Three years ago when Denis was thirty-five years old her husband died suddenly leaving behind their five children for her to raise by herself. Nick, now seventeen, Derek fifteen, Anderson thirteen, Fred nine, and Dafny six years old are the center of Denis’ world. A well-meaning neighbor asked when Denis’ husband died if she would give up one of her children for adoption, but she refused to even entertain the idea. “If you really want to help ” Denis responded, “give me six eggs every week that we can eat.”
A year later, the Panamanian government program, Casas de Esperanza (Houses of Hope) built her a small house on the little property she owns among the sugar cane fields. This two-bedroom, one-bath house with running water and electricity gives Denis and her family a sense of security and permanence in an uncertain time. But even without rent to pay, Denis struggles to provide for her family. Nick and Derek work every Saturday at the nearby trapiche (sugar cane mill) and bring home a total of $100 per month. Denis adds to the monthly income another $100 by making tamale filling and selling it to local vendors.
She also works with the children every day practicing their reading and math skills since schools are closed because of Covid-19. When the children attend school they walk more than four miles of rocky, muddy roads each way. However, education is so important to these children and to their mom, that no matter how hard it is to get there, they are eager to return to school. Denis even dreams about the day when she might be able to buy a computer and internet service so they can learn even more. In the meantime, she acknowledges how grateful she is for the food from Buenos Vecinos de Boquete because it helps them keep their family intact. “We are a family that stays together and helps one another,” she said proudly.