When solidarity knows no limits

The goal of "ña Lali” is that nobody should go hungry in these difficult times

By Diego Brom. Photos: Cecilia Rojas
Foto ña Lali olla popular Bañado Sur
UNICEF/Paraguay/2020/Rojas
05 February 2021

ASUNCIÓN, December 21, 2020. As of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March to date, the inhabitants of the Bañado Sur neighborhood have enjoyed meals prepared by María Victoria Ramos (42), best known as “Ña Lali”, whose goal is that nobody should go hungry in these difficult times. Although she is in need herself, her sense of solidarity is boundless and her entire family collaborates with the initiative.

Ña Lali lives in the Bañado Sur, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Asunción, an area regularly flooded by the overflowing River Paraguay, and where thousands of families live and earn their livelihood by recycling a range of items.

She lives in her house with her husband, her three young children and her mother, in a humble household where solidarity is a core value of this family.

At the worst peak of the pandemic, when there was practically no work at all, Ña Lali and her family started feeding some 400 neighbors. Although many of them have now returned to work, today Victoria continues to support approximately 100 neighbors who benefit from her free lunches.

“My life experience motivates me because I have suffered many needs with my daughters. Some days we had nothing to eat and that has driven me to help people. Because it is awful not to be able to feed your children”, states Victoria while stoking the fire for the meal of the day. The menu is beans with cheese and rice.

Similar to some 160 community leaders, Victoria participated in the workshops on COVID-19 prevention and hygiene provided by UNICEF through Habitat for Humanity, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of Public Health & Social Welfare (MSPyBS), and received cleaning supplies and a washbasin to ensure the health of her family and of the beneficiaries of the free meals.

Early in the morning Victoria and her children start preparing the lunch, processing the ingredients, cooking, setting the table and waiting for the neighbors to bring their containers for Ña Lali to serve each one their portion as soon as the food is ready.

Her young boys Isaac (7) and Mateo (8), with the help of Lucas (13), place the long wooden board at the entrance of the house. Lucas also helps by fetching the missing ingredients from the grocer's, while Yeny (22) cooks with her mother.

As lunchtime approaches, the neighbors arrive at Ña Lali's home to wait until they are served the meal, for which they must wear face masks and wash their hands. Children and older adults are the main beneficiaries, as the adults are working outside their home.

Ña Lali and her daughter know who brings which container: the blue tupperware, the medium-sized pot, the plastic plate. Each one has a name and surname to avoid any problems. Some take several servings and others only one for themselves, but nobody goes without a meal.

This uninterrupted solidarity service has been going on for nine months, despite the fact that Doña Victoria's family is also in need. "God will provide is my motto, it has always been my motto, and there has always been food," she states.

"I am very grateful to Habitat and all its collaborators for undertaking this project and reaching out to us in the neighborhoods, providing workshops and contributing with the ingredients for the free meals," she highlights. Eighty community organizations have benefitted from the project.

Once the food is handed out, Ña Lali and her family get ready to have their lunch, already pondering on what will be next day's menu. "I want all of us to take care of each other, we need to know that we all need each other and have to be there for each other," is the wish of this woman whose solidarity knows no limits.

 

The project "Building primary healthcare in Asunción and community resilience to COVID-19 in prioritized neighborhoods", implemented by UNICEF with USAID support, reached more than 16,000 beneficiaries with hygiene and cleaning supplies, as well as 1650 local residents who received information on COVID-19 prevention and response.

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"I want all of us to take care of each other, we need to know that we all need each other"

Doña Victoria Ramos