Spending quality time with the beats to my heart and every breath I take, Omar and Jonathan Marhaba.  Two amazing sons, gifts from God, who took me on an adventure I will remember for the rest of my life.

They gave me a Columbia experience for Christmas and New Year’s. What a way to celebrate the birth of Christ and bringing in 2020. Columbia is a beautiful country filled with endless green pastures… mountains and hills.  This made me stop and think about life, purpose, relationships, time, and what truly is important in this world.

I work very hard and run two businesses, I hardly have enough time to ponder on the true meaning of life. It was until my sons gave me the Columbia experience sharing precious time and making extraordinary memories is where my soul searching began.  Our trip started in Armenia Colombia where we hiked in the mountains of Armenia.  We drove approximately a half hour to get to our destination and then found out we needed to hike at least a half hour prior to even starting the hike. The hike turned out to be four and a half hours, 6.2 miles steep uphill climb.  I do enjoy hiking in California, but reasonable and the climb may be steep at times but nothing like the mountain I hiked in Columbia. My sons had to help me over the halfway point.  The greenery we were surrounded by was absolutely so beautiful that at times I forgot how difficult the hike was. I had the best time falling on the rocks, laughing with my sons and their wonderful friends, making jokes and just enjoying each other’s company. 

In Medellin Colombia we spent Christmas and New Years Eve.  We visited family and friends my sons knew.   Although I do not speak much Spanish, I felt extremely comfortable with these families.   Christmas in Medellin is beautiful. The town we were in was decorated in the amazing Christmas colors.  Christmas is one of my favorite holidays and spending it with family and friends (even friends I just met) was such a wonderful way to spend Christmas.  After all Christmas is about love, unity, giving and celebrating the birth of Christ.   Columbia is a country that has strong belief in family and unity.  It felt so good to be with such incredible people who embraced, loved, gave and welcomed us into their homes.

In Medellin my son’s friends took us to Guatape Columbia to show me La Piedra Del Penol ‘The Rock of Guatape. It is remarkable set of 650 stairs to climb that is surrounded by grassy plains and lakes. It is a must-see experience, and the beauty is spectacular.   My sons wanted me to experience its beauty, and to have a better understanding of why they like to go to Columbia so much.

During my stay in Medellin, my son Jonathan had wanted me to go paragliding with him.  What you should know is I have a fear of heights, and paragliding was not on my bucket list.  I told him that I may try it but was not sure.   On the way back from La Piedra Del Penol we ended up doing a pit stop and have a try at paragliding.  One of my son’s friends Martin went first because I was yet not sure I would do it and wanted to see the process prior to saying yes.  Martin’s paragliding went very well. After Martin, Jonathan went next. I wanted to go next to get it over with before I change my undecided mind.  The pilot directed Jonathan to get his gear on and strapped to the pilot. The pilot had my other son Omar and his friend Martin hold both the pilot and Jonathan down so that the pilot can get a better read on the wind. While that happened, the pilot said the wind did not feel right and Martin prematurely let go of them only Omar continued to hold on while the parachute commenced to take off.  My son Omar was hanging on the pilot and Jonathan as the wind was taking them away.  I stood there in terror watching the wind take both my sons away from me not knowing what was going to happened. I had this vision come across my mind of Rambo hanging on the bottom part of the helicopter as it took off in an action scene. All I can see was Omar free falling and that would be the end of both my sons.  They must have flown up about 10-15 feet high.  The pilot tried to change the direction of the parachute away from the mountain cliff and lower the parachute so my son Omar can jump off as he got closer to the ground.

Thank God Omar was able to jump off and the pilot and Jonathan ended up crashing in the bushes about 20-40 feet away. The pilot and Jonathan decided to try again and this time they took off without a hitch.  When then returned my son Jonathan told me to get my gear on because I am going up.  I thought about it for a minute wondering should I or shouldn’t I do it. I was afraid now especially because what I had just witnessed.  There was this very strange feeling telling me to try and everything would be fine even though I as afraid.  Well, I put the gear on and asked the pilot if he had a back up parachute. He said yes. I continued to as him if he will take care of me. The pilot told me my life is in his hands and he intends to bring me back safely. So, I did what every Catholic person would do when facing fear… made the sign of the cross, and asked God to take control.

