When I was a teenager, leaving home couldn’t come soon enough. No more fussing parents, no “are you home yet?” or “we’re eating together tonight”. I couldn’t wait. But when I met Marcela in Colombia last October, I realised how lucky I was that my parents cared enough to worry when I wasn’t home, and actually wanted to eat at the same table as me.
After a day at the Forming Futures Foundation (FFF) – COTA’s partner that supports young people leaving care so they can become independent adults – we went looking for a good dinner. We arrived at a lovely Italian restaurant, where we were greeted by a lively young woman and Chouchou, her dog.
Marcela, 22, runs the restaurant – writing the menu, managing staff and attending customers. She clearly loves her work and enjoys meeting people. I would never have guessed what had happened to this friendly, confident and professional woman during her childhood.
Marcela kindly agreed to share her story, not just with me, but with all COTA’s supporters. My thanks to Marcela for her time, and for agreeing to share this with us. I hope her restaurant goes from strength to strength, and I hope I’ll be back there soon!
Could you tell me a little bit about your family life as a child?
Well, I lived with my mother and my 3 siblings. I now have another half-sister, who lives with my mum. My mum used to plait people’s hair on the streets to try and make money. Sadly she had a serious drug problem, so the small amount of money she made didn’t go very far.
Instead of going to school , I used to spend a lot of time looking after my 3 younger siblings. By the time I was 12, I was really behind at school as I was hardly ever there. That’s when I ran away from home. My siblings were 8, 4 and 2 when I fled.
I didn’t want to see my mum – I didn’t even want her to know where I was. That’s how I ended up in the care home.
Looking back, how do you feel about your life in care?
Living with people you don’t know is tough – especially with the lives that young people in care have had. But being in the care home allowed me to live as a child. If I’d stayed at home, I’d have continued to look after my siblings, and I’d never have received a proper education.
I will openly say that my life has been good since I left my home – I’ve made friends, gained a good education, found a partner, and a life. Now I feel good – with my partner and my dog I’m never alone.
And how was your experience at FFF?
I was 17 when I joined FFF. I lived in a “half way” house they provide for girls between care and independence. I worked hard. I studied in the evening so I could work during the day. They were always telling me to save my money! Thanks to FFF I enrolled on various cookery courses, and loved them.
When I graduated from a vegetarian course in December, the lady running it opened her own restaurant and asked me to work for her. The following year, FFF thought I was ready to leave – I had saved money, I had a stable job, and they felt I was able to handle a more independent life. I didn’t want to leave! I left in September 2006, 17 months after I’d joined.
What I am today, I owe to my care home and FFF. The care home really helped me, but without the additional support from FFF, life would have been a lot harder.
How did you feel about leaving FFF?
When I was15, and still in care I remember thinking “Wow, I am going to be on my own when I’m 18, that’s only 3 years way”. It was a pretty terrifying thought.
Leaving FFF was really scary, but much less so than it would have been 2 years ago. I felt much better prepared for my “independence” when I left FFF than I did leaving my care home. Even though I didn’t really want to leave, I knew I would be ok. I knew I could always go back if I had questions, or needed advice – and I do.
And now I feel good – with my partner and my dog I’m never alone.
What is your advice for people in care?
Sometimes I longed for a normal family, but it’s not healthy to long for something you will never have. Some children have great parents. Sometimes they live at home until they are 30. Their parents do everything for them, they even think for them. Those of us that are in care learn to think independently and do things for ourselves. Think of it all as a learning process.
Read our blog post about our trip to FFF in Colombia here.
Thanks for reading,