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Women Impacting Lives: Claudia Patricia Guerra dreams to inspire others

Women Impacting Lives: Community activist, Claudia Patricia Guerra dreams to inspires others
Community Activist, Claudia Patricia Guerra.
Image: Courtesy of Women Impacting Lives.
Produced by Alba Gallo.

I was born in Bogota Colombia to an Ecuadorian father and a Colombian mother. I grew up in a home with three other siblings. As the only little princess in the house, I was very spoiled by my entire family. Growing up in a middle class home, I was blessed to have grown up in a very loving environment with all of the latest toys and fashion clothing my heart desired. With great sacrifice on the part of our parents, they sent us to prestigious schools, vacations in lavish destinations, ballet lessons, and swimming. I had an absolutely beautiful and perfect childhood until the age of nine when a tragedy would test the faith of my entire family. Upon returning home from our Christmas vacation, I began to feel ill. 

My head hurt and was throwing up the entire trip back. Symptoms which my parents discarded as a simple stomach upset which would go away after a nice shower and a good nights’ rest. The next day I woke up feeling worse and my father thought I was just acting up to stay home from school after a few weeks off. My mom, on the other hand, immediately sensed that it was something more grave and took my temperature. This confirmed her suspicion that I was truly sick. Without hesitation that same day they took me to the Pediatrician who prescribed an antibiotic to treat my ailment. After answering the doctors’ routine questions, he diagnosed me with a simple renal infection.

 A few days later, I couldn’t even get out of bed. This is what finally lead to me being diagnosed with childhood polio even though all of my vaccinations were up to date. This was a very trying time in my life, where days turned into weeks that turned into months that turned into years, and the harsh realization that my childhood dream of some day becoming a prima ballerina would surely vanish. As I continued to grow, searching high and low unsuccessfully for a cure, I felt defeated.

 My parents never quit trying. They were determined to help me find a cure for my paralysis and exhausted all possible resources, some of which included visits to the most expert specialist in the field and even, in their desperation, the village witch doctor. They never ever gave up. During my adolescent years I experienced the harsh coldness of my classmates who often times would ridicule me and shun me out, by not allowing me to join them in their activities.

 I used the same orthopedic apparatus that became famous with the “Forrest Gump” movie. But in my case, although I tried to remove them, as the actor did in the film, I was unable to run like him and this lead to feelings of insecurity, self doubt and depression. My leg became much weaker and deformed so severely that they had to perform emergency surgery. After several months of physical therapy and trying many different orthopedic apparatuses, the doctors voiced our greatest fear; I would never be able to walk on my own ever again. As always, my parents still refused to accept this fact and decided to expand their resources by reaching to the United States. This is how we arrived in this country as immigrants.

 At sixteen, I was a very young lady entering a foreign country, lacking faith and deeply saddened that I had to leave the life I knew behind; my culture, my family, my friends, and my native language to go in search of a miracle. What gave me strength during this time was my mothers’ faith and my fathers’ teachings. Years before he had confronted me regarding my own weakness. My father, coming from a military background, taught me how to stand strong when facing life challenges. I can still clearly remember an example of his teaching. As a young child years before, as I was struggling to walk with my orthopedic apparatus I fell to the floor in front of my father. 

From the floor I burst into tears. I reached out to my father and pleaded that he help me get up. Sternly he said, “No! Stand up on your own. You can do it.” At that moment feelings of anguish, frustration and rage overcame me. My cries for help and heated tantrum were of no avail. It was at that moment that I had to make the decision to get myself up. It took great strength and effort for me to drag myself to the hood of the door, and with tears in my eyes, I got myself up. At that moment I stared at my father with hate, resentment and contempt. I looked into his eyes and saw his eyes swell up in tears, in a way telling me, “You see, you can do it.” 

What a wonderful lesson this gave me for the rest of my life. Knowing that whatever obstacles, difficulties or problems I may be facing, I can always find the strength to overcome them. All of my parents’ sacrifices, including having to sell all of our material possessions to come to the United States seemed to be in vain as the bad news continued to reign. After several months of intensive therapy and trying the most modern orthopedic apparatuses, they told us that I would never be able to walk on my own again. I would eventually need to use crutches and a wheelchair for mobility. With my mothers’ enormous faith and the knowledge I had gained from my fathers’ teachings, we decided to turn our search to a greater authority. 

We searched for God–I remember sitting in my room and thinking to myself what good is it to live life as a hopeless cripple. Only focusing on my limitations and not taking into account the pleasures of living, of feeling, of loving. In my frustration, I looked up to the sky and asked, “If you exist God, show me your face.” As fate would have it, a few days later I met some new neighbors who invited me to a bible study group. It was here that I would be asked if I knew Jesus. My initial response was, “Of course I do. I have always heard about Him.” But this gentle man insisted and rephrased his question and asked, “Would you like to get to know Jesus more intimately.” Without fully understanding the question, I remained silent. 

