Maria Magdalena Souto and Cindy Hernandez escaped a very difficult life in El Salvador to make build a life in Oliver. Submitted photo

Multicultural Champions: Escaping a difficult life in El Salvador

Two women escaped a very difficult life in El Salvador to rebuild their lives in the South Okanagan

Celebrating multiculturalism and diversity in the community, 14 multicultural champions were selected to be featured and have their stories shared in the Penticton Western News on a monthly basis in partnership with the South Okanagan Similkameen Local Immigration Partnership Council, South Okanagna Immigrant and Community Services and Respect Network.

No obstacle could get in the way of this family’s dream.

Maria Magdalena Souto and Cindy Hernandez came to Canada looking to escape a very difficult life in El Salvador. Souto was a single mother supporting three children. She worked long hours, in her own restaurant, earning little money and half of those earnings had to be paid to the government.

“We had nothing. After paying for food and housing we were just barely surviving,” said Hernandez.

Related: Multicultural Champions: Shifting from an era of fear to love

In 2007, Souto decided to create a new life for her family by moving to Canada. But her attempt turned into a nightmare. She was detained en route in the United States because she didn’t have the proper paperwork. She was thrown in jail for 21 days.

“It was very scary. For the first three days and nights I was placed in a cooler. It was very, very cold,” describes Souto.

Souto was sent back to El Salvador but she refused to give up on her dream. Her second attempt was a success thanks to former Salvadoran neighbors who had already migrated to Oliver. Souto was ecstatic with her achievement.

Related: Multicultural Champions: Landing in wine country

“I love Canada. I had so many jobs to choose from and the pay was amazing. I was earning $10 an hour compared to the $5-7 that I earned working all day in my country. I made $1,100 in two weeks. Never in my life did I make that kind of money,” Souto said.

Souto eventually sponsored daughter Hernandez and the pair worked as fruit pickers. They found the transition to be difficult, at first, largely because they couldn’t speak English.

“When people would say ‘hi,’ ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon,’ we didn’t know how to reply,” explains Hernandez.

It was the staff at South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services that came to their rescue. They took English classes in the evening after working 12 hours shifts.

“We learned to speak English and my mother was able to achieve her dream of getting her qualifications to open her own restaurant,” said Hernandez.

Souto was able to buy her own food truck that she has operated for two years now. Until recently, Hernandez was a technician at a winery in Oliver. Hernandez has returned to school full-time at Okanagan College studying math, English and computers. She also has a part-time job in a pizza parlor in Oliver.

The hard work and study lifestyle leaves little time for recreation for the mother and daughter. But they do take two hours off every Sunday.

“We go to church and give thanks to God for all the good things he gives to us,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez is also very grateful to two families in Oliver. She kept her son in home day care before he was old enough to go to school. Recognizing that the boy was quite intelligent, the caregivers decided to enroll him at a ‘Little Wonders Montessori Child Care Centre.’ It’s a school that provides a creative environment that helps children develop to their full potential. The action by the caregivers had a profound effect on Hernandez.

“When I found those two families, my life changed. I saw Canada as the most beautiful place.”

Coming from El Salvador, winter has been a big adjustment to make for the pair. But it does have its advantage.

“Because the daylight hours are shorter we get to sleep a little longer,” Hernandez said.

The mother and daughter are grateful for the opportunities they have been given and rightfully proud of the achievements they have made, so far.

“We are contributing to the Canadian economy by working very hard,” said Hernandez.

When asked about what they find interesting about Canada, the pair replies, almost in unison, “everything.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Coalmont woman airlifted after ATV crash

Off-road vehicle swerved to miss oncoming traffic

Summerland campground to provide COVID-safe accommodations for temporary farm-workers

The managed seasonal worker campsite will be located within a separated area of Peach Orchard Municipal Campground

QUIZ: A celebration of dogs

These are the dog days of summer. How much do you know about dogs?

Princeton high school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

Bench plaque recognizes former Summerland firefighter

Volunteers with fire department set up plaque in honour of Richard Estabrooks

B.C. accommodators need phone lines to light up as in-province travel given green light

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the tourism and hospitality industries

Milestone RCMP Cops For Kids fundraiser ride going virtual

You can join and help RCMP raise funds for families and possibly win 20th anniversary cycling shirt

300 Cache Creek residents on evacuation alert due to flood risk as river rises

Heavy rainfall on Canada Day has river rising steadily, threatening 175 properties

No abandoned Seadoo found on Coldstream lake

Vernon Search and Rescue crews and RCMP unable to find reported abandoned Seadoo on Kal Lake

Kelowna high school football star, water skier, signs with University of Calgary

Isaac Athans, and his family, have a long history of success across various sports in the Okanagan, nationally

First glimpse of Canada’s true COVID-19 infection rate expected mid-July

At least 105,000 Canadians have tested positive for COVID-19 since the coronavirus was identified

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Shuswap resident spots waterspout near Salmon Arm

The rare weather event was spotted early in the morning on July 4.

Most Read