In 2022 we lost someone of true influence, Ena Esperanza Becerra S. You don’t know her, but everyone called her Doña Ena. She lived for many years in the town of Quebrada Larga, about an hour outside of Danlí, in southern Honduras. She was a health care provider, an entrepreneur and a gem of a person.
I don’t think that she went to high school, but I don’t really know. People did not seek out Doña Ena because of her academic record. They went to her because she was a woman who helped and got things done.
When she saw a problem and there wasn’t anyone else to fix things, she figured out what she could do. She didn’t solve problems with money or political connections, because she didn’t have either.
My husband and I first met Doña Ena when we lived in Honduras in the mid-1980s. We didn’t have a washing machine and she scrubbed our laundry. She had kids to support and no husband to help, so she worked where she could. Doña Ena was a hard worker and had a terrific sense of humor. During that time, she started a small business selling batana, a hair oil made from palm nuts, door-to-door.
Being educated, yet ignorant, North Americans in Honduras, we owned a copy of “Where There is No Doctor.” Pre-internet this was a must read for Peace Corps-types. When we moved on from the problems of Honduras, we left the book with Doña Ena. Many years later she requested another copy because hers had worn out. She really used it.
For many years, there was no medical assistance available in her town. She took it upon herself to become a mid-wife. But she didn’t stop there. She studied the book and put it to use. People from this rural community and surrounding countryside came to her home with their illnesses and injuries, like machete cuts they got while farming. She would clean the wound and sew them up. She learned to identify basic illnesses and provided injections and anti-biotics. She gave dehydrated people IVs. When she thought that a problem was beyond her capacity, she would try to get the sick or injured to go to a doctor or hospital in Danlí. But many couldn’t afford the journey or the doctor and begged her to help. They called her la doctora del pueblo or the people’s doctor.
She stocked her house with basic medicines and provided them to those in need. At her memorial service, people joked that if she bought a medicine for US $1, she sold it to those she served for 75 cents. She didn’t do it for the money, she did it to restock for the next person.
About ten years ago, she and four other women in town, all in need of work, started making plantain chips for sale. It started as a very small business, but they figured it out. The company, called Del Racimo, now employs 20 people. They make the best plantain chips I’ve ever tried.
I knew these things about Doña Ena and greatly admired her. But I did not know that other people did as well.
Doña Ena passed away in September. Her family received over 1,000 visitors upon learning of her death. As her coffin proceeded past the local school to the cemetery, the school children lined the street to sing her a final farewell.
At year’s end, as we contemplate endings and beginnings, I rejoice in having known Doña Ena, not a saint, but a woman of true influence and an example of how to live.
*First published in MexicoToday.com 12/31/22.