Her face is young and beautiful. She looks much like any teen you might see walking store-to-store in the mall or going to the movies with friends. Laila’s life, however, is more complicated than worrying about what outfit she will buy or which movie she’ll be seeing.
In order to care for Laila and her little sister, Laila’s mother works 11 hours a day, six days a week. During this time, Laila is responsible for the household, as well as her 7-year old sister.
She ensures her sister is clean, clothed and fed, that her sister is attending school and getting her school work done. She takes care of meals, washes clothes and dishes as well as anything else that might need done during the day. She also has her own schoolwork to complete.
Sometimes, when her mother leaves for work, there is no food in the house for Laila and her sister. Thankfully, they have an aunt close by who helps them out when it is most needed. It is a lot of responsibility for a young girl. It has been especially stressful during the times when her little sister has gotten sick. It would be so much easier if her mother could be home more of the time.
Since Laila is helping around the house throughout the week, she attends school on the weekends. She knows school is important and is committed to it. She plans to one day become a police officer. In achieving her goal, she will be able to better help her mother– hopefully allowing them to move into a better home.
When Laila’s mother is home, it is a relief, but not without worry. Laila’s mother has been diagnosed with H. pylori–a painful bacterial infection of the stomach. Too many of Laila’s nights are spent listening to her mother cry out in agonizing pain from her illness. As we talk to Laila, the only time her brave demeanor breaks is when she describes the difficulty of hearing her mother suffer. If local healthcare was better, it is likely that Laila’s mother could be completely healed with antibiotics. As it stands, the medication she has received has proven ineffective. Laila’s hope is that someday she will be able to help her mother receive the care she needs.
Sometimes, for short periods of time, Laila is given the opportunity to indulge in the joy and fun of childhood. When her mother is home, and her sister is cared for, she plays soccer with her friends–one of her favorite activities. But these times are few and far between for a young women who should be spending her days learning and enjoying life rather than taking on the burdens of adulthood.
If you meet Laila, you cannot help but admire her. She is filled with fortitude and courage. It is clear that she knows she must continue on and she does so with hope–hope that life will one day be better for herself and for the rest of her family.
Written by Shalyce Cluff; Photography by Jose Miguel Amaya