Juanita’s new beginning

Juanita came to Casa Pa’nibal earlier this year. Her husband attacked her in their home outside of a nearby industrialized city well known for its slums and high crime. After beating her he told her he was going to kill her.

In his mid-thirties, Juanita’s husband had been accused of a variety of crimes from sexual abuse through assault and murder. Soon after Juanita escaped their home earlier this year he was implicated in several more murders — including those of police officers — during an apprehension attempt staged by local law enforcement.

Juanita came to Casa Pa’nibal through OSAR (Sexual and Reproductive Health Observatory). She contacted local law enforcement after her husband threatened to kill her and was moved to a temporary government holding facility by the authorities. The facility reported the incident to OSAR who recommended that she be delivered to a community home in a nearby region — Casa Pa’nibal.

Juanita arrived at our doors five months pregnant with her two preschool aged children in tow. She had no money, no belongings, and nowhere to go. Like so many Guatemalan women she had been thrust into overwhelmingly difficult circumstances, and all before reaching her mid-twenties. Juanita and her children were provided a hot meal, clothes and toiletries, then shown to their own private room complete with bathroom and a separate bed for her kids.

Within days Juanita and her children were participating in in-home exercise, activities, and classes, as well as group excursions with the other families at Casa Pa’nibal. Juanita particularly enjoys cooking and has taken to preparing meals and snacks for the rest of Casa Pa’nibal residents.

After just three months at Casa Pa’nibal both of Juanita’s children are regularly attending local preschool programs. Juanita herself completed a set of eight in-home Cultora de Belleza workshops (manicure / pedicure / beauty school), and has begun providing affordable manicures to the local community. The workshop’s instructor and longtime salon owner says Juanita has a lot of potential in salon & beauty work. It’s the first time she’s been paid for skilled labor in her life.

Manuel, another resident's son, waters the garden where Juanita sells manicures.

Manuel, another resident’s son, waters the garden where Juanita provides affordable manicures.

After having her baby, Juanita hopes to continue her professional development and eventually find a home for herself and her children. In the meantime she’s taking her new life one day at a time.

Thank you for making new beginnings possible. Without our donor partners women like Juanita would have nowhere to go after a brief stay at a government holding facility. Because of your participation Juanita and her children have a life to look forward to.

Want to do more? Consider helping Juanita stock up on nail-polish, a drying lamp and other work materials. With just $100 Juanita can have everything she needs to continue selling manicures out of Casa Pa’nibal for months to come.

In home beauty school underway

Earlier this month three Pa’nibal residents began a beauty and stylist workshop made up of several modules including hair styling, skin care, manicure, pedicure and massage. The workshop is lead by Miriam Leticia Chávez Orozco, the founder of a salon in the department of San Marcos and a professionally trained stylist with more than 15 years of experience.

The class is conducted at Pa’nibal once a week for several hours during the afternoon. Each module takes about four to five weeks to complete and costs the home roughly $300 plus materials — a price Miriam offers as a service to the community.

A Pa'nibal resident and beauty school student gives pedicures to community members to accumulate experience hours.

A Pa’nibal resident and beauty school student gives pedicures to community members to accumulate experience hours.

The beauty and stylist workshop (Cultora de Belleza y Estilista) is one of many initiatives Pa’nibal is undertaking this year to redouble our focus on vocational training and economic empowerment. Others include CONALFA classes (public school equivalency for adults) and a Bisutería y Joyería Taller (bead and textile handcrafted jewelry workshop) that began just last week.

In addition to teaching a marketable skill, the workshops have helped to connect Pa’nibal with the surrounding community. Just a week ago Pa’nibal invited local community members into the home to receive free pedicures from workshop students. Everyone who visited left unsolicited tips with Pa’nibal student technicians — a happy surprise and a real confidence booster.

Thanks to our donor partners for making programs like these possible.

Your support makes what we do possible. 100% of your contribution goes to programs and supplies for Casa Pa’nibal.

Pa’nibal needs child care volunteers

Pa’nibal needs child care volunteers! If you like working with kids and want to contribute to the local Antigua & San Pedro las Huertas community, this could be a great opportunity to lend a hand and get involved in a way that really matters. The women and girls living at Pa’nibal will greatly benefit from your providing this invaluable service.

