Adelante Mujeres Celebrating 10 Years: Part 6 of 10

Written by Carrie Schmid

When Hortensia Mandujano was an elementary school student in Mexico, she remembers a warning a teacher gave the class after his students did poorly on a math exam.

“He told us, ‘You’re going to want to get this time back, to pay attention and to learn,’” she recalled him saying. “’But you won’t get it back.’”

Mandujano completed school through the ninth grade. As a young adult, she moved to the United States to be with her family. She had four children. She worked seasonally in agriculture. Sometimes, she would think about going back to school.

“I was wasting a lot of time,” she said. “I felt like there was a lot I could do, but I couldn’t do it (at home),” she said. “I wanted to study but I thought it was too late. I didn’t think there was a place I could study.”

Then, in the spring of 2010, Mandujano heard about Adelante Mujeres’ Adult Education program, which offers classes for Latina women in English and GED preparation, plus classes for toddlers and pre-schoolers. As a non-profit, Adelante Mujeres is primarily supported by foundations and donors, so students are asked to make only a small contribution each trimester and give back to society through weekly community service hours.

“It made me really happy,” said Mandujano, who had remembered what her math teacher had said about getting back to school. “I said to myself, ‘This time you have to take advantage of it. You’re going to pay attention.’”

Mandujano set a goal to obtain her General Educational Development Diploma within one year. In the spring of 2011, she managed to raise her math score by 500 points, said Arturo Villaseñor, a math instructor at Adelante Mujeres. Mandujano passed the math exam, the last test she needed to obtain her GED.

“I think Hortensia is a successful student for two reasons,” Villaseñor said. “First, she has a good level of confidence in herself. Second, she works hard in practicing her exercises over and over until she knows them. With this combination, she could achieve her goal.”

At Adelante Mujeres, Mandujano says she received more than just a diploma; she also gained confidence. “I feel more comfortable with myself. I feel like I can do a lot of things,” she said.

Since graduating from the program, Mandujano landed a job as a caretaker. This fall, she plans on going to Portland Community College to take prerequisite courses in the hopes of eventually getting a degree in psychology.

“I want to be a social worker or a counselor,” she said. “(Adelante Mujeres) has opened my appetite to learn. What I did when I was at Adelante Mujeres was just one step.”

Building self-esteem and love of learning is at the core of the mission of Adelante Mujeres Adult Education program. For four hours a day, five days a week during the school year, women study academic topics like math, English and Spanish.

Since 2002, the adult education program has graduated about 200 women.

Students also take a weekly course called ESPERE to learn to improve communication and transcend conflict. ESPERE (Escuelas de Perdón y Reconciliación) is a program originally developed in Bogota,Colombia by the Fundación para la Reconciliación for the construction of peace in Columbia and around the world.

Two classes a week at Adelante Mujeres focus on the development of life skills — nutrition and parenting. Mandujano was surprised at how much she gained from these courses. “Before I entered, I didn’t even know I needed a parenting class,” she said. “I started to learn things I hadn’t talked about but had been thinking about.’”

Additionally, women spend one class a week with Spanish literature professors Nancy Christoph and Mariana Valenzuela on the campus of Pacific University. Since the initiation of Adelante Mujeres 10 years ago, Pacific professors have volunteered their time to teach literature and give the women the experience in a college setting.

Mandujano has a hard time choosing which class she liked the best. “They are all really important. They are all integrated,” she said. At Adelante Mujeres, “you’re learning how to get ahead, but also how to get outside of yourself.”

The experience in Adelante Mujeres, Mandujano said, has also taught her the importance of giving back. “I want to do something for the community, and to have my children do something for the community,” she said.
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