I have included a talk that Rebecca recently gave to the Rotary Club in our hometown at the end of this post. She tells a little more about her experiences in Guatamala, and she shares some of her experiences with the women of El Refugio.
I would like to help Rebecca sell this amazing jewelry and raise awareness of this organization, which is why I am writing this post. Please take a minute to read the information in this post and click over to the El Refugio site that is linked here. Rebecca is offering a pair of earrings to one lucky commenter. Please go to the Weaving Hope Ministries site and look around. Come back here and leave a comment telling me something that you learned about Guatamala or about El Refugio.
I hope to offer this jewelry for sale on this blog after Christmas. Please let me know if you are interested in seeing more of this jewelry and possibly purchasing earrings, necklaces, or bracelets.
Here are a few pics of the jewelry...
Earings made with beads and coffee beans
A necklace made from red beans. It looks black in this picture, but it's actually a deep red. This is the last necklace like this.
A bracelet made from white beans. This is the last bracelet like this.
A coffee bean and beads necklace.
Buenas tardes! Good Afternoon! Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about a cause dear to my heart & soul! El Refugio - A Unique Shelter for Abused Women & Their Children in Guatemala looking not just to put a band aid on a huge unspoken problem, but instead working with one woman at a time to heal her broken body & spirit by giving her medical care, counseling, education, and life skills to support herself & her family once she leaves the shelter and goes back into her community.
Before I get into the details of the shelter & how I became involved, I want to give you more information about Guatemala.
First off I wondered how many of you actually know where Guatemala is located? The reason I ask is b/c when I first heard we were moving there I honestly had know idea other than that it was somewhere below Mexico in Latin America. "Where is Guatemala & do they speak Spanish?" are usually the first 2 questions that I am asked. Guatemala is located south of Mexico. On its northern borders are Mexico & Belize. Then on the South side are El Salvador & Honduras. On the West is the Pacific Ocean & the East is the Caribbean Sea. Spanish is the national language of Guatemala. However, there are also 22 indigenous languages still used by many. In Guatemala City, I never had any issues using my broken Spanglish, but whenever we visited other areas it always proved to be a challenge to understand what people were saying.
Within hours of arriving in Guatemala, we were given a security briefing. One of the very first things that we learned is that 96 percent of the murders in Guatemala go unsolved. That statement seems unreal, but it is true. There is tons of corruption within the military, government, police, etc… due to a civil war in Guatemala that only ended in 1996 causing the country to continue to remain in turmoil. We were told that if the police came to our door not to answer it. We had a safe room in our house. We were to take our family to the safe room and call Embassy Security on a secure radio to come & handle the matter. It is not uncommon for police to be involved in kidnapping, theft, or murder. It was unsafe for us - An American Family affiliated with the U.S. Army & U.S. Embassy to call the police or answer the door for them. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a local in need of Emergency Assistance much less a poor abused indigenous woman with children living in a remote village?
If that isn't enough Gang Violence in Guatemala is unreal! The main transportation for people in Guatemala is the bus system. We were told under no circumstances were we to ever ride on one of these buses! The buses are old run down American School Buses that are no longer safe for use in the U.S. The majority are painted red and so crammed with people that once I saw guys holding onto the windows outside the bus while others were on top holding onto the roof rack! Thus, the nickname, "Chicken Buses!" Not only is the physical/mechanical condition unsafe, but they are unsafe because of gangs. When a bus pulls into certain territories it is common for gangs to stop the bus drivers (Who are often teenage boys) and ask them for money. If the bus driver does not produce the exact amount of money needed the bus driver is shot and killed. At one point while we were living there the gangs became organized and killed several bus drivers at the same time of day.
Another story about gang violence I'd like to share is about a woman I came in contact with a little over a year ago. Her husband had been killed in a car accident a few years back. She was left to care for her 4 children. One of whom has Down's Syndrome. This woman owned her own hair salon and was able to use the money to care for her family after her husband's death. Eventually, the gang members realized her business was doing well, and they began robbing her requesting specific amounts of money. They told her that if she did not continue to pay them what they were asking they would go into her home and murder all of her children. She was forced to flee her shop, home, & family support.