Get in touch using our contact form, or email me at eric@watersestebanfoundation.org or Meredith at meredith.g.higgins@gmail.com if you’re interested. Right now, we’re looking for someone to volunteer Monday and Thursday evenings. More details below.

Why child care?

Pa’nibal works to engage at-risk women and girls with real, ongoing opportunities for personal and professional development. We work to break the cycle of violence, poverty and resignation that keeps so many women and girls in Guatemala from living a fulfilling life free of domestic violence, sexism and marginalization.

Women living at Pa’nibal need time to attend workshops, vocational classes, pursue professional opportunities and engage in self-development. Providing reliable, safe and nurturing child care creates the space for our residents to pursue these vital experiences.

What are the immediate needs?

Pa’nibal is looking to improve our existing taekwondo based exercise and self-defense classes. We would like each of our residents to be able to attend without worrying about their children, and we would like to offer these classes, free of charge, to the local community. These sorts of community outreach programs build confidence in our services and extend our impact.

Community attendance to our classes means increased familiarity with our services. Women who know about Pa’nibal and what we do will grow to understand that they have concrete, practical options when confronted with domestic violence, sexual abuse and marginalization.

At present, we are looking for a child care volunteer that can provide two hours of care on Monday and Thursday evenings. Please get in touch to inquire about this opportunity.

What else can I do?

Do you have toys, children’s books, coloring books, markers, pencils or similar materials that you’d be willing to donate? Please let us know. Even if you don’t have time to volunteer, you can still help us set up this vital service.

Finally, Pa’nibal is always interested in working with volunteers. We’re working to create concrete opportunities and support systems that transform the lives and futures of Guatemalan women. And we need your help.

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

My move to Guatemala

After two years of managing Pa’nibal administrative processes and organization efforts from Denver, Colorado, I’ve made the move to living full-time in Guatemala. It wasn’t a particularly easy decision.

Exactly 100% of our regular month-to-month budget is provided by donor partners — individuals or families who have committed to significant, monthly recurring gifts. It’s humbling and inspiring to me that just twenty-one donors can keep an important project like Pa’nibal moving forward, and of course it’s a little disconcerting to be physically moving away from our donor base. Almost all of our donors live and work in the USA, and perhaps more to the point, most of them are concentrated in Denver, Colorado.

Pa’nibal operates on very thin margins. Most months we collect within just $100 of our planned monthly budget, generally just under or above $6000 USD. Each and every donor is so important to us and our mission. So why move to Guatemala away from our donor base? There are a few reasons:

Juan working on Google Sheets

Juan reconciles Pa’nibal petty cash accounts for the month using Google Sheets — a simple digital tool that saves us countless hours.

Renewed focus on team management, process & protocol. Pa’nibal is the only shelter & transitional home for adult women in Sacatepéquez. To grow our impact, we need to be a thoroughly organized, results driven, and reproducible model for other NGOs to work from. I’m excited to bring more than a decade of organizational experience to bear on this ambition, from digital record keeping and administration to efficiency oriented, flexible management styles like Agile.

Sul & Eric having lunch

Myself and Sul of Verse Stories talk through some potential approaches to producing a short Pa’nibal video.

Better communication. Telling the story can be so hard. Challenges faced here in Guatemala are so qualitatively different from those in the West it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. I plan to reinvigorate our communication strategy from pushing better photography, to more written stories, to video production — that last (video) inspired by Sul of Verse Stories, who visited us in San Pedro las Huertas from Scotland just last week to produce a short video. More on that later.

Eric on the bus

The twenty minute bus ride from Antigua, where I’ll be living, to San Pedro las Huertas costs about $0.27

Cost of living. Living in Guatemala is far cheaper than living in the USA. I’ll be retaining my full-time position with Aten Design Group, a digital solutions agency I’ve been working with off and on for much of my adult life. Cost of living savings will make it far easier for me to contribute to special funds aside from regular financial support: gardens and fruit trees in the home, a new security system, and saving towards a dedicated Pa’nibal vehicle to name a few.

I believe that living here in Guatemala puts my resources — and yours as donors — to better use. And I can’t wait for all the exciting things coming in 2018.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support. It’s the cornerstone of what we do at Pa’nibal.

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

Clara & Marco: A strong start

In the last days of June earlier this year, Clara’s husband told her and their seven children to get out. They had just had a particularly violent altercation, something that had become a regular feature of their lives.

