Elizabeth Centeno Rojas

Text by Jess Ruderman

 Elizabeth Centeno Rojas was 19 years old when she had her first child, 22 when she had her second and 25 when she was uprooted from her home in León, Nicaragua, following the April 2018 political protests.

“I was truly devastated when I came here and I was looking for a way to integrate myself into Costa Rica and also for a way to find some financial stability,” Centeno Rojas said.

Lost and looking for work, she turned to Transforma, an organization designed to teach women from impoverished areas hands-on skills while building a sense of community and self-confidence.

“We tell them, ‘We don’t care where you come from, we only care what you became,’” Vanessa Valenzuela, founder of Transforma, said. “We train them to leave and multiply.”

Centeno Rojas was in her fourth year of studying law at university when she was forced to flee to her neighboring country. While Centeno Rojas was well advanced in her studies in Nicaragua, institutions in Costa Rica did not accept many of her existing credits - causing her to essentially start from square one.

“I know it’s going to be very difficult because I’ve been trying to transfer some of my classes from my education back there but they dont always translate,” Centeno Rojas said. “I know that International Relations translated, but others may not. So, it’s quite possible that I may have to start from zero. That’s really complicated, but it’s still worth it, even if you started from zero, it may still be worth it.”

Centeno Rojas intends to continue her studies, but with a limited source of income in a new country, she was forced to find work elsewhere in the meantime.

“When you enter the organization, they don’t place a limit on how many (classes) you can take,” Centeno Rojas said. “You choose the courses that you take and you stop when you want to stop. What Vanessa tells us is to find what we’re passionate about, so we can chose the track that we want to take.”

Centeno Rojas has just completed a course on hairstyling and hair drying. She is now enrolled in a course on manicuring. Although Centeno Rojas profits financially from the skills she learns throughout these courses, she benefits mentally by working and talking with the other women in the organization who are undergoing similar lifestyles.

Elizabeth Centeno Rojas speaking on her experience at Transforma.  Screenshot by Ryan Miller

Elizabeth Centeno Rojas speaking on her experience at Transforma.

Screenshot by Ryan Miller

“It’s all a circle because they help me with my emotional stability and then they give me an opportunity to do work and the work gives me time and resources to continue with my documentation,” Centeno Rojas said. “I’m a refugee here so I still have to do all of this paperwork that is necessary for me to be integrated into Costa Rican society.”

Overall, Centeno Rojas described her experience coming to Transforma in one word: Hope.

“To me, Transforma goes beyond what a typical institution that teaches you a skill goes because they really work on us as human beings - as people,” Centeno Rojas said. “We connect emotionally, we connect with other women, and we learn about those experiences and from those experiences and, to me, that makes it pretty special.”

For now, Centeno Rojas continues her studies at Transforma. While the courses she takes now may not fit directly into her career path, she hopes to one day return to the organization and pass on to other women the skills she has learned pursuing her dream career.

“My experience here at Transforma has really made me fall in love with it,” Centeno Rojas said as she became emotional. “I would love to be able to finish my career and come back and help here, and give them counseling and give them the kinds of things that I could provide when I finish my career.”