Person of Merit: Saraliz Maldonaldo

Today, I am genuinely honoured to present to you a very special Person of Merit; an overcomer and warrior, Saraliz Maldonaldo. Sara was nominated by our very first Person of Merit, Jacquelyn Lamont. I would like you to read first-hand the nomination piece that Jackie sent in to me, because it is so intricately written and detailed; obviously penned with so much heart and thought:

"As you know, I am ever so grateful to have been given the distinction of the first Person of Merit endorsed by you and your organization.

At this time, I would like to nominate a young woman I feel is worthy of your badge.

As you know, I am the director of Now You See: A Celebration of Courageous Kids, and as such, I would like to introduce you to Saraliz Maldonado. Sara was the very first participant in Now You See (NYS). And here I will share the story of how we met.

In 2011, I was part of the multi-disciplinary team that responded to Sara's disclosure of sexual abuse by her grandfather. I interviewed Sara at the age of fifteen, about the years of abuse. She described to me in detail what he would do. This is no easy task; telling someone you don't know about the many ways you were violated by someone who was supposed to care for you. But Sara did and the defendant was arrested and indicted, charged with rape of a child.

After about a year, a trial date approached and Sara started coming to our office after long days at high school to meet with her team. She was getting ready to testify in court. Sara stopped by my office on one such day and seemed to be much different than the girl I had met a year before. She was calm and confident. Although she was facing a daunting task, she seemed sure of herself and at peace with what she needed to do; which was to testify against someone that she had not only loved, but that many in her family still supported. But Sara did not waver.

On this day I asked Sara what she would say to another child who was experiencing abuse and unsure of what to do. Sara wrote down a statement on a piece of poster board and held it up. I asked if I could take her picture. I assured her I would not use it for anything other than display on my own desk. She immediately responded with, "You can use my face. I don't mind." At that moment, Now You See was born. We did not know what, if anything, it would become, but we knew we had to let other kids know that they were not alone in their experiences. And we had to give a voice to Sara and the thousands of kids just like her, who suffer in silence, blaming themselves and not knowing where to turn.

(I could write for hours about this but will now jump to the present day.)

Saraliz' grandfather pled guilty on the day of trial. He received a sentence in state prison. In fact, it has been almost six years and he will likely be released later this month.

The incredible part of this is what Sara has accomplished since that day in 2012 when he pled guilty. Sara was at the first Now You See opening exhibit and honored with one of the first Awards of Bravery given by Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.

Sara has been at every Now You See Bravery Awards Ceremony since and now is a presenter to other kids and families who are being recognized for the first time.

Sara has presented at the Massachusetts State House in front of legislators advocating for funding for Children's Advocacy Centers statewide (the agencies that respond after disclosures of abuse). Sara was chosen for the Future Leaders Award by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA). Sara has been part of the Ginormous Climb to Fight Child Abuse for two years in a row and climbed to the top of the John Hancock Building to raise awareness about child abuse.

I have not yet mentioned that Sara is doing all this while a full-time student at Wheelock College in the early education program and while having a full time job at a day care (where she loves the kids with all her heart).

Sara hosted Now You See on her school campus last year and is scheduled to present it again with me and a prosecutor on April 27th. The day before that, she will be speaking at the Statehouse again, as well.

I am sure I have missed mentioning many things. She is my inspiration and I have no doubt that she will affect big change in the world someday. In fact, she already has. Thank you for the consideration!"

I think that Sara is a tireless builder and a relentless victor. I think that she builds a better world and a better future with her mind, heart and hands. People like her often go overlooked. The world tends to praise those who bask in the sunshine and shun those who work with their hands laying bricks and setting stones. But somebody's gotta do the stone-setting and the brick-laying! Builders. Masons. People who know what the worst parts of the reality of this world are like and who strive to remake, transform and rebuild those worst realities. Alchemists. People who take the mud and try to turn that mud into gold. These are the people worthy of praise and adoration. People like Sara!

At Eltanin Thuban Draconis, we take our endorsements of people, organisations and events very seriously. Nominations are cast and votes are taken. Each member Initiate must agree to the nomination and must also agree to support the nominee once voted in. We don't nominate organisations and people without first establishing conversation with the nominee, or at least with the nominator. All parties must be in speaking terms.