Their family had been living in a shoddily constructed wood and plastic shelter just outside of Guatemala City. Clara, her husband, and all but their youngest child spent their days salvaging recyclable materials for resale from the city dump. All of them were in poor health. Marco, their youngest infant boy, was dangerously malnourished.

Standing outside of their makeshift shack, Clara resolved to leave for the last time. She had no money, no job, and no personal belongings.

With her seven children in tow, Clara turned to a local mission for food and refuge. The staff concluded that the children desperately needed shelter, but as their program is not suited for long term adult care they contacted a civil court for assistance with Clara. The acting municipal official decided that Clara was unable to care for her children financially or otherwise until further notice. He suggested that the mission take on her six eldest and that Clara be referred to a long term facility, Pa’nibal, accompanied by her youngest son.

Pa'nibal: Clara at home

Just weeks after her arrival, Clara settles into the Casa Pa’nibal lifestyle.

Clara arrived at Pa’nibal with Marco, her six month old son, at about 2:30 pm on June 29th. She was given a meal, clean clothes for herself and her son and a small collection of personal hygiene items. She was shown to a furnished second story room with its own private bathroom and a south facing view of uncultivated corn fields rising up towards the base of Volcán Agua, a dormant volcano that looms just four miles south of Pa’nibal and rises up 11,500 feet. This is Clara’s home until she’s ready to make one for herself.

Cristina, the monitoria (resident supervisor, or literally, monitor) who was on shift at Pa’nibal, noted that both Clara and her son were very pale, emaciated, underweight, and with ‘no apparent care for [their] physical appearance’ upon arrival. She went on to write in her report that Clara was incredibly tired, often lapsed into silence mid-sentence, was deeply depressed in her demeanor, and only partially responsive. During their brief interview Clara told Cristina that she had given birth nine times and had seven surviving children. She is thirty-two years old.

In the days and weeks that followed, Clara was given a handful of simple household responsibilities. She began seeing a psychiatrist, participating in group therapy, and attending one-on-one classes with a counselor who focuses on stress management and relaxation techniques. Within a month she was enrolled in a parenting class where she learned about hygiene, nutrition, and basic healthcare. Pa’nibal arranged for her to have regular sessions with an area pediatrician — check-ups for Marco and continuing childcare advice for Clara. In August she began attending the several literacy and language competence classes that are given several times weekly at Pa’nibal. Soon after she took part in a several week sewing workshop provided by the home.

In early September, Alejandra Hernández, Director of Operations at Pa’nibal, wrote in her monthly report that Clara and Marco were both much improved in their appearance and general health. The improvement in their health is remarkable, she wrote, Clara is visiting her doctor once a month and has received much advice about her health and hygiene; she has shown great physical change and exhibits much confidence in herself. She is responsible and participative with other residents. Clara is a strong woman, a good mother, a person with great resilience. She has shown quick adaptation and great improvement in her mood and health. She is active and supportive in the home.

Clara holding her son Marco at Pa'nibal

Marco has gained considerable weight in the months he’s been at Pa’nibal. He now sees a doctor for regular check-ups.

About six weeks ago, just after finishing the Pa’nibal workshop on making and modifying clothes, Clara began selling her work in a nearby market. She also began preparing perfumes, again the result of a Pa’nibal workshop, and selling them to other women at a local evangelical church. These homemade goods have become a modest but growing source of income, and one that she takes great pride in. She is also regularly attending a school for single mothers through a sister organization, Educarte, organized to provide cheap and free education to at-risk women.

Clara is working hard to be with her [other] children again, writes Alejandra in her latest report. Demonstrating physical and mental well-being, the capacity to manage a homelife that’s safe for her children, and financial stability are the next steps for Clara. With the help of Pa’nibal staff she will soon begin a dialogue with the officials that can grant her custody of her children and legal protection from her husband.

Last weekend, Clara visited her oldest daughter at the mission where her children are staying. There she celebrated her eldest’s quinceañera, a fifteenth birthday celebration much like a traditional US sweet sixteen party. Clara brought gifts paid for with her own money. Late in the summer, Clara was awarded one monthly visit to her kids by the judge overseeing her case. In January she has a second hearing where, with the help of Pa’nibal staff, she’ll present a case for increasing her visits to three times monthly.

