Giving Thanks for the Hard Times

Marian Wright Edelman | 11/28/2012, 11:57 a.m.

The Thanksgiving season is when many Americans gather with our families over full dinner tables to count our blessings. Seventeen-year-old Eva Maria Turcios and her family take very little for granted any day, including the blessing of having any dinner at all: "I mean, there were nights where we didn't have anything to put in our stomachs. Like we'd just have to drink water. And I guess there's times where we didn't know where we were going to live. But now it's just a normal thing for us. When we're faced with problems like that, we don't sit there and cry about it. We don't sit there and wait for someone to do something for us. My mom and I just figure out something, a way for us to make it to the next day, to put food in our stomachs, to have a roof over our heads."

On paper, Eva is a standout high school senior with a 3.8 GPA and a rigorous course load of all honors and international baccalaureate classes. Born in Honduras, her parents brought her to America for a better future two months later. Her father worked hard and bought a house for the family in Virginia, while her mother stayed home to care for Eva and her younger siblings. Eva always loved reading and did well in school, and for a while, life was calm. But by the time Eva was 10, her American dream had turned into a nightmare of abuse and then extreme poverty.

Her father was deported, and Eva remained her mother's strongest support as their family fell into extreme poverty--experiencing gnawing hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness. They shared single rented rooms and spent time on waiting lists at homeless shelters while Eva's mother struggled to piece together enough work to keep the family afloat. Eva took care of her younger siblings, and got her first job at age 14 to help out. Today Eva works four days a week and cooks for the family and keeps the house clean while her mother works two jobs. Through it all she never stopped excelling in school, even when small things like routine writing and research assignments presented challenges:

"I didn't have Internet or a laptop . . . I would have to take the bus to go to the library and do all my work until the library closed, so if the library closed and I didn't finish all my work, then it was kind of a struggle."

It's made her one of the inspiring Washington, D.C. area winners of the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds scholarship awards. These awards are given each year to high school seniors who have succeeded in school despite tremendous adversity, and come with a $10,000 scholarship, laptop computer, guidance through the college admission process, and an invitation to join CDF's young servant leadership development training programs.

Eva has her own definition of what it means to beat the odds: "You overcome the challenges, and you learn from the obstacles. You use the experience to help you live a better life. You don't just think how bad your life was because you had to go through things; you say how lucky you are to have so much experience."