the 4 women we met in Durres was Maria. She met us outside her home with a beaming smile, kisses on the cheeks and incredible warmth and excitement. It immediately felt like we were welcome, and like we had known her forever. She had just picked fresh figs from her garden, and she made us all (Noah included) eat 1 or 3 before we were allowed to begin talking. Fresh figs are delicious, as it turns out, and Levi ate a ton.
Maria was full of joy and life, and her laughter and smile were infectious. As she began to tell us the story of her life we became more and more amazed that such joy could come from a woman who had suffered so much.
Maria’s husband is an abusive man, and a drunk, like most of the other husbands of the women we met. He spends all the money in the household on alcohol and is a very difficult man to live with. Maria has only daughters, and one of her daughters is now old enough to move out, get a job, or marry. Because of the financial situation, Maria’s husband has threatened to sell his daughter in order to relieve them of having to care for her, and to get some money for her. Unfortunately desperation often leads to trafficking in Albania, and most parents are uneducated about where their daughters could end up.
Maria had previously had 2 sons. One had Encephalitis, and one Down’s Syndrome and a heart condition. They both required a lot of care. Maria told us that she was on her way to get a surgery on her son’s heart when her other son died at home. He was 12 years old, but was the size of a 5 or 6 year old because of his condition. Her other son also died from his health issues, and he was only 5 when he passed away. Maria was obviously devastated by these losses, especially in an Albanian culture where men dominate, and male children are so highly desired.
Maria has also suffered through many health issues. She has had 5 surgeries in her adult years. Because of where she is from, and her economic standing, she has not received proper care or good surgical procedures. She told us of medical instruments being left inside of her, and lots of complications from her surgeries. While we were there she told us of another surgery that she needs that she can not afford, and so she suffers every day.
Despite all of this heartache and struggle, Maria lives with joy. She told us excitedly about how the work with Dawn has given her ability to work from home despite her medical situation. It is keeping her daughter from being sold because there is money in the house and Dawn has been helping her keep her daughter safe. She has hope and inspiration again because of the work she is able to do.
Maria’s daughter (the one at risk of being trafficked) has also been inspired to dream. Maria told us of her daughter’s hope to open a home for abused women in their community where women could be safe and get the counseling and tools that they needed to cope with what they had endured. It is an amazing dream, and so necessary there.
In the process of eating figs, both of our boys got a big mucky. Maria had provided a nice white towel for us to wipe sweat when we arrived, and I caught Levi about to wipe his hands on it at one point. I asked him not to stain Maria’s nice white towel, and after Dawn translated what I was saying Maria laughed. “I have a washing machine now, thanks to my work for Dawn” she said proudly, “please use the towel.” It was a brilliant picture for us of the impact of the work these women were doing on their everyday lives.
As we look at the products we now have in stock it is easy to see a knitted headband, fingerless gloves, a cowl, or boot cuffs. But now when we look at them we see the faces of these 4 brave women that we met, and we think of their stories. They aren’t just accessories to help you look great in the winter and stay warm. They are an opportunity to participate in stories of hope. They are an opportunity to participate in protecting children from trafficking. They are a statement that says that my purchases matter for real people in real places with real stories. And that is exciting.