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  • Cheryl Behrent & Mariah Scheuermann

Mother Madre


Like many women who have found safety and healing within the walls of Sarah’s, Madre longs to be reunited with her children, who are continents away. Fleeing from violence and abuse, these women must now endure an indefinite separation from those they love most. Growing up in Africa, Madre did not know the trials she would face as a woman and a mother.


The Catholic church and its tenets were at the center of her family’s life. Madre and her siblings were taught by the Sisters, who provided them with a quality education. Her family was poor, but the children could attend school because their parents worked in the church. Her wealthy classmates drank sweet grenadine syrup, ate cookies, and berated her for having only bread and water. Madre’s mother worked as a laundry woman, and her father tended the grounds and gardens around the church. Madre’s family lived a modest life filled with love and devotion.


After graduating from school, Madre got a teaching job. She had just begun her assignment when her father decided she would marry a wealthy man who could provide Madre with a better life. Knowing that she would be the man’s second wife, she and her children would not be cared for as well as his first family. Appalled at the thought of this arrangement, Madre ran away from the man and his family to live on her own. Eventually, she met a man with whom she fell in love and wanted to marry. Though he was destitute, Madre knew the man would always love her and their children. Her parents were enraged that she had defied them and thrown away the opportunity to marry the wealthy man. They refused to give their blessing to her marriage with the poor man, and Madre also knew they would kill her if she ever returned home.


Soon after her wedding, she learned that her father had died. The family at the funeral blamed Madre, saying that her actions caused the rage that had made him sick.

Her marriage became more contentious with arguments about money and her inability to find a job. To make matters worse, their government mistakenly believed her husband was involved in politics and repeatedly jailed him, leaving Madre alone to care for their family. Exhausted, she took her children and returned to her birth country. Even though they were far from her husband, Madre still worried that being associated with him jeopardized their safety. She developed a nomadic lifestyle, moving her children from place to place to hide from government authorities. But her children were not equipped to handle this transient existence, and she soon realized they were suffering. Madre returned to the Sisters who taught her as a child, seeking a stable, permanent home for her little family. The Sisters could not house them but offered Madre a cleaning job and provided food for her and her children. After much searching, she could rent a single room for the six of them. Within a year, Madre had applied to three schools for teaching jobs and received offers of employment from all of them. She chose the best school, which offered the highest salary and was closest to her home. She made extra money tutoring children at home in the evenings.


As a woman and single parent, Madre was targeted by a lustful, predatory police officer. He made inappropriate comments to her, and though she made it clear she wasn’t interested, he repeatedly asked to come home with her. One day when her older children were at school and Madre was home with her youngest son, and the policeman barged into her home. She shouted as he touched her forcefully, attempting to assault her. Her six-year-old son, who had been watching television, ran to help her, hitting and kicking his mother’s attacker. The cop turned on the boy kicking him in the stomach before fleeing the scene. Madre’s son could get up from the floor but began vomiting continuously for several hours. She took him to the public hospital, where the quality of care was much lower because it was all she could afford. After the boy was admitted to the hospital, Madre returned to work. When a student’s mother asked where she had been, she cried. She told the woman that her son was at the public hospital and had swollen because his kidneys had stopped working. The woman was wealthy and offered to bring Madre’s son to a more advanced hospital, but after examining him, they said it was likely too late for the boy. Two days later, he passed away. Devastated, Madre descended into mourning.


Madre’s sister, who was pregnant and living in the United States, asked her to come and help. She arrived in the U.S. four months after her son’s passing and received her visa the same day she applied. Madre’s sister promoted her visit as a vacation from which she would return home to her four remaining children. Still, it soon became apparent that she never intended for Madre to return to her children in Africa. Caring for her sister’s children reminded Madre of her lost son and her kids waiting for her return. She fell into depression and cried for hours, which infuriated her sister, who shouted at Madre and belittled her tears. When winter came, she went out into the snow and waited to die but was found by a friend who persuaded her to go inside. Though Madre was exhausted from the regimen of working all day for her sister and crying for her children, she slept very little.


Madre’s friend brought her to Sarah’s, where she found peace and began to eat and care for herself. Sarah’s connected her with the Center for Victims of Torture for medical and trauma care, and through these services, she learned she has diabetes. With her new regimen, she says, “I look better physically and morally. I am better.” She had always had a work permit but was too busy tending to her sister’s needs to have a paying job. Now Madre works to support herself and her children, sending them money every chance she gets. She is a new woman now, stating, “I am not the person people knew. I am another woman now.”


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