By Susan Burke March
There’s a saying attributed to more than one male philosopher that says, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”
Education is no doubt, important. It is a key component of lifelong success. It’s important to develop skills so that if that handout doesn’t reappear, you don’t starve.
And I agree that the saying is supposed to apply to both women and men.
But education is not always sufficient to change lives. As a wellness professional, I know that just telling someone how to change their life isn’t effective. But investing in someone’s psyche, building self-confidence through supportive counseling, and education is.
Casa Maria Amor is a foundation established in 2004 to provide shelter and a healing place for women and their children suffering from domestic violence. This is a uniquely supportive environment to effect change. I sat down with the Foundation Director, Marlene Villavicencio Sarmiento to learn more.
Casa Maria Amor defines the difference between providing a temporary solution (secure shelter, food, clothing) and providing women the tools to improve themselves, learning the principles for solving problems. There is always the need for the temporary solutions, but Casa Maria Amor Foundation operates under a different paradigm. They are creating a path for women to follow to a more empowered, healthful, and successful future.
Violence against women in Ecuador is a widespread problem — studies report that 70% of women experience some form of physical, psychological or sexual abuse in their lifetime.
All forms of IPV (intimate partner violence) are devastating to a woman’s health, including increased risk for depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and of course, lasting permanent pain and physical disability. Women who are victims of IPV are at higher risk for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies show that 40% to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Casa Maria Amor was founded with the leadership and support of the Caritas Feldkirch-Austria, with additional support from the Municipality of Cuenca. This first of its kind women’s domestic violence shelter, then located in El Centro Cuenca at Baltazara de Calderon y Miguel Velez, dedicates their efforts to providing a healing environment for women and their children leaving a dangerous situation.
Casa Maria Amor — Growing Sustainable Food
In 2013, the shelter Casa Maria Amor moved from the city to a pastoral two hectares (almost five acres) of land by a river. Financed through the fundraising efforts of the Austrian Caritas, it functions under pro bono publico agreement — destined to remain a shelter for women of Cuenca. Constructed with eco-friendly materials including adobe and local reeds, Casa Maria houses a number of buildings.
The Casa accommodates 13 families, women and their children, with a huge kitchen for communal meals, a private bathroom and shower for each family, and plenty of space for large gatherings and private meetings with psychologists. The site also houses a separate childcare building with a full-time teacher, plus a gym and a library. On the drawing board are plans to clear and drain a field for soccer and volleyball.
Casa Maria Amor is privileged to enjoy the volunteer services of Ernesto, a former professor, and expert in permaculture. Ernesto is a naturalist who designed and oversees the dry toilet system and oversees the compost activities. Each Friday he holds classes to teach the new residents the toilet system and also teaches horticulture.
Recently a group of volunteers suggested that the property would be an ideal spot for a greenhouse to grow sustainable produce, without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Director Marlene and Ernesto agreed that this is an inspired idea and an innovative opportunity to help women invest in growing their own food, to learn about nutrition and health, and to garner invaluable work experience.
In most of these women’s culture, green leafy vegetables are not seen as essential, and in fact, they sell green vegetables and mainly consume starchy staples such as yuca, potatoes, and corn, deemed necessary for necessary calories.
And just saying, “Eat this” isn’t helpful!
This project will give the residents of the shelter experience and understanding of the nutritional value of green foods and will be a hands-on initiative, centered on learning how to grow and prepare tasty dishes incorporating their produce.
First step? Build a greenhouse. After that, an orchard with fruit trees sheltering herbs and other shade plants; then an animal compound, to raise naturally fed chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cuy.
The women will work with an Ecuadorian nutritionist to learn to prepare recipes while incorporating their own freshly grown foods. The goal is to develop a taste for fresh produce, to gain the confidence that comes with new knowledge, and to forge a path toward health and increased diet variety. The goal is for the women to then set the example for their children.
Mujeres con Exito in Cuenca
Today the location of the original shelter in Cuenca has evolved into Mujeres con Exito, in English, Successful Women. Women who have been sheltered at Casa Maria Amor in the country graduate to Mujeres in the city where they advance, learn, and practice life skills — skills that can change their lives.
Diana Vázquez Bravo is the Coordinator of Asociacion Mujeres con Exito overseeing the work and volunteer operations. Mujeres contains a working Laundromat, a café that serves daily almuerzo, and a large catering kitchen, all staffed by the women residents. The women are given the opportunity to work in all areas and develop culinary and restaurant skills, and they earn wages as well as invaluable experience. Graduates may live in one of the five apartments upstairs, and continue to advance their knowledge.
In addition, a number of expat volunteers teach additional life skills, including sewing and first aid. For some photos of the women in the kitchen at Mujeres con Exito, click here.
Mujeres’ kitchen and catering facilities provide the opportunity for new skills and especially new confidence. The catering operation is growing in popularity —the building has recently been refurbished by volunteers. Mujeres is also the site for social events, meetings, gatherings, and fundraisers this year, and can accommodate a small group of guests, or up to 120. It’s a wonderful setting for your next party.
Save The Date! At Mujeres con Exito!
Mujers con Exito is hosting the Art and Authors Exhibition, a fundraiser Thursday, October 26, from 5 to 7 p.m. This exciting event will raise money for the new greenhouse, a daunting task, but it is doable with the help of you! And a fun time will be enjoyed by all.
Mujeres con Exito is a wonderful place for a party, with a large, skylit room, plus a separate room where the art will be exhibited. There will be delicious, complimentary canapés prepared by the Mujeres to enjoy, and wine and soft drinks to purchase.
Each artist, author, or professional will be donating one of their own original pieces of art or book or a gift certificate for services for a raffle, and authors will read from their books during the event. Raffle tickets are 3 for $5 (you need not be present to win), and a donation of $5 will be collected at the door. Please give freely! The goal is to raise $4,000 and make the greenhouse a reality.
So be there! I’ll be joining the Artists and Authors and donating for the raffle an hour-long nutritional consult for wellness and healthy weight management, plus a copy of my book, which I’ll read from too.
Are you interested in donating a piece of art, or a book that you’ve written, or a service that you supply? Join In! Contact Fundraising Director Susan McBride, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 26th from 5 to 7 p.m. at Mujeres con Exito, Baltazara de Calderon 2-26 y Miguel Velez (two blocks west of Parque San Sebastian).
Donation at door is $5, complimentary canapés with wine for sale.
Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. The Economic Burden of Intimate Partner Violence in Ecuador: Setting the Agenda for Future Research and Violence Prevention Policies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735382/