So when I wrote that I didn’t really have an issue with not having a dad, I must have been lying to my 8-year old self.
They decided to adopt. Then they decided to adopt from Guatemala. Then someone else decided they should actually go to Guatemala before they adopted a child from there: “You have to find ways to give back to a country that is going to be giving you the gift of a child.” It’s funny, isn’t it, how a simple nudge from someone else can completely change your life. Bill and Cherie did just that, and in 2004 they traveled to Guatemala, where they met Tita two nights before their flight back to the U.S. They had already spent eight days meeting people, places, and things. But they hadn’t met Tita yet, or La Limonada, or their future.
Tita turned out to be their inspiration: a woman who for five years had been singlehandedly working in one of the most dangerous and largest urban slums in Guatemala: providing care, comfort and food to the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. La Limonada is basically a settlement in a ravine, considered a Red Zone area because of how dangerous it is, and home to about 60,000-100,000 people. These people live in one of 10 different districts, each of which are ruled by rival gangs and invisible but life-threatening boundary lines.
What did Tita show Bill and Cherie on their last day in Guatemala? She showed them the shanties where families lived huddled together, she showed them families that dulled their hunger pain by sniffing glue, she told them about the sexual abuse that runs rampant in La Limonada, she told them about the gang violence and warfare that had her attending at least one funeral a week. But she also showed them the school she had started, she showed them the children she looked after, she told them about her plans for the future: how she wanted to be able to teach more kids, she wanted to reach out to gang members and show them a different way of life, she told them about wanting to start a vocational center for those gang members, she told them about wanting to send kids to school.
Seeing and hearing these stories changed their lives. As much heart and as many plans as Tita had at the time, she was overwhelmed by the amount of work and money that it took to do everything she was doing or wanted to do. Bill and Cherie saw the need and opportunity to step in and help, and they did. And you know what? They’ve pretty much made all of Tita’s plans a reality.
Bill and Cherie founded Lemonade International and started raising money for Tita and La Limonada, and Bill allowed me to ask him some questions about how all of this came about. Here’s what happened since they founded Lemonade International, as a volunteer side project:
- Bill quit his day job working in HR
- Escuelita Mandarin joined the already functioning Escuelita Limon; together they serve over 300 children, and employ more than 40 local Guatemalans (you can learn about sponsoring one of these children here)
- A Safe Home was created for children who had been abandoned, abused, and/or neglected. Safe Home currently cares for 16 children (you can find out more about Safe Home here)
- Scholarships were created to keep students in school that are beyond the teaching capacity of Escuelita Limon and Escuelita Mandarin (much like public education in Haiti, public education in Guatemala is not an option-kids need scholarships for private schools in order to obtain a decent education; you can find out more about providing scholarships here)
- A micro-finance project was started that is helping women from La Limonada learn how to start and run their own business (more info here)
- A vocational training program was started that teaches gang members skills they can apply in obtaining jobs around La Limonada, whether in construction, carpentry, or other areas (interesting tid bit about people from La Limonada who try to get jobs: if you put an address from La Limonada on a job application, you’re pretty much guaranteed to NOT get the job).
This is all just the beginning stages! Bill talked about their plans to buy a building that will house the vocational training program. The program is still in the initial stages, and often they don’t have the room or a safe location to consistently have their classes in. They are currently looking at a building that is located in between the two schools, they just have the difficult task of raising the funds to purchase it. Ideally, this building will house training classes for sewing, carpentry, masonry, electrician training, etc.
Of course, these accomplishments and goals for the future are no easy feat to come by: Lemonade International is working in a country with difficult and straining conditions, among a dangerous population, and with the mentality of wanting to establish something that is not dependent on U.S. donors, but self-sustaining.
Sustainability. I love that word. One of the goals for the vocational center is that it will create businesses, like bakeries and carpentry shops, that will help maintain some of the other programs. The are trying to get this sustainability started by looking for a local Community Development Director: someone who will oversee all the programs in Guatemala, and to focus on the sustainability and long term plans of current projects.
This brought us to something else Bill thinks is important for the future of Lemonade International: engaging local people in Guatemala to support the work of La Limonada, to inspire them to care about their own country. We had an interesting conversation about classism in Guatemala: there is still a great divide between people of different socio-economic levels, not to mention indigenous mayans vs. ladino’s. It would be great if instead of having people from the U.S. going to Guatemala to lead these programs, you have Guatemalan’s caring about each other across these socio-economic divides, and leading these programs.
Bill recognizes that something like this will take time, and is steering clear of setting himself up for an “unrealistic disappointment.” He knows sustainability is something that will take time, and until then, raising support in the U.S. to help kids go to school, which may not be sustainable, is better than doing nothing.
Through it all, what keeps Bill and those around him going is seeing the smiles on children’s faces, smiles that weren’t there years before, children that walk with their heads held a little higher than they used to. What else keeps Bill going? His vision for the future of La Limonada:
I want to stand on the bridge overlooking La Limonada, and see people walking around confident in themselves and knowing their self worth, see people who know they can achieve things, that they are part of a community where good things are happening, a community with art, and music. I want to see houses painted with bright Guatemalan colors, and flower boxes hanging under windows. I want to see the hustle and bustle of business: tortillas being delivered, schools in session, festivals and parades. All of this, with no concern for violence.
