By: Cesar Eguizabal
Guatemala City, Guatemala
On our second week of our trip in Guatemala, we were participating in the art camp with Build a Bridge and Centro de Alcance in Santa Catarina Pinula right outside of Guatemala City. We had a training on Monday Nov. 22nd. all day and on Tuesday Nov 23rd. We had our first day with the kids which was amazing. But at the end of the day, I was so tired and wanted to take a break and rest. On Tuesday night, Scott asked me if I wanted to go with a few others from the team to visit a few ministries the next day. One purpose of this Athentikos trip is to scout for new stories for upcoming documentary projects. Two issues of interest are street children & youth and women’s issues. I didn´t know what to do because I wanted to go back with the kids at the art camp and they needed my help translating. But after thinking about it I said yes. Although I have to say that at first I said yes because I wanted to rest a least for a day.
So on Wednesday we woke up early and Joel picked us (Scott, Amelia, Matt and me) up at the seminary and we drove to this regular, standard house. But this house is a Refuge for women that have been abused by their ex husbands, stepfathers, or other relatives. Mike Soderling, a member of the board, started by telling us about the shelter, El Refugio, the mission, the vision, what they do and a lot of information and history about the place. Here’s a quote from their website, “Sadly, the rate of domestic violence in Guatemala is overwhelming. In general, women are expected to accept domestic violence as their lot in life. High levels of alcoholism among men, and the inability for women to provide for themselves and their children financially only compound the problem. Limited police protection and a culture that says women must stay with their husbands regardless of how badly they are abused results in a lack of resources to aid or protect women and their children from violence. Shelters are almost nonexistent in Guatemala.” We learned that El Refugio has provided refuge and assistance for over 60 women since 2008. But they can only accommodate 7 women (and their families) at a time.
We also met members of the staff that work at the shelter. Our plan was to maybe talk with a few of the women that live at the shelter and to hear a little bit of their stories. We were told that maybe 2 or 3 women would talk, because it’s hard for them to talk about their past and to remember their experiences of abuse and hardship. A few minutes later all these women, some of them with their children, came to the living room where we are talking, and sat down with us. We start talking with them introducing ourselves.
To our surprise all of the women wanted to share their stories! It was incredible. One by one they introduced themselves and shared their stories: what happened to them and why they were living at the shelter. I not only had to sit and listen, but I had to translate their stories at the same time, that was so hard for me. Their stories are so heavy, I’m still struggling with processing the details I heard. All of these women have had been abused by Guatemalan men. I saw their pain in their eyes and how hard it has been to recover and heal.
So we talked with these women for 2 hours or so and after they left I cried and cried. I don’t understand why I reacted so deeply. I had a hard time believing all that I just listened too and I just kept thinking: “This is just so wrong.” I struggled with it because I sat with them, and as a Guatemalan and as a man I feel that I need to do something about it. We need to make a difference and make a change. This is happening all over the country, this shelter can take care of just 7 women tops. I kept thinking, “This is just wrong.” Before we left, I prayed for them and wanted to say, “thank you.” But I could hardly talk due to my own emotion. I was finally able to say through my broken voice, “thank you, thank you for sharing your stories with us.” And I encouraged them to keep going.
We hear about violence and abuse against women all the time in Guatemala, everyday in the news, in the radio, in the newspapers, but we don’t care. We are so used to hearing about it that for us is just another social problem that the government has to deal with or take care of.
But that day changed my perspective and now I think I can do something, we can do something about it, we can´t wait for others to come and take care of it. I have to respond, there is hope for these women, I don’t know yet how I will respond, or in what ways I will support them. I have a lot of things in my life I have to take care of and I am struggling with so many things as well, but this is the exciting part because God knows and I know that he will guide me and I can´t wait.
Right before we left the shelter I played for a few minutes with some of the kids and some of their babies and that made me so happy. And I just thinking about making a difference in their lives inspires me.
There is hope for these women. The shelter is doing amazing work supporting them legally, emotionally, spiritually and at the same time they teach them job skills and ways they can make money to support their children. Hope is rising.
The women make “coffee bean” jewelry as a mico-enterprise project. The money generated from the sale of the jewelry goes into a saving fund which is given to the women when they transition from the shelter. Here are some examples of their beautiful work: