Jacqueline Bonilla, a Harding High School senior, came from El Salvador five years ago with her close-knit family, knowing she had to learn a new language, a new school, and a new culture. But the most difficult lessons began a short time later, at age 13, when she was told she had uterine cancer that forced her to face painful surgeries and chemotherapy. The treatments made her lose her hair, and the cruel teasing from some of her classmates made her afraid to attend school. Jackie's mother told her, "No digas porque, sino para que." (Jackie, don't ask why, ask what for.)
Surviving the cancer, she was soon confronted with another traumatic event: on a visit to El Salvador, Jackie's mother was denied re-entry into the United States. As the oldest girl, Jackie had to take care of her siblings, cook, do laundry, and help with the family business, all while trying to keep up with studies in her first year of high school. The toll became too much and her father finally sent the two youngest children back to El Salvador with her mom.
Jackie's cancer, combined with years of separation from her mother and younger siblings tested her family's strong faith, and made Jackie say to herself, "there is a reason why you are here." Overcoming so much was not easy, but it motivated her to give back. She visits local hospital patients, tutors and mentors younger students, and has helped a non-profit to send medical supplies to Salvadoran hospitals. Because she needed blood when she was sick, Jackie organized a blood drive for the Latino Community. At school, she has a 3.77 GPA and is an active member of National Honor Society. She is also Vice President of her church youth group, and helps out at the family business. Jackie plans to go to college to study nursing or Social Work and use her education to help people in her native El Salvador.