IJM Guatemala: Helping Children Heal, One Mother At A Time

GUATEMALA CITY – Delmi Ramírez addresses the women sitting at the table around her: "Every woman here is a brave woman." The 20 women gathered around the table – many still in their work clothes – watch her carefully. Some look down, not used to hearing this kind of encouragement. Delmi, IJM Guatemala's Director of Aftercare, leads this meeting once a month for mothers of children who have been sexually abused.

From cooking classes to presentations on Guatemala's child protection laws, the monthly agenda is dedicated to helping parents gain the knowledge and skills they need to fight the diverse challenges of poverty and the pain that sexual abuse brings to an entire family. In Guatemalan society, family is the most important unit of society. Many of the children IJM serves come from homes headed by single mothers, and these women are essential pillars within their families.

Empowering Mothers

"Some women don't believe that things will get better, and they have no expectations for their lives," Delmi explains. "Then one woman will speak up, and you can see one woman, then another, beginning to say, 'I want that, too!'"

"We know that an empowered mother is so important in the restoration of the child," says Delmi, who leads her team of social workers and a child psychologist to care for children who have been sexually assaulted. Involving parents is critical to making sure children have the safe and loving environment they need to heal. In the communities where IJM works, it is often the mother who is the one managing a household, many times alone.

IJM Guatemala started the mothers' group to give women a chance to learn from one another. "Some women don't believe that things will get better, and they have no expectations for their lives," Delmi explains. "Then one woman will speak up, and you can see one woman, then another, beginning to say, 'I want that, too!'"

One Mother's Story of Perseverance

Despite the heavy winter rains, about 20 women gathered with Delmi for this mother's support group in the fall of 2012. Madelin,* bravely shared her own story of perseverance with the women sitting around the table, entreating the mothers to press on with the legal process to get justice for their children – even though it can be a stressful and long process.

"We know our children," she said, "And we know when something is wrong." She told the mothers' group how she knew something was wrong when her 15-year-old son, Diego,* was raped three years earlier by the owner of an Internet café. Madelin spoke about the anger she felt – to the point where she wanted to kill the man who had violated her son.

"But there is a court of justice here on earth, and there is one in heaven," Madelin said. She explained how she wanted to help bring about justice for her son, here on earth. Madelin shared how IJM advocated for Diego's case, and in 2011 a judge sentenced the man who assaulted him to 10 years in prison. Diego is now 18 years old, and dedicated to continuing his education.

Delmi is obviously proud of Madelin and the women that she serves. "In Guatemala, women often don't have a place where they can flourish. But in these groups, we see how they begin to value themselves, learning how to improve their lives and be better mothers."

 

*A pseudonym.