The pilot had me sit down on the edge of the mountain with, now both my sons, holding me down until the pilot got a good read on the wind. When I looked into my son Omar’s eyes, I saw fear that I had not seen before. It was as if he was afraid I would not return if I was to move forward with this excursion.   Here I am in the paragliding gear ready to take off and both my sons are assisting the pilot.  They let go when the pilot instructed them to do so, and I was flying with the birds. My fear had disappeared and all I felt was unimaginable peace, tranquility, and calm I had not felt before. Wow what a feeling. I was surprised I had no fear. I am as high as the birds in the sky and my life is in the hands of a stranger.  Twenty minutes flying around Guatape Columbia taking in the greenery that surrounded me.  I have never felt closer to heaven as I did that day, and faced one of my greatest fears.

I must tell you the memories we made were priceless.  Nobody can take those memories away, and the best part is when my time comes to leave this world, I know I will be leaving my sons with many wonderful memories of their mom.   Thanks to my sons, and the courage they gave me, I was able to face my fears.  I still cannot believe that I flew with the birds in Columbia.

Make memories with the ones you love. Tomorrow is never promised.  Take chances and risks in life, even ones you may think you can never take.  I do not suggest that you should jump off a mountain with a man you never met before as a risk, but don’t allow your fear to stop you from living. That day I lived.

Written by Raja Marhaba


  • Raja Marhaba


    The Jonathan Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities

    Raja B. Marhaba is the Founder and President of The Jonathan Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities, Inc.  The motivation for establishing The Jonathan Foundation was driven by her personal struggles with having two children with disabilities and the multiple battles she endured to obtain appropriate special education and related services from their school district over a period of eight years.  The result: eight due process complaint filings, including a hearing; an appeal to the Federal Ninth Circuit District Court; as well as periods of extreme financial hardship from the cost of paying for private assessments, specialized interventions, and placements, retaining legal representation, and witness fees.  Thus, Raja envisioned The Jonathan Foundation to be the vehicle she would use to assist families, like her own, in dealing with a "broken" special education system, "one child at a time". Since its inception in 2001, The Jonathan Foundation has provided families of children and adolescents with various types of disabilities with information, resources, referrals, and direct advocacy services by Raja in both special education and regional center matters.  Moreover, Raja has developed a strong relationship with Children of the Night, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing children from prostitution and continues to volunteer her professional advocacy services to children and teens served by the organization's programs.  Driven by her personal experience and the outcomes of some of the cases in which she had been involved, Raja decided to launch the "Assessment Scholarship Program" in 2014 to lessen the financial burden families are faced with when obtaining private evaluations. In addition to her involvement in The Jonathan Foundation, Raja is not only a licensed realtor, but also the co-owner of Martec Construction, Inc., which she runs with her Partner, Omar.  She and Omar have operated Martec Construction for over twenty years.  Due to her work in the company, Martec Construction has been recognized as a woman-owned business since 2003. Raja's educational background includes possessing an Associate of Applied Science degree from Borough of Manhattan Community College in Business Administration.  She also holds a certification in Paralegal Studies with a Concentration in Litigation and Corporations from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also successfully completed the Management Development for Entrepreneurs (MDE) Program.  Raja was selected and successfully completed the first cohort of the federally-funded Special Education Advocate Training (SEAT) Program in 2006. After her completion of the SEAT Program, she was selected to be a member of the Education Panel & Committee for the Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which is comprised of special education attorneys and advocates, who are court-appointed to represent the educational needs of children involved in the foster care and probation systems. Raja continues to hold active memberships and certifications with the National Association of Women Business Owners, National Women’s Business Enterprise and Women-Owned Small Businesses.  Additionally, she has earned several awards as a result of her more than twenty years of success with Martec Construction and, later, The Jonathan Foundation, including being one of several women recognized with the Enterprising Women of the Year Award in February 2016, and is also one of nine extraordinary women whom have been award the 2019 L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth Award. Raja has two children Omar Jr. and Jonathan