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My Alopecia Story: How Poverty Led to Hair Loss

“I had a weakness which became my strength.”

alopecia hair loss

It's not every day that a teenager gets to speak about fears and hope in a national speaking contest. But Abigail is not your average adolescent. This extraordinary girl has spent her young life overcoming alopecia, malnutrition and bullying.

She’s determined to share her journey to inspire others to overcome the obstacles that poverty puts in their way.

How malnutrition caused my alopecia

“My daughter turned around and stared at me. I had her hair in my hands. I remember she was afraid as I was,” recalls Gloria. She had been putting her three-year-old daughter’s hair into a ponytail when suddenly, most of it fell out. For a moment, Gloria felt like the world stopped.

alopecia areata

Desperate for help for her daughter, Abigail, Gloria was advised to go to the local church which was also a Compassion partner. Abigail was enrolled in the Compassion programme and at her first medical check-up, was diagnosed with severe malnutrition.

Doctors said that due to the severe malnutrition, she developed alopecia, which caused her hair to completely fall out. Added to that, they mentioned another condition; they were certain that the severe malnutrition would cause mental disability and difficulty learning.

What is alopecia?

Alopecia is the general medical term for hair loss. Alopecia areata is a specific cause of hair loss which causes coin-size patches of baldness on the scalp.

Bullied due to Alopecia and hair loss

Growing up, Abigail continued to battle alopecia as an ongoing result of her early malnutrition. “It’s not hard to talk about it anymore, because everything is different now, but I was bullied at school since I had no hair and no eyebrows,” recalls Abigail, now 14. “But then my mum bought me a hat and that way my head was covered.”

The bullying at school about her condition affected her self-esteem. And then one day, the teasing occurred at her Compassion project. Abigail remembers that day very well.

“A kid made fun of me, then I heard more laughs and I ran crying to my tutor without saying a word. But later everyone said sorry and the kindness, love and support made me feel better. It was no one’s fault, not everyone knew about my condition and the way it made me feel. Since that day no has ever bullied me here in my project and I love them all because they are my family too.”

Candide, Abigail’s project director, describes, “As soon as Abigail came inside running, I knew immediately that I needed to talk with the children. They didn’t know what alopecia meant and didn’t know that Abigail was sensitive about it, so they apologised and promised to support her instead of making fun of her.”

alopecia support

The Compassion project became a place of safety for Abigail, encouraging her in her education and providing medical support for managing her alopecia.

Sponsor a child in El Salvador today

Overcoming fear

These experiences taught Abigail to think differently about herself, to ignore what the world was telling her who she was and instead, to listen to what God said about her. She developed confidence in herself and learnt about her value.

In 2017, the El Salvadoran government hosted a national speaking contest in which winners were invited on a field trip to San Salvador to be Congresswomen and Congressmen for the day.

Gloria shares, “Abigail’s joy and new self-esteem with much confidence, encouraged her to sign up for an oratorical contest in her school, where she gave a speech that came from her heart, so she made it to the final round, where it turned out to be a national contest that she won!”

A winning speech full of dreams

Thanks to her winning speech, Abigail travelled to San Salvador where she got to sit at the desk of her local Congress person and be the Congresswoman for the day in an experience she’ll never forget. Here’s an excerpt of her speech:

John Paul II said, ‘The future starts today and not tomorrow’. And today I decide to be the president of my country with a vision for a future full of opportunities. I’m Abigail and today I present my life project.

Do you know as youths what we want today? We want to become engineers, lawyers or maybe a professor; that’s what many of us visualise, but what do we get offered? Mourning, violence, the lack of opportunities and in the worst cases the fear that forces us to flee from our dreams.

I dream of being a professional one day. And for my country, I would fight not because it is a territory but because, like me, there are many people with many fears. They say that we have to recognise our strengths and weaknesses; I had a weakness that became my strength, which was alopecia, caused by severe malnutrition. The doctors said that I would have mental disability, I would have lack of growth, but as you can see, I am nothing of what the doctors have said and God has allowed me to be here in this place.

Looking to the future: overcoming alopecia

With the support of her sponsor and Compassion, Abigail receives the food and medical support she needs to treat her alopecia. Her hair has grown back with the help of creams and injections and despite the doctor’s predictions, she shows no sign of learning difficulties.

Abigail says, “God will help me achieve my biggest dream which is to become a paediatrician. He already is giving me my hair back. I’m an exception and a miracle because, against all diagnoses, doctors can’t explain the success in my progress.

I need to say that God wants me to share my story to inspire others, so they know that He is the only one who gives wisdom and understanding; He has never let me down and for those who trust Him, He will never let them down either.”

WORDS : Nora Díaz, Roz Walsh

PHOTOS : Nora Díaz



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