Being robbed at gunpoint is not uncommon. I can think of about 5 people that I know who were robbed at gun point during our 10 months there, and I even knew a guy who was kidnapped. They took him out of his taxi by gunpoint, took him to an atm, robbed him of his money & possessions, and left him. We were told that the good thing about being an American was that as long as we handed over our money, cell phone, or other material items and did not put up a fight odds were in our favor that they would not kill or kidnap us. Most were just looking for quick and easy money. As Americans all of our money is tied up in the U.S. So, kidnapping us would be more difficult. It is much easier to stalk & kidnap a local wealthy person for a hefty ransom.
B/c of the high crime there were guards everywhere! Just a few examples: Kids on my sons' soccer team had their own personal body guards, guards in front of McDonalds, the grocery stores, pharmacies, personal garages, the kids' school, our apartment building. Along with the guards there is razor wire. There were days when the entire country resembled a prison, and it was often hard to over look the dangers & poverty and see the beautiful volcanos and true hardworking spirit of the Guatemalan People.
A study done a few years back by George Mason University said: 49 % of the 1,000 women surveyed in Sacatepequez, Guatemala, have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, 75% by an intimate male partner.
Taken from Amnesty International:
"According to comprehensive analysis by Amnesty International, In Guatemala, over 2,500 women and girls have been murdered since 2001. In Guatemala some of the victims had their throats cut, were beaten, shot or stabbed to death. Many of their bodies showed signs of rape, torture, mutilation or dismemberment. A range of motives are reflected and both state and non-state actors are involved, but in all cases the victim's gender is a significant factor, in both the kind of violence perpetrated and in the level of response by authorities."
"In early 2006 the Guatemalan "Rape Law" (Article 200) whereby a rapist could escape charges by offering to marry his victim, was deemed unconstitutional. However, legislation addressing violence against women in Guatemala remains severely deficient. For example, Guatemalan law prohibits domestic abuse, but does not provide prison sentences for cases of domestic abuse and prevents abusers from being charged with assault if bruises do not remain visible for at least 10 days. The Guatemalan Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women reported that her office receives approximately 800 reports of domestic violence per month, with some of those cases ending in murder and that those murders could be prevented if Guatemalan law provided for prison sentences in cases of domestic violence. As of June 2006, of the over six hundred cases of women reported murdered in 2005, to Amnesty International's knowledge, only two convictions had taken place."
It is because of situations like this that the term "Femicide" is being used in describing the murders of Guatemalan Women & Girls. The term was first used in England in 1801 to signify "the killing of a woman". In Guatemala women are considered to be inferior to men and their deaths are not punished. This is a society where the abuse of women is considered "normal!" Give example of giving the money for the driver's license and for the sister's school and how the mom yelled at me b/c the brother was more deserving simply b/c he was the only male. Also tell story of Carolina - Her husband left her caring for her 3 children in order to go to the US in search of a better paying job. She wanted to have her tubes tied to prevent anymore pregnancies if he returned. The doctor refused to do the surgery unless a male with authority signed the paperwork allowing her to have her tubes tied. In this case they allowed her father to give his approval for the surgery.
