In 2006, Brad Corrigan discovered a story worth telling. Between the pools of brave stories found within our country, he unraveled a happy yet heartbreaking story about a girl whose smile could never be erased, not even when she faced adversity. Ileana’s moving tale is one that will probably water your eyes, but once you see her smile, the feeling of sadness swifts to a passionate admiration.
When Brad came to Nicaragua he was unaware that his life could change. He wanted to help children, and so he went to an orphanage and entertained them with games and his music. The joy of being with these children was fulfilling, but what he was yet to experience is unique. When the taxi driver took him to La Chureca he finally had a glimpse of what real poverty is. He was changed forever.
For those who don’t know or find it hard to believe, La Chureca is our local trash dump and home to thousands of Nicaraguan families. They literally live among the trash. And this is where Ileana, the girl whose smile will change the world, was born and raised.
Ileana’s playground was junk. She spent her days scavenging through the waste of others, finding toys and food. What we call trash dump, Ileana and other children call home. The leftovers from our Tuesday night dinner is their Sunday morning breakfast. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of their living conditions in La Chureca. Not to mention health issues and lack of education.
Many people – myself included – often complain about things we don’t have, and even things we do. Apparently, we never get enough, when actually we have everything we could ever ask for. At some point, we have whined for all the wrong reasons. Ileana’s story changes that, being a girl who smiles despite going through different scenarios that we have probably never dealt with. It forces you to think, and appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to study, eat, and live under a roof that keeps the rain from leaking.
After greeting him with the most sincere smile he had ever seen, Ileana stole Brad’s heart. He couldn’t help but wonder how this young girl could transmit that much joy given her life condition, and admiration towards her arose.
It was the smile that inspired Brad to return every six months to Nicaragua, bringing thousands of friends willing to change these people’s life – or at least improve it a little. La Chureca, was the most devastating place they had put eyes on, and they wanted to be a helping hand.
They came with the purpose of making a change in Ileana’s community; they were surprised to find out that it was their own lives that were changed by the courageous children that smile through misfortune.
For them, these people’s condition couldn’t get worse. They already lived precariously and unhealthy, having to run and search for food in the depths of the garbage was dreadful enough as to what Brad and his friends were about to find out.
Even if Ileana’s smile was real and full of love and joy, it proved to be a mask to the pain she felt inside. The people who came were shocked when Ileana’s other side of the story was unfolded. Her parents forced her into prostitution. Hearts were broken when they realized Ileana was being sold for sex, contracting HIV and passing away in 2011. She was only 14.
Her smile is a mystery that conveys happiness, and crushes your stomach. How is it that someone who has suffered that much, can smile in such genuine and wholehearted way?
It is her courage that led Brad and his friends to develop a Kickstarter project. With a goal of fundraising a certain amount by May 21, they will then film a documentary to raise awareness based on Ileana’s profound and beautiful legacy of shining through the hard times. And allow the world to see poor innocent children reality.
To honor her, people around the globe are taking pictures with Ileana’s portrait, uploading it to social networks under the hashtag #IleanasSmile. Her story is worth spreading, and it is her smile that will help us little by little bring a change to our country. Maybe also change something inside of us, to allow in our system a default setting of smiling through the obstacles, because the power of a smile can be greater than we think.