It’s a long road ahead, but both Clara and Pa’nibal staff are hopeful. Clara is the sort of woman, Alejandra recently wrote me in an email, who I believe, with continuing support and resources, can eventually build an independent, healthy and responsible life for her and her children.

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

Pa’nibal to organize as a Guatemalan NGO

Earlier this summer I met with Irene and Louis, the Vice President and President of INCEDES (Central American Institute of Social Studies and Development) at their offices in Guatemala City. With their help and yours, Pa’nibal will be an NGO by the summer of 2018. Pictured above is Irene, Juan, myself and Louis.

Longevity for Pa’nibal. Stability for our staff and residents. Your donation ensures the community and services we’re building are built to last.

We need just $1,500 more to make it happen.

INCEDES is a Civil Association of lawyers and judiciaries that has been advocating private humanitarian projects via legal support and government liaison for more than a decade. The meeting had been a long time coming — I’d been talking with Juan Calderón and Alejandra Hernández, General Director and Director of Operations at Pa’nibal, for some time about organizing Pa’nibal into an official Guatemalan non government organization (NGO).

Organizing as a Guatemalan NGO isn’t trivial. The Guatemalan government has a deplorable track record of human rights abuses and deep multilateral corruption interconnecting several political parties and crossing executive, military and judicial boundaries — a less than ideal climate for organizing a small, foreign funded humanitarian project. In fact, Jimmy Morales, the president of Guatemala, announced earlier today that he plans to expel the chief of a U.N. anti-corruption council installed to investigate, among other things, the source of Morales’ campaign funds as well as the multi-million dollar customs fraud that placed Guatemala’s previous president Otto Molina and his Vice President in prison. INCEDES will provide the guidance and protection that we need when interfacing with the government and legitimizing as a publicly and legally recognized organization.

Why organize as an NGO?

The bottom line is simple: To better serve our residents. Waters Esteban Foundation is a Colorado non-profit corporation, but the staff at Pa’nibal are an ad-hoc association of contract workers (think 1099 vs W2), and Pa’nibal itself is simply a name with no legal standing or official recognition.

Under the guidance of INCEDES Pa’nibal will be formally organizing as a Guatemalan NGO — a process we hope to have finalized by the summer of 2018. Official recognition, the assembly of a board and the formalization of our financial processes under Guatemalan legal requirements will put Pa’nibal in protected standing with governmental institutions and deliver long term stability to our home, our staff and our residents. Additionally, organizing as an NGO and collaborating with INCEDES and their highly credible network of partners will mean access to top quality legal, health, psychiatric and general advocacy services. We’re very excited about taking this important step.

Working with minors & child mothers

Organizing as an NGO is a prerequisite step to further licensing and accreditations that are critically important to the work we do. At present Pa’nibal is not formally permitted to serve minors without a guardian or women with recognized psychological disabilities — a severe setback considering so many of our target residents fall into those categories. While our strong relationship with local officials has produced some flexibility around these limitations, accreditation and licensing is the permanent solution.

Guatemalan government officials called Pa’nibal more than a dozen times after the International Women’s Day orphanage tragedy earlier this year looking for resources to house some of the hundreds of displaced orphans. We were forced to turn down the requests phone call after phone call as we’re officially unable to take on adolescent residents due to our lack of licensing. Two young girls from the Guatemala City orphanage did eventually come to Pa’nibal after other options were completely exhausted, but we would have been able to help many more with the appropriate licensing.

Manuel has been at Pa’nibal with his mother Sofia for almost a year. In that time Sofia has made significant progress in group and individual therapy, has completed a parenting and children’s health class, has begun working towards a primary school equivalency, and has secured stable part-time work. Were Sofia just a year younger when she first came to us, we wouldn’t have had the legal right to protect her and her son.

Improved structure, oversight and opportunity for collaboration

Guatemalan NGOs are required to have a sizeable board of directors, some fourteen members in all. Assembling a board that size will be a significant task, but one that will result in increased long term stability and a more diverse collection of human resources at the helm of Pa’nibal.

With the help of Irene and Louis, we have begun plans for the assembly of an international board with several of the fourteen chairs to be filled by U.S. donors & partners. This international structure will help us take advantage of a wider range of human resources as well as help to establish a deeper sense of international community and involvement among our donors.

