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 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, 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.

New volunteer driven classes

Pa’nibal offers a variety of rotating classes and workshops, mostly conducted by sister organizations or volunteers from the surrounding community. When new residents arrive at Pa’nibal, it can take some time for them to become integrated into a daily schedule. In time, many residents work and attend vocational school outside of the home, as well as pursue personal development goals whether through therapy, pursuing legal justice for their situation, or through other means. New residents, however, often have a lot of time on their hands.

English class

Nicholas, a volunteer, teaches an English class to Pa’nibal residents.

In-house classes and activities help to break up that time, and offer valuable skills and recreation time in the process. Classes like English or reading can considerably contribute to residents’ job skills, while Art or even Breakdancing (our newest addition and featured photo above) help everyone to relax and have fun while learning something new.

Pa’nibal is always interested in hosting volunteers with knowledge to share. Are you an art, dance, yoga or English teacher? Do you have a different skill that you’d like to share with the women at Pa’nibal? If you’re interesting in volunteering, we’d love to talk. Get in touch to learn more.

Pa’nibal welcomes a new Director of Operations

Pa’nibal is excited to have Alejandra Hernández (left in the photo above) as our new Director of Operations. Alejandra is joining our team after sixteen years of social work, activism and women’s advocacy. She’s the founder of two NGOs that advocate women’s rights, Centro Comunitario EducArte and Mujeres Artesanas de Paz, is formally educated in social work, psychology and philosophy, and brings with her a substantial network of community contacts and resources.

Alejandra briefs team

Alejandra briefs the team on policies and approaches.

As Director of Operations, Alejandra will be responsible for organizing programs, classes and workshops at Pa’nibal as well making final decisions on home regulations, residency policies and allocation of general use funds. She will also organize home activities, group therapy meal schedules and more.