The Ohio State University at Marion

My life journey

From Honduras to higher education

For Maria (Pilar) Edler, a senior social work major at Ohio State Marion, the road from her impoverished Central American homeland to the United States seemed at first paved with gold and possibility, an opportunity for her to spread her wings and expand her horizons.

After all, Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, grappling with a 60% poverty rate and a per capita income of $1880 U.S. per year. In addition, her family had endured a number of personal hardships. Edler’s father left the family when she was only 3 years old, but she always had her mother, who took on multiple roles as provider, disciplinarian, and care giver. Someone Maria describes today as “my hero”.

In addition to being a nurse aide in the local public hospital, Edler’s mother cleaned houses, cooked food, and sold children’s clothes at train stations to make ends meet for her family. She stressed the importance of family and taking care of each other.

Thinking back to her childhood, Edler is still astounded by the strength of her mother. 

"In Honduras there is no welfare, no food stamps. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat," she explained.

“I don’t know how she did it,” said Edler incredulously.

With the example of her mother’s strong work ethic and dedication to making a better life for her children held in the recesses of her mind, Edler left her native Honduras for the love of a man named Robert at the tender age of 23. She left medical school, her mother, her siblings, and everything she knew.

Her mother did not stand in her way, despite her better judgment, allowing Maria to spread her wings and follow her heart to America. Edler was ready to begin a new life, full of possibility, love, and adventure. What she faced in the U.S. were hardships that she could not have imagined. Edler found herself in Miami with no money, no job, no car, no home and no support system. The newlywed couple hitchhiked from Miami, FL to Columbus, OH.

She found herself alone in a foreign country. According to Edler, the man she fell in love with and soon married trapped her in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. With her life off course, Edler left the marriage after 2 short years and sought counseling to recover from the abuse.

“I gave up my whole life to be with him,” she opined, referring to her first husband and the family she left behind in Honduras.

Years later, Edler has built a new life for herself in Ohio. She has been married to her wonderful loving husband Brad Edler for over 20 years. A mechanical engineer by trade, the couple is busy working and raising their three children, Bianca 20, Maribeth 17, and Sterling 16.

Edler has always held onto the lessons of sacrifice and hard work her mother taught her, to get up and get a job and do what you have to do. In addition to raising her children, Edler worked for a financial company in Columbus for 8 years, Marion Public Health for 6 years and a host of other jobs in collections and call centers.

According to Edler, this (working hard and taking care of your family) is the expectation in Honduras. “Family takes care of family. Everyone has a responsibility,” explained Edler.

Looking back on her decisions early in life, she was constantly reminded of her mother’s example of dedication to the family and her life goals.

Despite her family’s humble beginnings in Honduras, Edler’s brother and sisters now all have college degrees. The same determination that propelled her mother to provide for the family was the backdrop for her family’s road out of poverty. Her mother also set a positive example of perseverance and the importance of education by putting herself through school to become an anesthesiologist when Edler was only in 7th grade.

“My mom is who propelled me back to school today,” Edler said emphatically. “I promised her I would go back to school.”

Armed with a family support system and the inspiration of her mother, Edler begin taking classes at Marion Technical College, earning an Associate’s degree. She didn’t stop there. She soon began pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree at The Ohio State University at Marion.

Edler was drawn to social work because of her strong desire to impact the lives of young people.

“I want to work with adolescents,” said Edler. “I want to catch them before they destroy their life. Realizing sometimes, to get to where you want to go, you are going to hit some bumps."

“There are no excuses,” said Edler. “No, don’t tell me that…you can do this.”

Thinking back to her youth and the mistakes she made early on, Edler is grounded in the firm realization that it’s okay to have dreams.

Edler shared this piece of advice for today’s youth who are facing an uphill battle.

”You can do whatever you put your mind to. Have dreams but be grounded.”

The key, according to Edler, is to set small attainable goals and surround yourself with people who will support you.

“It’s hard to be the person you want to be if you are caught up in an old environment,” she advised. "Especially if that environment is one that is destructive and doesn’t match your goals and potential."

Edler is now on the cusp of achieving her dream of earning a college degree from one of the nation’s most respected universities and launching a successful career in social work.

All of that began from the inspiration of one woman, her mother. A woman who refused to give up on life and her children despite so many obstacles.