viernes, 6 de abril de 2007

"Para enfrentar la violencia, no estamos solas." - "To confront violence, we are not alone."

Maria Amor Casa de Acogida

Maria Amor House of Shelter

Cuenca, Ecuador

tel 7 -2 832 817

Nuestra Misión: Somos un espacio de referencia que aporta la construcción de una nueva cultura De genero basada en una ética de convivencia social, justa, solidaria, y democrática.
Nuestra Visión:Obra social de la Vicaria de Pastoral Social de Cuenca que brinda acogida, acompañamiento y atención integral a las mujeres y sus hijos e hijas que viven situaciones de violencia intrafamiliar.
El servicio que brinda la Casa de Acogida “Maria Amor” se propone la atención integral orienta a:
-La Acogida a las Mujeres y sus hijos/as en un espacio sin violencia, de contención y afecto, que les permita desarrollar un proceso reflexivo en busca de nuevas estrategias de vida libre de violencia.
-La asistencia Psicológica y Social.
-Al Asesoramiento sobre asistencia Legal y de Salud a través de la articulación inter-institucional.
-Talleres de autoestima, artísticos, sobre derechos humanos y derechos cuídanos.
-Implementar una línea telefónica de emergencia y grupos de reflexión.
-La Atención pedagógica a los hijos/as de las Mujeres acogidas.
-Alojamiento y Alimentación.

A heavy anonymous green door with an intercom doorbell is the entrance to Maria Amor. There is no sign because this is a shelter where abused women and families at risk of violence can come for protection, counseling, and housing.

Upon ringing the intercom and introducing myself, a suspicious guard cracks the door open a few inches to investigate my intentions. I later learn a guard is necessary for the husbands, boyfriends, and fathers that come looking for their missing loved ones. They are not usually calm or rational when they are trying to gain entrance. After he lets me in, I walk down a long dark hallway.

There is bright sunlight at the end of this hallway and this is the courtyard for Maria Amor. This is one of two dining areas. There are many posters with empowering messages. There are also quite a few hand painted works of art that appear to have been created by children. After admiring them for a few moments, I begin to realize almost all of them include images of houses, adults holding the hands of children, and animals. Unmistakably children thinking of their homes, families, and pets that are not with them at the moment.

I meet with the director of the organization Marlena, a sturdy kind woman who gently informs me the identity of the women here must be protected and no pictures of faces may appear without the consent of the Mothers. I am then taken to a dining area in the back of the shelter. 12-15 women are sitting around a table, eating tamales and drinking coffee. Marlena introduces me and I am met with shy smiles and avoided glances.

To break the ice, I shyly begin to talk about myself and why I am there. I slowly begin to understand the discomfort of these women. They are not Maria Amor counselors or workers as I had thought, but abused women there seeking asylum. I continue talking about myself, my back ground, my hopes for being here and I begin to receive nods, a little eye contact and questions.

One of the girls, courageously announces she wants me to take her picture because she wants to be a model. Her statements make the other women laugh and giggle. She tells me her name is Marilyn and when I ask if she is familiar with Marilyn Monroe the movie star, she informs me she is Marilyn Monroe herself!Everyone bursts into laughter again, including myself. She has a bright smile that is present while she talks and I get that everything she says from that point on is said with the intention to make the other women happy and laugh. I love her instantly.

I begin to notice the eyes of the some of the women are red, very sad, and I want to cry myself. I understand that look where you just can´t hide what you are feeling sometimes. I wonder how long some of them have been there.

I wonder if the ones with red/sad eyes are new arrivals and unable to stop thinking about fresh betrayals of their husbands or boyfriends? Random thoughts but this is where my mind went. I learn Marilyn is 19 and has been at the shelter for one week.

Maria Amor can house up to 15 women and 30 children for maximum visit of two months. The average woman is 20 to 40 years of age. They all have children and tell me how odd it is that I do not at my age. This makes all of us laugh, me the hardest. We are interrupted by a parade of children running into the room all of them going to their respective mothers to hug them and sit on their laps. The children had been at the park and animatedly tell their mothers what they had seen and done. They are all given bananas to eat. Some of them even hug me and unabashedly stroke my hair while they ask me who I am.

There is a gathering happening in the courtyard and the children obediently sit in a circle while two volunteer counselors from Italy, instruct the children with mustered cheer to say goodbye to two of the children who are going home today.

The director asks me to make sure to take pictures.

There are confused hugs and clumsy kisses exchanged by the children.

Some of the women then take me upstairs to show me their living quarters. I take pictures of the five rooms that are crowded with bunk beds, armoires, and cribs.

It is very deserted, the energy is very heavy-melancholic.

There are few personal artifacts present to prove there are women living there.

Most often women flee their homes unexpectedly, sometimes in the middle of the night and are usually unable to take very much with them.

There is a locked storage room that holds clothing, toiletries, baby formula, etc. ready to supply anything the women or children may need that they weren´t able to bring with them at the last moment.

I continue taking pictures of the shelter, careful not to include the children who jump in front of the camera wanting me to take their picture. One child I learn is there without his mother because she is in the hospital.

One mother says I can take pictures of her son as long as his face is not identifiable. She tells me she must be careful as there is a pending case against the father and one mistake could lead to the loss of her suit. I take a picture of him from above and show her the photo in the view finder in my camera for her approval. She is pleased. She is also very pregnant with the looks of what I guess is about 7 months.

Marilyn appears and she is ready for her close up she tells me. After much laughter we take several photos. Some serious, some smiling. We promise to stay in touch and write to each other.

It is time for me to leave. I peek into the kitchen where three of the women are preparing dinner for everyone. It is their turn that night to cook.

Everyone has a rotating chore to either cook or clean.

I walk back into the courtyard where there are tearful goodbyes taking place of the family leaving today. I hug one of the girls leaving and her body shakes as she begins to cry into my shoulder. Words can not articulate everything that was happening at that moment. Everyone begins to gather at the door where there is a waiting taxi. All of the women help to load the taxi with suitcases, bags, a small pink back pack, purses, etc. There seems to be a lot of things and I wonder how long this family had been at shelter. The family leaving is crying and the girl I had hugged earlier is literally pulled off of the person she is tearfully clinging to so that the taxi can leave.

I say my goodbyes with everyone as well and thank them for their time, trust, and allowing me into their world. It is beginning to rain and some neighbors are standing around watching curiously everything that is happening. I walk away, melting into the neighborhood- sad and confused by what I have just experienced. Sad understandably for the worlds of these women and children. Hopeful for the futures that await them. Grateful that such a shelter exists and the opportunity I had to visit it. Unsure as to what I am supposed to do with this experience…

text and photos by Michelle Gutierrez

Maria Amor House of Shelter
Maria Amor Casa de Acogida

Cuenca, Ecuador

tel: 7-2 832 817

Our Mission: We are a reference space that contributes to the construction of a new genera ration of culture based on an ethics of supportive social contact, justice, and democracy.
Our Vision: Social work of the Vicar of Social Pastoral of Cuenca that offers shelter, accompaniment and integral attention to the women and children in situations of family violence.
The service the refuge "Maria Amor" offers is dedicated to the integral attention of:
-A shelter for women and children in a space without violence or tension that permit them to develop an evolving process of strategies for a new life free of violence.
-Social and Psychological aid.
-Legal advice and Health aid through inter-institutional articulation.
-Workshops on self-esteem, creativity, human rights and civic rights.
-Hotline for emergencies and support groups.