A POVERTY-STRICKEN young woman in Guatemala can proudly call herself a graduate, thanks to a kind-hearted Chelmsford family.

Gloria Esperanza’s life took an unexpected, and very welcome, turn after Education for the Children charity workers heard her dad pleading with a local secondary school in Jocotenago, Guatemala, central America, to accept his daughter.

He was turned away for not having enough money, but the charity tracked the family down and offered Gloria, inset, a place at the School of Hope.

Karen Webster, from Chelmsford, and her son Jack Mann, now 20, heard about Gloria’s desire for an education from a friend working with the charity.

Ms Webster, 54, said: “My friend told me an amazing story about a little girl and I was so moved by the story we decided to sponsor her education and healthcare.”

That was the start of a treasured, long-distance relationship between the trio, involving letters, emails, homemade gifts and photographs.

Now, ten years on and Gloria, now 21, has graduated from her degree in catering at the University of Mariano Galvez. Ms Webster said: “I couldn’t be prouder, Gloria was destined for a life of domestic chores in a tin shack with a mud floor.

“With support from the School of Hope and my funding she has overcome all the odds to become a strong young woman with a great future.

“Being a long term sponsor has been a fulfiling and meaningful experience.

"I feel like Gloria is a part of my family and I hope she feels the same.”

Gloria added: “It has been wonderful to have Karen as my sponsor.

“Although we’ve never met, I feel a connection and her kindness has inspired me to always work hard so I could go to University.

"I hope to be able to thank her in person one day.”