Spirit of Rowan: Sarceno gives back to Guatemalan children, pays tribute to immigrant women in book
Author, activist and nonprofit founder Maria Elena Sarceno said she felt led by God to help others in need.
The Guatemalan native, 36, graduated from Colegio San Martín de Porres, which is located in Dolores, El Petén, Guatemala. There, she obtained a degree to become an auxiliary nurse. Through the connection of friends, Sarceno said, she moved to Salisbury in 2006.
And though no easy feat, since then, she has written a book paying tribute to immigrant women like herself, and has put Salisbury on the map in Guatemala with the establishment of a nonprofit organization.
In 2012, Sarceno established a nonprofit organization aimed at helping underprivileged children in Guatemala. “El Ángel que viene del cielo,” which translates to “The angel that came from heaven,” aims to provide school supplies, health services and training sessions to the impoverished.
The organization, she said, allows generous people who care about the welfare of others to offer opportunities in areas of extreme poverty, like Guatemala. To date, she estimates, the nonprofit has touched 400 children and 100 adults.
Though Guatemala has the richest economy in Central America, more than 60% of its population lives in poverty and nearly half of the children there face malnutrition, according to the World Bank.
“(My nonprofit) means a lot. It is my mission here on Earth,” Sarceno said. “I am very happy when I see the angelic faces of children.”
Most importantly, she said, is “working with the heart and humility.”
In 2018, Sarceno published a book titled, “Una mujer moldeando su destino,” which translates in English to “A woman shaping her destiny.”
Sarceno said the book draws its inspiration from Latin women who, “with effort and great courage, bring dreams that at first seemed unattainable to reality.”
“Through this book, you will meet a brave woman full of faith, who trusts in her abilities and in the tools that God has made available to me throughout my life,” she said. “This work is also a tribute to immigrant women. I have the greatest respect for them because, like them, I too had to fight a thousand adversities to build a decent life for myself in the United States and offer my children a better future.”
It’s an easy read with just 10 chapters and 106 pages. The book has four editions, and Sarceno plans to release an English version one day. Proceeds from book sales are put into Sarceno’s nonprofit organization. The book costs $20 and can be purchased online at
Sarceno credits Salisbury with being a “quiet community full of opportunities,” with many generous people. Looking ahead, she aspires for both public and private institutions to improve their Spanish communication channels, particularly with information about COVID-19, education, health and business creation.
“The Latino community is very entrepreneurial, and we just want one chance,” she said. “Salisbury could achieve even more growth if it allows the Spanish-speaking community to have access to information in their language.”
In Sarceno’s spare time, she enjoys posing for the camera, reading, going to the gym and dancing at home. She also has two children, Helen Melany, 16, and Raymond Steve, 11.
Her message to her children? “Never say you can’t.”
“God placed in my heart, even in dreams, the need to help those most in need,” Sarceno said. “At first, I didn’t know how to do it, but with the help of God and a lot of effort, little-by-little the doors were opened.”
Nicole Buckner did not arrive in North Carolina until she went to college. She was born in Atlanta and grew... read more