Healing Steps

Rita Hernandez Heals from Orthopedic Surgery
In the heart of Edmond lives a young Mexican mother working hard at her UCO studies and serving as an inspiration to others.

Rita Hernandez grew up with her mother and brother in Mexico. When she was about 12, the family moved from Veracruz to the hills near Matamoras, where relatives lived. Rita lived in the dump and collected glass or paper and sold items for money. Sometimes she tended cows, horses, chickens and pigs. She never went to school and was poorly nourished. She limped along because at a young age one foot was turned 180 degrees, likely due to an injury, she said.

Several people from Edmond decided to help Rita. Doctors, nurses, translators and teachers put together a plan, and in 1997, when she was 17 years old, Rita came to Oklahoma. The small girl with large brown eyes was scared to leave her country and it was hard to adjust. She didn’t know English, didn’t like the food, climate or clothing. Even the buildings were different than in Mexico. She also endured three painful operations and wearing a brace, which turned her foot a little at a time, breaking the skin each turn.

Before the medical treatment was complete, Rita wanted to go back to Mexico. She was depressed, especially missing her young daughter, Monica, who stayed with Rita’s mother in Matamoras. However, with help, Monica was able to come to Edmond to live with her mother. Rita and her daughter eventually moved into a small house close to UCO. After 18 months, Rita’s leg brace came off and she could walk normally.

During those first few years, Rita learned to read Spanish and speak and read English. She earned her GED. “You learn fast when you have to,” she said.

Her efforts to learn won many people’s hearts. It also made it possible for her to attend college. Most of her support came through families associated with Henderson Hills Baptist Church. Another part of her life also changed. She learned about Jesus and became a Christian. Her relationship with God helped her through the many long days, she said.

Besides studying at UCO (she likes science, math and politics) Rita does a lot of volunteer work. She translates at Ministries of Jesus and for Spanish-speaking people when they go to the doctor or other places. She also teaches English as a Second Language (ESL).

This single mother balances her time between college classes, volunteer work and helping her fourth-grade daughter with schoolwork. “I come from a very, very large family so it is lonesome here sometimes with no family around,” she said.

Staying in Oklahoma was the best choice for Rita and her daughter, she said, but it has not been easy. The last time she went back to Mexico to see her mother was in 2004.

By May 2007, Rita hopes to graduate from UCO with a degree in community health and give back some of the kindnesses that people have shown her. If the past seven years are an example of Rita’s determination to learn, graduation will become a reality soon. She’s extremely grateful for the help she’s received and believes the tough times have been worth it.

“It is possible to do anything,” she said. “Anything you are capable of doing. If you have a goal, go for it, even if it takes a long time. Nothing is easy.”

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