I am kind of a hero on this street” – Manuela
Even when she is sitting down with visitors, Manuela never stops moving: Her hands make wide gestures as she describes her life, and her face is animated and lively. “With only these hands,” she says, “I raised my children.”

Married at 14, a mother of six at 23 and separated at 27, she did whatever she could to care for her family: taking in washing and ironing, or working as a seamstress. But it became more and more difficult.

Now 59, she has been a Mercado Fresco store owner for nearly two months. Before opening the store, she says, “I couldn’t find a job, even as a housekeeper. But I always liked to work.” With Mercado Fresco, she makes enough money to pay for the college education of her grand-daughter, whom she adopted a few years ago. She remarried about 15 years ago, and her husband helps with expenses as well, she says.

Inside the store, which takes up part of the house’s front room, fresh goods are neatly displayed in matching plastic bins. Other products are stacked in rows inside a rolling glass cart that sparkles in the morning sun and reflects off the bright green interior. A quilt in shades of bronze and brown hangs on one wall; an archway leads into the rest of the house.

“I am kind of a hero on this street,” she says straightforwardly. “Neighbors knew my children weren’t causing trouble. I would go with them everywhere and always tell them to behave, to respect the elderly and their family.”

It wasn’t easy after her first husband left. “I am a father and mother to my children. I am most proud of that,” she says. “They suffered a lot because sometimes I had to work hard, but we moved forward.” Two of her sons are mechanics; one daughter,trained in agronomy and engineering, nowworks as a nurse for the disabled in Spain. Another daughter earned a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Manuela leads a short tour through a kitchen and into an interior courtyard. Pointing at a wall, she describes how she envisions expanding the store. A sewing machine sits in the corner, little used since doctors discovered three tumors in her throat. Since an operation a year ago, she finds it tiring to sew, but she is up every morning at 5 a.m. to open the store. A friend at church told her about Mercado Fresco. She says she is thankful for the opportunity, and her hands open wide to take in the whole room.

“This is my store, and I want it to grow,” she says proudly.