Mother’s Day: A Native Mother Who Broke the Cycle of Poverty through Education

Motherhood can inspire us to do things outside our comfort zone and help us aspire to achieve goals we may have thought were unattainable. For Wetalu Rodriguez, a citizen of the Nez Perce tribe and past recipient of PWNA’s American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) scholarship, motherhood “propelled” her to break her family’s cycle of poverty. 

“I decided to pursue my education after giving birth to my first daughter, Jaxcee. Prior to having her, I was simply existing…but motherhood propelled me to accomplish higher education as I wanted to set a great example for her and demonstrate what determination and resiliency looks like,” said Wetalu. “In the beginning, she was my biggest motivation and I had to really hold myself accountable to fulfill the goals I set out to accomplish.”

Pursuing a post-secondary education and parenting is a delicate balancing act where actions speak louder than words. For Wetalu, achieving her goals meant “late-night study sessions with open books” and “giving my undivided attention on assignments and homework.” But the task was daunting, especially for Jaxcee. “I managed to keep her spirits light by designating family time and study time. I am fortunate she observed my labor as a college student,” said Wetalu.

Wetalu is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and she recognizes and appreciates the value of those late nights and hard work. “My education has opened more doors for opportunities, networking and skills-building. I have engaged in conferences, training and speaking events that brought self-development and growth. Through my educational journey, I’ve gained the experience and confidence to recognize my qualifications and alleviate the fear of failure or unwillingness to try something new.”

Wetalu’s degree, along with the confidence she gained in pursuing her education, allowed her the opportunity to become financial self-sufficient. After graduating, she became an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the Nez Perce tribe’s Wapaayatat “Serve” project, as well as a volunteer for the Nimiipuu Community Development Fund, which helps Native individuals achieve financial independence. 

“As an Indigenous woman and mother who attained a higher education, I have a story that needs to be heard to inspire the next person in line,” said Wetala. “My ability to be financially self-sufficient is more attainable” and it’s positively impacting her and her daughter’s lives. “I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to receive help from the American Indian Education Fund.”

Like most others, Wetalu is currently learning to adjust to life in a global pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures implemented in her community meant having to adapt very quickly. “This unforeseen online transition has taught resilience, self-love, self-confidence and productivity in dark times,” said Wetalu. “As a VISTA volunteer, I am extremely grateful to have a cohort that allows us to work from home. This type of understanding demonstrates that as a volunteer, I matter.”  While at home, Wetalu is embracing cultural preservation and quality mother-daughter time with Jaxcee.

Wetalu and Jaxcee, thank you so much for inspiring mothers and students everywhere – your story has been heard! Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers who are paving a brighter future for their children.

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