This morning Lucia and I met up at Radio Universidad, USAC’s radio station, so she could be interviewed for the program “Voces de Mujeres” and as she is discussing “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” she mentions that I am there working for the campaign and the woman interviewing her asks me what brought me here. Suddenly I was talking on the air about what I am doing here in Guatemala! It was scary because I am not confident with my Spanish and being spontaneous is a bit difficult for me, but I ended up just describing how when I met Lucia it was my first time hearing about femicide/feminicide (read on for in-depth explanation of these terms) and that I wanted to help. Then Lucia talked about my visit to Rabinal with Simón and I answered a few questions about how that went. What a relief when we were finally off the air! But what a rush también!
After the interview, Lucia and I got picked up by a woman who works for the first lady of Guatemala so we could see a halfway house in Antigua that she thought Lucia might be interested in being involved with. The house was called “Mi Hogar” which means “My Home” and housed at the time of our visit 123 girls, a handful of which were pregnant or had babies.
We were given a tour by the director of Mi Hogar and got to see the campus, visit a few classes, and see the room where the new mothers stayed with their babies. The place seemed really nice and the girls clearly adored the director. It felt welcoming which is very important considering every girl is there for a different reason, all of which were traumatizing I am sure.
The saddest part was when we visited a classroom of girls who had only been there about a week or less, like a transitional class, and they were still getting used to living in a new place.
There was no way of knowing why each girl ended up in the halfway house, but it was obvious that it was hard for them. After the tour Lucia told the director that she wanted to meet again so they could talk about “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” and we were off once again.
I realize I haven’t spoken about Sobrevivientes yet, but there are other blogs on MIA’s site that do. “Sobrevivientes” is the Spanish word for “Survivors” and it is a fantastic feminist organization that supports survivors of all types of violence using a variety of techniques. The group was started by Norma Cruz and her daughter Claudia in 1999 and has been an enormous source of inspiration and collaboration for MIA. Sobrevivientes provides counseling, legal counsel, massage, therapy, and other forms of support for survivors of violence. It also has a shelter and a crisis hotline.
Every time a MIA delegation visits the headquarters, the women are running around working hard on their most recent case or issue. The first time I went (July 2008) they were busy working on a case of a young girl who was kidnapped and used as a drug mule before being murdered by two women. They won this case and the two women are in jail. The second time I visited (November 2008) was a dangerous time for them because Claudia’s husband had recently been kidnapped and threatened and had to flee to Canada for awhile. There was a lot of pressure on the foundation at that time to shut down because the man who had abused Claudia when she was younger was running for election for some political position and didn’t want his past to emerge. But Claudia refused to flee the country and she and Norma kept working courageously.
Today Lucia and I stopped by the foundation because it was Norma’s birthday. Norma is under the most pressure to seek asylum right now. Even though she was recently awarded the “Woman of Courage” award this March 2009 by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, Sobrevivientes’ most recent campaign regarding “Guatemala’s child-snatching plague” has been bringing a lot of attention to the group and one of the foundation’s clients was killed. The problem of “stealing babies” in Guatemala and selling them for adoption to other countries has been around since at least the 36 year civil war which ended in 1996 according to this recent article on CNN.com. According to Aljezeera.net, “[b]etween 2002 and 2007…22,000 [Guatemalan] children were adopted by foreigners, more than 90 per cent of them…from the US. Since “child-snatching” is a lucrative practice, there has been a dangerous backlash on Sobreviventes and the Cruz family has taken to having security as well as bullet-proof vests at all times. It was surreal talking and laughing with Claudia and her husband and then watching them walk out with vests in front of their chests. Sobrevivientes has had multiple death threats through the years and hasn’t stopped working.
While at Sobrevivientes, Lucia and I had a chance to meet about our schedule for the rest of the week since she is leaving this weekend and while we were in Norma’s office I saw this photograph of a blonde Barbie dressed in Guatemalan indigenous attire. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed as I stared at her blue eyes peeking out from under her traditional dress. I took a picture and Lucia told me to look up Foto 30, the emblem that was in the bottom left hand corner. What I found was that since 2003 there have been photo exhibits every day for 30 days each September here in Guatemala, each year with a different theme.
Since September is next week, I looked up the calendar so I could make it to at least one exhibition. This year’s theme is “Paisaje” which means landscape. After Sobrevivientes, Lucia and I split up for the night. Tomorrow she is going to an event at USAC and Simon and I are going to facilitate for the night school alone for the first time. I am a bit scared, but excited too.