I had the pleasure and honour of speaking with Sara and with Jackie in a video conference on Skype just the other day. Sara comes across as a very sweet soul, she is soft-spoken and with a peaceful countenance. My conversation with them was actually the very first Skype talk I have had with readers of my work, so to me, it is a stepping stone in my story as C. JoyBell C. I normally shy away from talking to people over video call (I'm a writer, not a speaker), but I really made it a point to talk to Jackie and Sara, to welcome them as Persons of Merit. I also wanted to get to know Sara's countenance so that I could write about it. I explained to both of them that I am not really an engaging talker and I don't really have so much to say, other than how honoured and happy I am to meet them, how great it is that they trust me and my society, and how truly I will try to write a very good article that I hope— though a very small thing to do— will bring good honour to Sara and to her advocacy.

Jackie told me that she owns several of my books and has been reading my work for years. When she saw my posts about the society I had founded, she knew that she just had to introduce me to her work at Now You See. And I am very glad that she did!

Writing this article is a tiny thing to do compared to the good work that Sara is doing in this world. But it is my genuine intention that this small work of mine will be able to bring attention and admiration to what it is that Sara does, to her cause and to the advocacy of those who help her and other people like her.

I told Sara that I admire her, that she inspires me and that I think she is a warrior, a fighter and an overcomer. She was riding in an Uber car while we were having our conversation, on the way to work. She talked to me about how she graduates from college this year and about how busy she is working. As mentioned above, she works a full-time job at a Day Care centre where she takes very good care of the children.

Not everybody in Sara's family supports her. Many of the members of her family actually blame her for the abuse that she received at the hands of her own grandfather. Jackie has told me that this is a very common outcome and that in almost every case of child sexual abuse, the family members will resort to denial and will actually more likely support the sex offender rather than the victim. I told Jackie that this is a very difficult thing for me to fathom! How can a family choose to protect the offender and chastise the victim? We went in-depth into this aspect and I concluded that it stems from the sheer difficulty in facing the reality of the situation. It hurts and it is hard, to accept that your grandfather/ father/ husband/ uncle/ brother/ cousin is molesting and raping children in your family! That's a reality that once you walk into, you just can't walk away from! Many people choose not to accept the reality, because it's just too hard to deal with, and instead, they choose to chastise and blame the child victim! Such is the case in Sara's situation. Though some of her family supports her, many in her family blame her for the problems that have arised as a result of her bravery in coming out to testify against her grandfather and placing him behind bars.

The remarkable thing in this case, is that Sara's grandfather pleaded GUILTY to all of her accusations, and yet, even in the light of his self-confessed guilt, many in her family STILL choose not to believe that the raping ever happened. They are a church-going family (as Sara's grandfather also is), people who believe in God and who have a religious book to follow. Unfortunately, for too many in this world, religion and going to church and believing in God have no influence upon the actual reality of the choices they make in their lives and the thoughts that occur in their heads! I actually do believe that seeking the face of God can change, form and mould a person. Nevertheless, there are unfortunately too many individuals who practice a religion, or who claim to follow God, meanwhile void of the entire experience, in reality.

It is crucial that we become aware of the plight of the victims of sexual abuse, that they not only face the struggle against their abusers; but that they face:

1. The struggle against their families, families which they often share with their sexual abusers. Victims are often denied the existence of the reality of what happened to them, in order to protect a family's image and in order to live in an illusion.

2. The struggle against the choice whether to seek justice for themselves and never have a normal life again, or to ignore the abuse that they have been through and go through life pretending that what happened to them never happened to them.

3. The struggle against the labels and the stigma that society associates with victims.

There are of course many other struggles that a victim battles with, but the three I have listed above is a capsule of facts that I believe everyone should be aware of. If we are not all aware of these three struggles, then we will not be able to advocate for sexual abuse victims in an effective way. Their battle does not end when their abusers are put behind bars.

A few days ago, Sara's grandfather was released from prison. Then just recently, one of her relatives complained on social media,  stating, "all the difficulties" their "family faces thanks to Sara." Not thanks to the abuser. Thanks to Sara.

I am so glad to have spoken to Sara face-to-face and I am very honoured to have her as a Person of Merit, which is a title that Eltanin Thuban Draconis does not take lightly. We don't give out this title for fun, or to just anyone who is doing a good thing in this world. We give this title to those who fight battles that most people don't even see! I am proud to say, that Saraliz Maldonaldo is a Person of Merit that each member Initiate of our society recognizes and supports. Please join us in our awareness and stand with us hand in hand.

If you or someone you know is a doing a good work in this world, which you believe should see the light of day, then contact us directly to cast a nomination. Persons, Organisations and Events of Merit may freely use the Badge of Merit as they please, to showcase their honorary award.