They say that there’s no greater loss in life than the loss of a child. Paloma Montano has had to face that. Early in the morning of August 31st, 2014, Paloma got the phone call no mother ever wants to receive.
Her son, Sergio, had been in a car accident. He didn’t survive. But Paloma knew it was to be long before it even happened. In fact, she’d had many premonitions about losing her son, but she was always cautious not to speak it into existence. It appears the universe has its own plans.
“I miss him dearly,” she said. “To tell you that I don’t, I’d be lying to you. To tell you that the pain goes away, that would be another lie.”
With an exceptionally large framed photo of her son hanging on her living room wall, it’s clear that the two had a very close bond. The image displayed, she explained, was one of his and her favourites from a modelling shoot he had done. She’d usually go on most shoots with him. They did everything together.
Beyond just a normal mother-son relationship, Paloma and Sergio were friends first – a dynamic that you don’t often find in a child/parent situation. Actually, most people maintain that you shouldn’t treat your child like a friend, but Paloma disagrees – sharing that he felt more comfortable and able to talk to her about any and everything, even the hard times. As a single mother, it was just Paloma and Sergio. Until one day, it was just Paloma.
“What I can tell you of grief is that the pain never goes away,” she lamented. “But you learn to live with it, and learn to build around it.”
And one way you cope with a loss like this is by throwing yourself into something else. For some people, it’s a job. For others, it’s a new hobby. For Paloma, it was her passion project – and one that touched the heart of many other children: Paloma’s Used Doll Drive.
As an adult doll collector herself, Paloma has had quite a bit of practice in taking care of dolls. Whether it’s maintaining their pristine appearance, or restoring her more well-loved dolls back to a loved look, she has the energy, drive and patience it took to ensure that each and every doll looked like they were just torn straight out of the box.
So one day, after cleaning up two dolls to give away to children, she realized that there were so many dolls that were used, abused and them dumped or thrown out, when they were in perfectly good condition or able to be restored to new.
For most people, getting a new doll is a staple in your childhood. Whether it’s that first Barbie or G.I. Joe, or a special plush doll you’d been begging for. But for most children who live in homes, they don’t have the luxury of receiving brand new toys often, if at all. Most people will donate their used clothes and toys to homes, leaving these little girls to play with dolls that are worse for the wear. And Paloma saw a need to fix this.
After fixing up her two dolls, she decided to ask friends and family on social media if anyone had dolls they were looking to give away. And that was really how the whole thing started. Two dolls turned to ten, which turned to boxes and boxes of like-new dolls, packaged and ready to go out to little girls in homes throughout the country.
“These children, although they may be aware of technology or have been exposed to it, they are not in positions to own it personally,” she explained. “So a little toy becomes a comfort to them – a little friend.”
With the help of a local NGO, she’s been able to provide countless dolls for a number of girls all over Trinidad, but it hasn’t been easy, or cheap – especially for Paloma, who’s exhausted all of her life’s savings after losing her job in the oil and gas industry in 2016.
“I must say that even though I am unemployed at the moment, I am keeping myself busy in different ways,” she said, of the doll drive. “It’s something that I like. It’s a passion. And when you have a passion, it just burns inside of you. You have to answer that call.”
But it’s not just this passion that has changed the lives of little girls and children in homes all over the country. It’s Paloma’s selflessness, and her desire to put everyone before herself, and to always follow what she calls God’s will. Even if that means accepting what little she has, and trusting that God has his plan for her.
“If you can learn to be humble in life, and appreciate all that you have in that moment, you’ll make it,” she added. “God tells me, Paloma I brought you through already, I will bring you through again.”
It’s a surprising sentiment coming from Paloma, because at first glance, you wouldn’t see such a soft side to her. With tattoos covering the majority of her arms, and piercings on her eyes and face, she doesn’t look like what you’d expect, and she knows it. But she knows that God doesn’t worry with image – doesn’t shame his children for what they look like or wear or put on their skin.
“Just look at me, I’m all tattooed down, rings and piercings,” she said. “God is not interested in those things, He’s interested in what’s inside of your heart.”
And Paloma’s heart is filled with many things. Her love for God. Her passion for helping others. Her grief for her son. But most of all, Paloma’s heart is made of gold.
But she has not come this far on her own, and she’s grateful for all the help she’s gotten in her life. After losing her job in 2016, she got a small job at the mall for a little bit to help alleviate her living costs, but since September 2017, she has not been gainfully employed. But somehow, she says, she eats every single day, and she never goes without what she needs.
“It’s God and Sergio looking over me in this home,” she said, smiling.
With the help of sponsors and volunteers, as well as her one Doll Drive team member, she’s somehow been able to provide not only the toys and joy to the children, but many life lessons. Although she’s lost her son, her maternal energy hasn’t left her – and she finds herself caring for each and every child she encounters.
“I teach the children when I go to the homes,” she explained, sharing two things she learned growing up herself. “I tell them to build a personal relationship with God and education is your passport to opportunity.”
And so, Paloma and the Used Doll Drive continue to touch the hearts of many children – but they’re always looking for help. Whether it’s cleaning supplies, ways to package the dolls up for the children or just used dolls, she gratefully accepts any and all help she gets.
“Anybody who helps with whatever they can,” she added, mentioning a friend who donated hair ties for the dolls’ hair. “They are thanked, in every way I can.”
With God, Sergio and a heart of gold on her side, Paloma will continue to make a difference in many people’s lives – one doll at a time.
You can learn more about Paloma and her drive, Paloma’s Used Doll Drive, by searching on Facebook. Those who are interested in donating used dolls can reach out to the page for the dropoff locations. Paloma is actively seeking and accepting sponsors to help to subsidise costs associated with restoring the dolls, including cleaning supplies and packaging.