1935 – 2015
A Legacy of Unconditional Love
In 1976 when Leonor Portela landed in Guatemala City she was shocked by the number of hungry and scared children that surrounded her at the airport. She was there as part of a relief effort and upon her arrival she learned that the massive earthquake had left over twenty thousand dead and more than one hundred thousand homeless. The scene, as she described it, was so overwhelming it brought her to tears. She said, “At that moment I felt someone put their hand on my shoulder and say, “you belong here.” The feeling was so strong she turned around to see who it was. That was the moment she felt God’s calling.
She returned to Miami with one goal in mind, to return to Guatemala. It took her ten years to put her son through school, sell everything she owned and with the $2,700 her prayer group helped her raise, she hopped on a plane to Guatemala. “I bought a newspaper and looked for the cheapest place to rent, I called them and then took a taxi to go rent the place.” She continued, “the next day I went to the government offices and told them that I was starting a home for orphaned and abandoned children.” At first they all laughed but after she kept insisting, the man in charged said to her, “lady you’re crazy, but if that’s what you want, sign the papers and you can start with these six kids.” That was the beginning of Misioneros Del Camino.
As the number of children grew, she moved to a bigger apartment in Guatemala City. Years later, she came to an agreement with the government of Guatemala to take over an abandoned ten acre site up in the mountains about a forty five minute drive from the capital. After years of repairing the abandoned buildings and getting the site ready she along with the children moved to their new home near the town of Sumpango
Leonor always had a dream; to build a nursery for the babies, separate dormitories for the teenage boys and girls, a chapel, an elementary school and so on, all of this while she slept on a couch in her tiny office. “I would pray and pray and somehow The Lord put the right people in my path to help me achieve each and every dream.” Every time money got real tight I would have a serious conversation with God, “you brought me here and I cannot continue without your help.” Miraculously, the donations would appear.”
Leonor was always mindful of the need to build sustainability into her long range plans. She had the foresight to develop a succession plan for Misioneros Del Camino. In case someone was not available, she made sure to have several backups cross-trained to step in and take care of what needed to be done.
Today Misioneros has three main pillars; the home, the clinic and the school. Each separate unit has a person handpicked and trained by Leonor who is responsible for the daily operations. The general oversight and final decision-making falls on Jose, Leonor’s son. He, like the Misioneros Board, was handpicked by her to ensure that Misioneros Del Camino would continue on.
True to form, Leonor always had a plan. From her first dream of having a home, she planned, prayed and built every facet of what is today, Misioneros Del Camino. She wanted to make sure that the home and children would be cared for long into the future.
As for her, all she wanted was to be remembered as “Mami Leo,” the woman who rescued and transformed so many children’s lives with her legacy of unconditional love.