Please help us take this important step

Organizing as a Guatemalan NGO will take both time and money. Irene and Louis of INCEDES have provided a detailed plan that places the end of the process — a full board and legal NGO status — in the summer of 2018. They have also generously offered to provide their services at a steep 50% discount, a gesture that highlights the value they place on privately funded social service providers like Pa’nibal.

We need your help to raise the $3,000 necessary to take this important step. At the time of writing this post, we have already raised $1,100 due to two generous donors, leaving us with just $1,900 to go. Your donation of any amount will help us make sure that the community and services we’re building are built to last. Thank you so much for being a part of this.

Longevity for Pa’nibal. Stability for our staff and residents. Your donation ensures the community and services we’re building are built to last.

We need just $1,500 more to make it happen.

 

Pa’nibal welcomes our youngest resident ever

Earlier this month a new resident at Pa’nibal, Irene, gave birth to a little boy. She came to Pa’nibal after bearing months of physical and verbal abuse from her boyfriend as well as a family member. After a particularly violent episode at her home, Irene decided she had to leave.

Irene already had two little boys, and now in her mid-twenties she was facing an abusive relationship and a dangerous environment for her children, all while nine months pregnant, unemployed and without any substantial support network. With no money, a family uninterested in coming to her aid and no friends in a position to help — and just days away from bringing another child into the world — she had nowhere to go.

Not knowing where to turn, Irene fled to a small refuge near her hometown. The home was unable to take her in, but contacted Pa’nibal to see if we could help. Within hours transportation to Pa’nibal had been arranged for Irene and her two boys.

Just days after arriving at Pa’nibal Irene had her baby, a very healthy little boy. Pa’nibal staff are working with her to think through next steps, but in the meantime she and her children will be spending at least several weeks in our care.

Thank you to all of our donors for creating a safe space for those who need it most. As a financial partner it can sometimes be difficult to appreciate the impact that a monthly contribution has in the lives of others. For Irene, her two boys and her brand new baby, though, the support provided by our donors is as real as it gets.

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

Six months later: Sofia & Manuel

Sofia was living with an older boyfriend when she had her first child. She was fifteen years old, had never regularly attended school and had very little contact with her family. After her relationship turned abusive Sofia left to live on the street. As a minor she was unable to gain custody of her son. He stayed with his father.

When she was eighteen Sofia had a brief relationship and became pregnant for the second time. Worried that she might lose her second child like she had her first, she returned home to her estranged mother to carry her child to term. After several months, however, it became clear that she couldn’t cope with life at home. She struck out on her own again and soon gave birth to her second son, Manuel.

Manuel

Manuel was standing, walking and playing just weeks after arriving at Pa’nibal

Sofia worked odd jobs to support herself and Manuel, but was unable to afford a home or even regular meals. After several months of street life she attained some stability working as a maid for a family that offered her and Manuel a place to stay, but when they could no longer afford to keep her on she was forced back onto the streets. Sofia knew that she couldn’t care for her one year old son while homeless and jobless. She immediately started looking for a better situation.

When Sofia got in touch with Pa’nibal she had been living in the streets without work for several weeks. Manuel was suffering from malnutrition, and Sofia was terrified at the prospect of losing him. That was in October of last year.

Alejandra, the Director of Operations at Pa’nibal, helped Sofia and her son to settle into a room of their own at our home in Sacatepéquez. She worked with them over several weeks to outline a basic plan for both mother and son, including health check-ups, establishing a relationship with a therapist, and beginning to seek stable work and ongoing education.

Today Sofia goes about a regular, daily routine at Pa’nibal. She works during the day selling clothing at a nearby marketplace and attends a one hour primary school equivalency class four days each week. She is learning to read for the first time in her life. Manuel received medical attention and a several week treatment for malnutrition. He has recovered his health and is walking, playing and interacting with other children at the home.

Sofia studying at Pa'nibal

Sofia studying at Pa’nibal

Sofia attends group and private sessions with a therapist weekly. She has completed an introduction to parenting class offered by a sister organization and attends regular workshops at Pa’nibal including English classes, sewing, recreation (dance & exercise) and women’s health among others. She also has her own share of chores and responsibilities at Pa’nibal. She helps to prepare meals, cleans and otherwise assists in the management of the home.