Without hesitation he continued with, “What do you have to lose?” This was when and how God began to work on an even greater miracle, which was the transformation of my heart. After this day, I felt my strength was renewed and began to feel hope, a strong desire to live, and a strong willingness to share, not of my limitations, but of my goals and victories. Facing the world with this new outlook, I regained my strength and began to walk. I woke up one morning with a strange sensation in my legs and felt the urge to press them against the floor. To my surprise I discovered that my legs once again had strength. Little by little, step by step, I went to where my parents were.

 When they first saw me, they looked at each other and started to scream, cry and jump for joy seeing that I had walked to them without any help. My parents rushed to take me back to the doctors who had previously said that I would never walk again, and baffled had to admit that this was a true miracle. Others, still in disbelief, stated that this was simply other muscles in my body trying to compensate for the bad ones. Whatever the reason was, I was walking! With my new image and a love of life, I married when I was 20. God granted me the privilege of having two precious children who brought me much joy, but life would bring me greater challenges. For many years I lived under the shadow of domestic violence. My refuge was my job as this was my escape from the loneliness and pain. I silently lived a double life not uttering a word of this to my family, friends, even fooling myself. My wounds did not allow me to see the damage and hurt my children were being exposed to, it was like I had spiritual binders.

 I felt ashamed and strongly guarded my secret as much as possible. When there were broken items lying around, I would say it was an accident. When there were bruises on my skin I would say I didn’t remember how that happened. What I didn’t understand was that my entire family was intertwined in this damaging relationship. I would tell myself that I would never leave my husband because he was the father of my children and because I strongly believed God would change him some day. I didn’t understand then that all who are involved in the domestic violence cycle contributes to the abuse. This was a time in my life where I felt very insecure, repressed, with feelings of resentment toward my accuser and God. 

These emotions lead me to a great depression where I had no other course of action than to seek professional help. I was no longer able for me to complete normal daily tasks such as going to work and caring for my family. I would suffer from migraine headaches all the time and my body also reflected my condition by being severely over weight. Even after I was under a doctors’ care for my mental and physical conditions, I still felt the need in my heart to regain that intimate relationship with God that I once had. As I had done before, with the lesson I had learned from my father, I got myself up. 

I decided it was time to have faith in Claudia. After a very difficult divorce my goal would be to fight forward for my children and for myself. I went back to the University and graduated in 2008 with a degree in Business Administration, and also as a Certified Crime Analyst a title awarded to me from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. This title has allowed me to work as a Crime Analyst. I’ve had several challenges in my walk with obesity and the depression that has overcome me at times, but I am able to get myself up when I think that because of everything I have been through, I can help others when they are down. Because of the opportunity I had to come to this country and my studies at the French Preparatory School of Bogota, I commenced working at the French Alliance in Miami where I worked as an Administrative Assistant and French teacher for the children. 

I took some time off after I had my children, but job employment opportunities were scarce. At many places where I sought employment I was discriminated because of my handicap. This lead me to turn to the government for assistance. I knocked on several doors, and eventually found a job at the Miami-Dade County Children’s Center. Here I would process child abuse cases. A job that I found very rewarding because I felt satisfied that I could offer a word of comfort to these families. The law enforcement profession was always very appealing to me and found myself applying for several positions in that field. After several years of applying, I was offered a position to work for one of the nations’ most prestigious police departments, the Miami-Dade Police Department. I have been working here for seventeen years.

 My unfailing effort of never giving up has lead me to receive several commendations for serving the citizens of Miami-Dade County for twenty-two years. Awards ranging in nature from assisting the police in finding wanted fugitives to being a finalist for implementing a program that would save tax payers money by automating the way employees received their paychecks. Other awards have been contributed for my labor within the community working as a volunteer performing translation and interpreting services in Spanish, French and Creole. 

Anxious to give back to the community for all that it has blessed me with; I spend much of my time off holding Domestic Violence Workshops. For the elderly and for the prisoners I visit them and share my gift of song. With all of my experience, my greatest desire is that I may be able to reach and somehow inspire others with a word of love and hope. My experience as a community activist began shortly after my divorce in 2004. Since then it has been my passion to develop myself as an instructor in the prevention of domestic violence and as a spokesperson for all of the women who have no voice. 

I have held educational workshops in the field of prevention, empowering women to break their silence. My testimony as a survivor is printed in the book written by Colombian author Karime Demorize Hernandez, in her book titled, “Rompiendo El Silencio,” which now has a second edition. Another publication that told my story is the “Cara a Cara” magazine, and other forms of media on television and radio spreading information and reaching thousands of women on this sensitive issue that too few want to talk about, but affects so many in our communities.

Written by Claudia Patricia Guerra
Produced by Alba Gallo–for Women Impacting Lives