Johanna Baca’s Challenges Prompt Perseverance, Search for Excellence

Johanna Baca

By Kim Reischling


Strength. Determination. The wherewithal to pursue her dreams though the odds seem stacked against her. What keeps her going? Her all-encompassing, fierce love for her children: Rebecca and Adrian AndradeMarin.


This is what defines Johanna Baca, a student with the Palmetto Literacy Council. 


From Ecuador, Johanna sought a better life in the United States for her two young children. Sponsored by her brother, a wounded veteran living in Virginia, Johanna and her children traveled to the U.S. Though having visited the U.S. several times, life here was strange and foreign. “It was hard, but I wanted more opportunities for my children,” she said.


A second marriage brought Johanna and the children to Myrtle Beach with her husband. It didn’t take long for Johanna to feel that many of her dreams had turned to ashes as she became a victim of domestic violence. 


Can you imagine? Speaking no English, and unfamiliar with life in the United States, Johanna felt fear and despair, the same emotions felt by so many victims of violence from those who also profess their love.


South Carolina is ranked second highest in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men. Annually, there are 31,878 victims of domestic violence in South Carolina, and 92% of them know their abuser. Only 12 percent of victims report their abuse to law enforcement, according to government statistics. Johanna was one who did, despite fearing for her and her children’s lives.


Johanna knew it was imperative to leave her husband and call him to account.


“When I called the police, it was very hard for me because I barely spoke any English, and neither did my kids. I cried a lot. I had to take care of my kids; I needed money for food and electricity. I needed work. I was scared.”


Johanna’s strength and determination reasserted itself. “A psychiatrist diagnosed the children and me with post-traumatic stress disorder. She also sent me to meet with Dodi Hodges, (executive director of the Palmetto Literacy Council), because she knew it was important that the children and I speak English.”


Dodi enrolled Johanna and her children, Rebecca and Adrian (in September of 2022).


“Dodi is such a beautiful person. She is an angel for my family. Because the kids are in so many activities, Dodi told me that Palmetto Literacy Council serves us and they would find a tutor for the most convenient hours.” Johanna is tutored on Monday evenings and the kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”


Johanna’s tutor, Alesa Morales, began working with her in September of 2023. 


“I am in awe of her,” said Alesa. “I have never met someone so determined and hungry to better herself and her children. She keeps a list of the words that give her problems and will pronounce them over and over until she gets them right.”


Alesa said that Johanna is one of the most genuine people she’s ever met. “She thinks of everyone before she thinks of herself. And the drive she has for improvement is motivating to anyone who has the honor of meeting her.”


Alesa said that being a tutor keeps her humble. “To see the obstacles that some of these students overcome is a reminder to me that my struggles are not bigger than anyone else’s. And to see them still strive for success reminds me that I need to strive for the same without complaint.


Johanna admits that she understands English very well, but speaking the language is more difficult.


“The kids are a big help to me,” she said.


Rebecca and Adrian are thriving despite the domestic violence that has touched their lives. In fact, Rebecca won the Pen Warrior Contest last year, hosted by the Palmetto Literacy Council and judged by professors and Honor students from the Coastal Carolina University English Department. Rebecca’s book is illustrated (by her) and written in both English and Spanish. It is about her and Adrian’s Bibis (stuffed teddy bears) and is titled “BiBi.”


It begins, “It was once in a country far, far away, the Bibis lived in the country. Every time a baby was born on Earth, a Bibi was given who was a Guardian Angel for that child. So when I was born, in my crib was a totally beautiful Bibi looking into my eyes…”


“My book is based on a true story,” the sixth-grader said. When I was little, I received teddy bears. I love them and take care of them as if they were my children. I’ve had my Bibi since I was 4. When I was scared, I slept with him.” 


Of the domestic violence that once permeated her life, Rebecca said, “The challenges are hard. You must forgive, but you can never forget.”


Rebecca said she enjoys her tutoring sessions. “Learning new words is important, especially ones I haven’t seen before. When I first began, I didn’t know many words, but I have learned a lot and I get good grades at school.”


Rebecca wants to be a scientist when she grows up. “My grandfather wanted to explore the world, and he went to many places. I want to follow in his footsteps.”


Adrian is a precocious fifth grader who has many friends at school. “I like being tutored so I can learn to pronounce words and read better. It was hard to adapt to living in a new country, but I am doing fine. I like school and I like learning. I even help some of the other kids (Spanish speaking) with learning English.”


Adrian has two Bibis of his own and wants to be a soccer player when he grows up.


Johanna’s tutor, Alesa, is well aware that English is a difficult language to learn. 


“Sometimes my heart breaks watching my student try so hard and have so much trouble. But I also hope that Johanna will one day look back with thankfulness that she chose me to help, and her success will reach far beyond just speech.”


With Johanna’s strength and determination, of that there is little doubt. Like the proverbial Phoenix, Johanna’s dreams have risen from the ashes, and she will do what it takes to ensure her children have the opportunities they deserve.


Joanna has stayed on top of the court case against her husband for domestic violence. She will not let the legal system frighten her, though she believes it is difficult to navigate for a woman, and she will do what she can to help others along the way. She will not abandon her dreams, despite the challenges that come her way. 


She will, however, continue the job she found after her husband left, the job where she was promoted after a year of hard work. She currently works for the Horry County School District.

Bibi book coverShe will continue learning English to serve as a role model to her children while improving her own life.

“No matter how hard it is, I will keep on with tutoring sessions. I’m done when Dodi says I’m done.”


Editor’s note: Rebecca’s book is available on for $13.

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