Alejandra has helped Sofia establish contact with her family, and has negotiated weekend visits between Sofia and her oldest son, now five years old. Alejandra hopes that Sofia will stay at Pa’nibal for another eighteen months, long enough to finish her primary school equivalency, find stable work and save some money in preparation for living on her own.

“Sofia is happy,” Alejandra says, “she has a lot of support now but the road is still long and difficult.”

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

 

Beatrice’s new home

Beatrice’s parents died when she was eleven. She and her brothers, both seven years older than her, continued living in their small family home in a suburban municipality near Sacatepéquez known for difficulties with youth gangs. Beatrice stopped attending school almost immediately after her parents died for lack of money and family support.

Her older brothers, both alcoholics and physically abusive, took easily to ordering her around. Her life began to revolve around domestic chores—caring for their small home, cooking, cleaning—and avoiding her brothers as much as possible for fear of being beaten. Her brothers didn’t let her leave their house; she hardly saw the outside of her home as a young girl.

Beatrice left home soon after she turned eighteen. She had never had a job and hadn’t been to school in years. She began by staying with friends and acquaintances, but was soon living on the streets. After a couple of weeks she approached a local organization that works with disadvantaged children, Educando a los Niños, who referred her to Pa’nibal.

Beatrice makes New Year's decorations with another resident at Pa'nibal.

Beatrice makes New Year’s decorations with another resident at Pa’nibal.

In December of last year, Beatrice moved into a room at Pa’nibal. She began attending group and individual therapy sessions, attending in-house English, dance and art classes, and participating in various occasional workshops sponsored by Pa’nibal. She worked with Pa’nibal staff to outline a long term personal development plan, and within a few weeks had started a two year collegio (high school) equivalency program focused on bookkeeping. With the assistance of Pa’nibal staff, she was also able to find part-time work as a receptionist in a small hotel in town—the first paying work of her life. She works there most Saturdays and Sundays.

Beatrice spends weekdays attending school and helping with basic chores at Pa’nibal like meal preparation, cleaning up and helping out with other residents and their children. She plans to go on living at Pa’nibal until her two year education program is complete. In the meantime, she’s receiving on-the-job training in basic administration, has been able to start saving money and has even bought herself some clothes and other personal items—a first for her.

She has no desire to return to her family home or to re-establish contact with her brothers. She’d like to a be perito contador (expert accountant) and hopes to call Pa’nibal her home until she’s better equipped to start a life of her own.

Alejandra, the Director of Operations at Pa’nibal, hopes Beatrice will be a resident for a long time.

“She has everything she needs here for now,” she says, “some community, work, school. She’s learning to manage money. She has a lot of possibilities.”

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.

Pa’nibal: More than a shelter

It’s easy to think of Pa’nibal as a women’s shelter or a transitional home. In one sense that’s exactly what we are, but we also go beyond providing shelter to cultivating the community and practical resources that women can use to improve their day-to-day lives and their futures.

Brenda had been with her husband José for seven years. He is the father of both of her daughters, Magdi and Lorena, and had been living with Brenda in her family’s home since Brenda was a teenager. Over the last three years, José began abusing Brenda emotionally and physically. Right away Brenda began contemplating leaving José, but she faced direct opposition from her parents who she, José and their daughters still lived with. Brenda’s parents encouraged her to wait out José’s abusive behavior, and José himself wouldn’t consider separation or divorce. Brenda left José after violent altercations several times—both with and without her daughters—but none of her friends or acquaintances were certain that leaving was a viable solution, and practically speaking they weren’t in a position to support her for long. Brenda’s parents continually pressured her to return home, and she never stayed away for more than a few days.

Brenda in Class

Brenda (center) began attending in-house classes within a few days of her arrival at Pa’nibal.

At twenty-six, Brenda has completed just a few years of elementary school. Like many women in Guatemala, she has neither a basic education or any work experience outside of the home. Guatemala is very much affected by machismo (patriarchy) culture, wherein women are consigned to childrearing and housework with little opportunity for education, professional life or creative pursuits. Less than a quarter of Guatemalan girls complete the fifth grade, and nearly half of indigenous girls are married by the time they are eighteen. A 2015 survey in rural Guatemala revealed that 80% of men believe women need permission to leave their home, and 70% of women agree. In 2015 domestic violence against women was the single most reported crime in Guatemala—and yet the divorce rate in Guatemala is about 1/10th of that in the United States, and fines are levied against women (not men) who wish to remarry. For most Guatemalan women, divorce and child custody negotiation simply aren’t realistic options.