After all of this negativity I was starting to wonder what I could do to help. That is when God introduced me to some amazing women. I can hardly believe that it has been more than a year since I came in contact with the women of El Refugio. I was at a coffee festival and spotted their very bare table in the corner. It was the first time they had ever taken their products out into the public to sell. They were selling jewelry made from real roasted coffee beans. I was intrigued by the uniqueness of this jewelry. I had never seen anything like it during my travels around the country. Thankfully, one of the women spoke some English & helped explain everything to me. The jewelry was made by women living in a shelter (El Refugio) for abused women & their children. I wanted more information and wanted to know how I could help. So, she scribbled her name, email, and number on a scrap of paper for me. From there I was able to contact the founders of the shelter and research its credibility. You see because of the corruption in Guatemala I was hesitant to get involved with any type of shelter. Sadly, many orphanages and other organizations claiming to do good work don't actually do it. Sure, they help a little but too often the money is misused and the people are mistreated. Thankfully, that is not the case with El Refugio. All of their information can be found such as a monthly newsletter & information on current women/children in the shelter @ http://www.weavinghopeministry.org/
The shelter is a part of Hope Bible Mission which has non-profit status here in the U.S. It is run by an amazing staff, and I was blessed to meet several staff members & some of the founders of the shelter Dr. Mike Soderling (former OBGYN) & his wife Chris. Mike & Christ are wonderful American missionaries who are devoting their lives to bettering the lives of women in Guatemala. Unfortunately, while I was in I was never able to travel to the actual shelter. There were some safety concerns & the Embassy Security would not approve a visit. Instead, the women - 10 of them & Mike drove nearly 2 hours to meet me! When I was in Guatemala I was the organizer for AMIGO (American Mission in Guatemalan Outreach). We raised a small amount of money and used it to purchase household items for the shelter as well as a loofa sponge & bar of soap for each woman at the shelter. Seriously, there having your own bar of soap and sponge is a big deal! Especially to a woman who has fled her home with only the clothes on her back!! Anyway, originally I agreed to pay for a taxi if they would send 2 representatives from the shelter to pick up the wrapped Christmas Gifts, but they were so thrilled with just the idea of receiving gifts for the shelter that they borrowed a van and almost every person involved came to meet my group! It was overwhelming to see the joy and appreciation in the eyes of these women. One of them had just arrived at the shelter the night before with her children. We had no idea she was staying at the shelter and threw together gifts for her children at the last minute b/c we didn't want them to leave empty handed. As they were all getting into the van to leave I called the newest woman at the shelter over and handed her the the Q100 (about $13 US dollars - more than a day's wages) that I had in my pocket for the cab fare. I told her in the best Spanish that I could that I wanted her to take the money and buy something for herself and her children. She fell to the ground at my feet in tears. It was truly the most humbling moment of my life. What someone pointed out later was that this woman had been told her whole life that she didn't matter…… that she wasn't worth anything. Now, a complete stranger has given her something and told her she matters & that she is worth it. I learned that a simple gesture can actually help end the cycle of violence. It really doesn't take that much. It is a moment that will I will carry with me for the rest of my life!
Since that time my friends in Guatemala have visited the shelter and were quite impressed with what they found. I have continued to stay in touch with the shelter via e-mail and Skype. They took a leap of faith and mailed me a huge box of their coffee jewelry, and I am selling it for them. The women who come to the shelter are learning to make the jewelry which has turned into a micro-enterprise. The shelter in turn pays the women for each piece that they make. The rest of the money from the sales goes back to the shelter and helps to keep its doors open. Of course the money from the jewelry sales isn't that much which means that they are always seeking money from donations & outside fundraisers. While at the shelter the women receive Counseling, mentoring, children's education, adult education & training, physical care, and on a very limited basis follow up and support after they re-enter society. They even have a very brave lawyer who works to get restraining orders when possible and deal with other legal matters.
They are currently seeking ideas for fundraising, donations, & prayers concerning a new shelter. The shelter they are now using is very small and they often turn away women and children. They have found the perfect property and are working on purchasing it. This property can house 10 women and children, plus staff! It has a garden to help them be self sustaining, a play area for children, and a room for sewing/making jewelry in order to grow the micro-enterprise part of the shelter. 10 women may not seem like a lot, but in a country where violence against women is so common sometimes starting with only 1 is all it takes! For more information on the new shelter go to : https://sites.google.com/site/elrefugiofundraiser/home
Thank you all again for giving me this opportunity to talk with you about such an important issue. It is one that we simply cannot be silent about anymore!
Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment in order to enter the giveaway!