Estela stands tall even as a woman with short stature. Her confidence and beauty is quiet and bold and as she shared her story it was clear just how hard fought this confidence in her abilities is despite an accident that threatened to steal her mobility and joy. She now inspires others to break barriers imposed on women with disabilities.
A small team including myself, Serena; a translator, and Heylin; a woman from the Collective who is leaning visual storytelling made our way on the “chicken bus” then through the windy streets of Sololá, Guatemala. We arrived at Estela’s home and were welcomed by her family with fresh fruit and juice. We settled in to an outdoor courtyard in her home that she shares with her family (her mother and father and their 13 children) and Estela shared her story of how she first was invited to Mujeres con capacidad de soñar a colores. She first she met Evelyn; another woman in the collective and then met Valentina and has been involved since 2018.
Disability was not always a part of her story. Estela went into detail about the bus accident that almost ended her life. She was 18 and working close to the water and the public transport bus went off a cliff with just her and the driver. They both survived and the driver walked away with just a scar but she was badly injured. ”I found the community when I was feeling very sad and alone. I was closed up house didn’t want to see anyone.” One year after the accident she was in a wheelchair, “For a year I couldn’t go out of the house.” She could not feel her arms or legs at all and shared, “at the beginning I didn’t want to share my story but I had courage from the other women there (at the Collective) sharing.” Estela had surgery and six months after she learned and retaught herself to use her arms. Her family was telling her “you have to accept this” and discouraged her from going out because of the cultural stigma of being disabled in Guatemala. Estela smiled as she shared this part of her story and what she told her family, “you are saying I can’t but I want to and I WILL.” She had the discipline to lean in to her therapy, “I started putting lots of effort into my therapy.”
Estela’s therapist would come to her home and then after she left Estella would spend most of the night doing the exercises, “at first it was just closing my eyes and thinking about the exercises because I could not move.” She was just visualizing moving before she could even move her arms or legs and after about 2-3 months she could move her arms. Her mom was in disbelief about her progress and Estela just answered her, “it must be God’s will!” and added “because when you say that people cannot argue.” Anytime anyone in her family or others would tell her ‘you can’t’ she would work harder. She said “I need to get strong abs and so I started new exercises” and at first she was just using a chair and repeatedly pulling herself up and then she would ask her family members to bring a mop and mop the floors to gain strength. The therapist even said, “you can’t do too much” but Estella was determined to gain strength and teach herself to use her arms and legs again, “I did not care, I still did it” and she gradually used the chair and then a table to push herself up and out of the chair.
It took Estela 8 years to learn to walk again and at the time of our interview she has only been walking for 2 years. She now she has so much more independence than before with her wheelchair and her sibling having to help carry her in and out of their home. She is able to come and go more and feels proud of the hard work she did to get here.
“What do you want people to know?“
Estela shared ,“It is not easy when you have an accident so you have to find inside of yourself the courage and the strength inside you. You have to do your part of the work regardless if your family is supportive.” She now visits another woman with a spine injury (from falling from a terrace) but her friend is shut in her home and is afraid to go out right now. Estela hopes that by sharing her story this friend will she will see she can go out.
Estela shares her story boldly in a world that as she stated tries to limit women like her, ”I only started to share my story when I heard others sharing, then I knew I was not alone and sharing helps other women.”
Estela’s message to other women with disabilities: “find strength and faith and know that you can do it. The disability is also the surroundings and not us- the accessibility is the issue and there are so many barriers but that is the world we live in and we can find ways to find strength.”
I am so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Photographers Without Borders on this assignment in Guatemala. So much thanks to the gracious and amazing women that invited me to their homes to document their stories.
A visual storyteller that focuses on human emotion & connection. I help families, individuals, & couples to share their beautiful messy story.
I also partner with humanitarian, non-for-profit organizations, and NGOs share their stories with intention, dignity, & excellence, so they can have a greater impact on their communities.