When Lisandra Jimenez crumbled in the bedroom sobbing in fear of her life from an abusive husband, her 3-year-old son came wiping her tears whispering, “Mama’s okay? Mama’s okay?” That’s when she realized it’s time to protect her three boys by moving away from the violent marriage that lasted a bit too long.
“I was a stay-at-home mom and I depended on my husband financially. It was a very hard decision to get up and leave. The only time I made the decision was when the abuse got so severe and I had to think as a mother: if I stay in this relationship, my children would end up orphans because their father would end up killing their mother and he would end up being in jail,” Lisandra said, as she fixed her turquoise hijab that matched her eyeliner. Her gaze radiated with painful, yet hopeful determination while she shared her story.
Today, Lisandra holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, has a job providing in-home therapy to families in crisis of losing children, and rents an apartment where she lives with her children Armani, 10, Jamil, 9, and Zamier, 6.
The journey of restarting a life was tough and full of doubts for her. But the invisible powers Lisandra didn’t know she possessed pulled her through cruel nights of living in temporary housing and shelters. At the time, she thought she would never be able to make it out of her abusive relationship as a single mother, a woman with no education, and with no job experience.
“And Muslim on top of that. I thought it was going to be difficult — and it was, I’m not going to lie. I ended up homeless for two years and lived in three different shelters. But it was so worth it. Every accomplishment, every goal I succeed in…it was amazing to go through this transformation. When I look back, I realize that I gave my children a sense of security and safety,” Lisandra said.
The fighter in Lisandra decided to transform her life to the best of her abilities. She derived strength from her faith in Allah and family encouragement. “My family is my greatest support,” she said with a beam on her face. “I had people in my life that Allah had placed for emotional and financial support to impact me and change my views.”
Lisnadra recently won a grant from the Ikram Foundation that supports the education of divorced Muslim women. She started her learning goals by earning a certificate in Human Services, then received her associate degree, and finally completed her bachelor’s degree in 2016. But before she could graduate, Lisandra was unable to earn her graduation degree because she was indebted to the college.
“I finished my courses from one of my colleges, but I couldn’t get my certificate because I couldn’t pay and so I couldn’t transfer the credits to my bachelor’s at the other school. Ikram was able to issue a check quickly and help me pay my debts and I was able to graduate,” she said.
One of Ikram’s core goals is to reduce economic hardships for divorced and widowed Muslim women through education. Unlike other grants that require lots of documents and preparation, the process of applying to and receiving financial aid from Ikram for educational support is quick and straightforward.
“When Ikram would respond to my emails and tell me not to worry, and then when everything is all set quickly, it feels like a burden off your shoulders. And because it’s not a long complicated process, at times I would cry reading through the emails. It was so easy to get the assistance and it gives one hope and motivation that there is an organization that is quick to help you pursue your education. Ikram basically gave me another chance and a great help and motivation to keep on going,” Lisandra said.
For many single Muslim mothers, Ikram gives them hope to pursue their education and get to where they want to be. “My job was on the line and my degree was on the line and it was money preventing me from getting it. Ikram helps us single mothers and gives us the opportunity for education and to get a job,” she added.
Born in Puerto Rico, Lisandra identifies as Latina, and has been Muslim for almost 10 years. She started wearing the hijab only seven years ago. When asked about challenges she might have faced in her job due to her Muslim identity and attire in the current political climate that is hostile to Muslims, her response was positive and encouraging.
“I work with families from all backgrounds, but a lot of them are Spanish-speaking and so it’s easier for me. I was concerned about the hijab when going to people’s homes, but their reaction is mostly curiosity. I haven’t been asked any questions and I don’t see the hijab as preventing me from doing my job, but definitely, I was concerned. No questions about my religion or hijab. Usually, children ask the question of why I wear it and they’re quick to move on once I explain to them,” she said.
Lisandra’s inspiring ambition doesn’t stop at her current job. She dreams of obtaining her Master’s in Human Services to become a therapist. She feels that the community, especially the local Muslim community, could benefit from her experiences and expertise.
“My goal is to work with the Muslim community. When I struggled in the past, I felt a disconnect in my spiritual path. There was something missing. And during my own hardships, I was looking for some type of support. And although I had family and the community’s support, I was missing the spiritual support, so I felt incomplete. At the time, it was through YouTube that I would google advice on surviving times of hardships. Watching clips by Muslim scholars motivated me and made me realize that Allah has a plan. I missed that personally and so I want to give it back to my community,” Lisandra said.
This Muslim Latina sets the bar high for all of us. Her courage is admirable. Her persistence is inspiring. Her life pathways make her a powerful shero. Her message to any woman who is enduring the pain and suffering of domestic violence is:
“Know that there is hope and a light at the end of the dark, obscured tunnel; know yourself and your worth and don’t let any man define who you are as a woman. Men may be physically stronger, but a woman is emotionally stronger and will overcome every obstacle or hurdle. A woman is a true warrior and will fight against all odds to rise up. Especially us mothers. Don’t ever doubt yourself,” she said.