Stories of Change

Ramona stands in front of CWS Miami office

Ramona Finds Her Voice and The Opportunity for a Better Life

Note before reading: This story includes references to sexual assault and kidnapping.

Like many Cubans, Ramona lived in her country under constant fear. She worked at a small restaurant to sustain her son and was silenced whenever she tried to express her thoughts about the government. “I was treated badly there because I didn’t agree with how things were done. If you protested, you’d immediately be seen negatively by peers at work,” she told us. 

While his mother’s voice was constantly repressed, Ramona’s son took to the streets and became a vessel for himself and his mother. “He didn’t agree with the regime either and he expressed himself in protests, so the police began going after him,” said Ramona. When there was a protest, you could count on Ramona’s son to be there, standing up for himself and his mother’s right to speak and be heard. 

Over time, however, the target the police placed on Ramona’s son made it difficult for them to live. They were constantly fined and searched. Ramona’s son came up with a quick solution to get out: a handmade boat. With this boat, Ramona’s son hoped to escape Cuba and find a better life. The day he left to sea however, the Cuban government detained him. Ramona told us, “he was in prison for a month. After that, they frequently fined us and made our life impossible. The fines and searches were constant. He was fired from his job since they found he had tried to leave the country; no job saw him as dependable. It was impossible to stay there, which is why we decided to leave.”

The two worked to get passports to leave to a nearby country, which they would then use “as a trampoline to arrive in the U.S.,” Ramona explained. Ramona’s son left first and after a year, Ramona reunited with him in Trinidad and Tobago. The next few years were nothing short of nightmarish for Ramona and her son. They crossed the Amazon jungle in Colombia, where they were robbed and Ramona was sexually assaulted. In Mexico, they were kidnapped and held as hostages until they managed to escape. When they reached the river needed to cross into the United States, Ramona recalls, “ the guards yelled at us, telling us we would drown, but we continued crossing the river until we arrived here.”

When they arrived at the church that provided them shelter, Ramona explained, “ I was not doing well. I could not talk, I had no voice.” A woman at the shelter noticed Ramona was not well and reached out to her with the contact information of a place that could help. After she regained the ability to speak, Ramona called the number she was given, which led her straight to CWS. Our team helped her enroll in a program that supports people who are seeking asylum.

“This program is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Ramona says. “I arrived extremely depressed. I basically just wanted to die. Since I arrived here, I felt better, with great support.” Since enrolling in the CWS program, Ramona and her son have gotten assistance finding an apartment, getting food, attending medical appointments and finding legal help. She told CWS that she is thankful for the woman that gave her the information about CWS. She said, “It’s not easy to arrive somewhere where you know no one and have no family. To be accepted and helped like I was here, like family, I think that’s the most amazing thing.“ 

In Miami, Ramona has discovered a new life and the chance to dream. “I hope my son will go to school here. Maybe study mechanics or medicine. I hope he becomes a professional. And if I can study too, I will. It’s never too late,” she said. Currently, Ramona’s main focus is to receive asylum so that she can get a work permit. She shared, “when I am able to work, I plan to donate to CWS so that they can keep helping others. This is what I promise and will fulfill.”

Despite the challenges she has had to face, time and time again Ramona rediscovered her voice and now uses it to tell her story. CWS hopes to continue reaching other asylum seekers like Ramona, helping them resettle, and lift up their voices.