I apologize if my repeated posts about this woman are boring or uninteresting to some, but I truly believe that her story is worth writing about, or in my case, translating about. I think this case has brought Guatemala to a crossroad, and there are some exceptional women in that country who are trying to make sure they make the right turn, by not keeping silent. There are a couple blogs from the original writer who brought us this story that I have been wanting to translate, but they take more time in skill due to her exceptional writing, so they will come with time. But today, I came across the following opinion piece, and felt is was worth translating and sharing. The subject is something that I’ve wanted to blog about for over a year, and I just haven’t made the time to do so: why are women in our culture (by “our” I mean Hispanic) so frequently victims of domestic violence? And why do they remain in relationships marred by domestic violence? As a volunteer with several legal nonprofits, I have worked with women who were victims of domestic violence in order to help them apply for immigration relief (through VAWA and U-Visa petitions), and the degree and frequency of violence that so many of these women put up with has always scared me. Alas, I should save my “opinion” piece for my own blog entry…
The Robert Barreda Syndrome
(As published on September 22, 2011, in El Periodico)
In Guatemala, things have to change and the aggressors have to know that their only place is in jail.
Sylvia Gereda Valenzuela
Since 2001 I have worked and investigated the subject of femicide and aggression against women in Guatemala. I find it interesting that we have such an aggressive male population, that has caused more than 6 thousand women to die in the most cruel ways: tortured, severed in their private parts, raped, and mutilated.
In those days, Ciudad Juarez was a site of murders that moved the world. Ten years later, Guatemala left Mexico behind.
I got to know the case of Mindi Rodas, the woman who’s husband ripped off her face, nose and mouth with a knife and after a long battle for justice was murdered.
I got to know the case of Claudina Vasquez, a young woman who was going to be an attorney, that was first raped and then put on her knees to die with a bullet to the temple.
Towards the middle of this decade, while I was going through my masters in sociology, I completed a thesis about femicides in Guatemala, and then I had to course through the morgues, see puddles of blood that wet my shoes, the bodies of dozens of women that arrived cut in pieces and their faces bruised. That year, when I started my television project of Informe Especial (Special Report) on Canal Antigua, I decided to go back and check the pulse of this silent drama. I didn’t even have to take a step to realize that the problem had surpassed us.
In July I started to investigate the disappearance and murder of Cristina Siekavizza, where the principal suspect is her husband Roberto Barreda. A story already known by everyone, but where the aggregate of influence peddling, abuse of power by Barreda’s parents, Beatriz De Leon and Roberto Barreda, has been an important factor in keeping this case without any punishment and allowing the two minors to disappear along with their psychopath father, according to those who have declared to know the case: the judge Veronica Galicia and Norma Cruz.
I have found myself with more than three dozen messages and letters from women commenting that the story of Cristina has made them understand the dangerous drama in which they are submerged. Many, for the first time, seeing the criminal extremes that Barreda allegedly reached, are daring to break the cycle of violence and raise their voice.
“My sister that was married for 33 years with a psychopath, controlling and feticidal that followed her with a gun, hit her, etcetera. Today she has separated from him and she is getting fucked over. He left her in the street, even though he has millions in accounts in the United States and he uses his best friend as a figurehead. She gave him her whole life, since she was 19, she never finished her career nor did she ever work. He told her that he was never going to giver her anything, over his dead body.”
“He would get home late, drunk, aggressive, he would smack me around.”
“He left with some girl that was 20 years younger than him, got her pregnant. When I confronted him about it he grabbed me and hit me, he slapped me and insulted me.”
“I knew that he lived in bars and whore houses. On three opportunities he transmitted venereal diseases to me. He would threaten me that if I left him he would leave me in the street and ruin me forever, I have never worked.”
Norma Cruz, president of the Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation), told me on one occasion that Guatemalan woman has started to talk about what she called the “Barreda Syndome,” many of the attacked women are seeing in Roberto Barreda, a man that appeared to not be aggressive but that was a despot at home, their own husbands. En the case of Barreda, nobody saw the alleged murderer of his spouse coming. But when everyone reacted, Cristina had ceased to exist and her children had disappeared.
I have always believed that we all came into this world with a mission, that no life is in vain, just like no death is in vain. Cristina has moved more hearts and sentiments with her death than she did with her life, this is a sign that her spirit continues still today and it can be the point of inspiration so that many women who have been attacked start to talk and ask for help from prosecutors, support groups, or organizations in defense of women.
For my part, these stories of terror that have hit so many guatemalan women hurt me to my core, and they motivate me to commit myself with what I will soon start as a new life project, to save thousands of women, teenagers, and girls who are victims of violence. If I can be sure of something, it’s that today, more than ever, I will not lower my voice and I ask the women that they don’t either. In Guatemala, things have to change, and the aggressors have to know that their only place is in jail.
I translated a blog from a friend in Guatemala back in July, it was her battle cry for justice in a country that seems to spin further and further out of control. That specific blog was prompted by the disappearance of an old classmate’s sister: a wife and mother of two children. Since her disappearance, classmate’s have banded together, and have refused to let Cristina be forgotten as just another disappearance, or simply another statistic. Since her disappearance, events have continued to unfold, and evidence indicates that the night before her disappearance, her and her husband got into a serious argument, after which she ran out to the balcony of her home and screamed for help. No one did anything. Although her body has not been found, it seems the husband used the family car to dispose of her body, and disappeared with the children days later.
I saw this:
I had an idea.
Well, you know those big plans we had for the phone book? They were RUINED.
Today I learned where the family law filing windows are located at the
Central Justice Center.
I also learned that said windows are closed from 11 am to 1 pm.
Oh well. I'm off to see if I can catch the tail end of the Irvine
Farmer's Market. Fingers crossed.
Well, all in all I think we made some good progress. Took a load to storage yesterday before the BBQ, and I worked on the closet pretty much all day today (aside from going to say goodbye to Uli and Hank for a couple hours). I feel like there are still a TON of odds and ends around the apartment, but I think we’ll be ok.