In November of last year, a particularly violent and emotionally charged episode between José and Brenda drove her to search for a more permanent solution. She had heard about Pa’nibal through the community, and called to ask what her options were. Alejandra, our Director of Operations, immediately arranged transportation for Brenda and her two daughters, and later that day the three of them arrived at Pa’nibal.

During their in-processing interview, Alejandra ascertained that Brenda had been trying to leave José for about three years. She also determined that one of the major causes of Brenda’s returns to her home and husband was a lack of support—both emotional and practical—from family and friends. Alejandra moved Brenda and her two daughters into a private room at Pa’nibal, introduced them to other residents and familiarized them with daily routines. Brenda, Magdi and Lorena had left home with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Alejandra provided them with ample clothing donated by a local sister organization, and the bedclothes and personal hygiene items that Pa’nibal makes available to each resident. With meals, accommodations, laundry, and all of the basic necessities taken care of, Brenda, Magdi and Lorena never had to think about how they would get by, how long they could manage to stay away, or whether or not they were unfairly imposing on friends or neighbors.

brenda_daughters_discuss

Brenda, Magda and Lorena (left couch) as well as other Pa’nibal residents, discuss the problems they’re facing—and potential next steps— with Alejandra & Carolina (foreground).

Within a couple of days Brenda had begun joining weekly group therapy sessions, as well as private sessions with a volunteer psychiatrist focused on recognizing and processing emotions, and, more specifically, anger management. She participated in group discussions wherein Pa’nibal staff discuss practical options and first steps towards solutions to the various complicated issues our residents face. Brenda also began attending a weekly dancing class offered by a local hip-hop artist and an English class taught by an American volunteer.

Meanwhile Alejandra began working through Brenda’s case from the other end. She visited Brenda’s parents every week and encouraged them to think through the effect of Brenda’s relationship with José on her own wellbeing, and on her ability to provide a healthy environment for her daughters. Alejandra also spoke with José about Brenda’s legal right to separation, and her right to pursue her own life and a positive upbringing for her girls. She made it clear that Brenda could—and would—pursue legal action with the assistance of Pa’nibal, a course of action even Brenda would never have thought possible.

About a week after Brenda first arrived at Pa’nibal, Alejandra presented her case to the municipal Justice of the Peace. She brokered a temporary custody agreement between Brenda and José allowing them both to spend time with Magdi and Lorena during Brenda’s residency at Pa’nibal. Transportation was arranged for the two girls to visit their father every weekend, then return to Brenda at Pa’nibal each Monday.

Brenda talking with other residents

Brenda (white shirt) talks with other residents. Pa’nibal residents face unique but often similar challenges in their lives.

After a few more weeks, several conversations with Brenda’s parents and several meetings with José, Brenda’s case was officially heard before the municipal court. With the court’s oversight Brenda and José settled on separation, shared custody for their girls and weekly alimony to help support Magdi and Lorena—a settlement Brenda hadn’t considered a possibility during three years of abuse. José left Brenda’s parents’ home at their request, and Brenda decided to move back into her family home along with Magdi and Lorena.

Just over a month after Brenda’s arrival at Pa’nibal, she was back at her parents’ home. This time wasn’t like the others, though. Brenda now had concrete—and legally mediated—measures in place to help her move beyond her abusive relationship and pursue a healthier, more stable life. Brenda still attends group and personal therapy sessions weekly at Pa’nibal as well as the occasional dance or English class. She also knows that when she’s ready, we’re prepared to help her enroll in vocational training and search for long-term work.

Brenda’s ability to take positive steps in her life is founded in the practical resources that Pa’nibal—through donors like you—offers every one of our residents. Disrupting the cycle of abuse and creating long term options starts with a bed, three meals daily and a secure home. But it doesn’t end there, it takes persistent advocacy, knowledge of the local legal systems and the support of experienced, passionate social workers to create lasting change.

Pa’nibal is the only long-term shelter and transitional home in Sacatepéquez, the Guatemalan department (state) out of which we operate. Without Pa’nibal many women like Brenda trapped in abusive relationships or worse simply don’t have options.

Your support makes what we do possible. A contribution of $100 monthly covers all the basic costs of one resident — meals, a bed, a safe place. Any amount makes a difference.