History of the San Miguel Walk Parts II & III
By Nadine Goodman and Michele Connor
This is the second of three articles about the history of programs run by the San Miguel based, nonprofit CASA to prevent violence and help survivors of violence. This article is based on interviews with past and current staff and the upcoming third article will feature Trish Snyder, the current San Miguel Walk chair and her team of collaborators.
Dedicated to community-based actions, Dulce Ortiz is the current Coordinator of antiviolence program at CASA. A young local activist, Dulce received her bachelor’s degree in psychology in December 2006 and started at CASA in 2007 with Alejandra Saucedo, the former Coordinator of the Antiviolence Program. At that time, Alejandra had just started an accessible counseling program for the public that expanded services to those in need. The program consisted of renting an office at CASA to a team of three young psychologists, one of whom was Dulce. This dynamic team provided 1,000 out-patient counseling visits to individuals on a sliding scale basis in their first year of work together.
During 2007 and 2008 Alejandra wrote the first handbook on local laws related to violence in Guanajuato, started the anti-violence community-based programs in local churches, worked in schools with youth and started the 24-hour hot line. After Alejandra’s departure in 2008, CASA´s then director asked Dulce to take over as Coordinator of the program.
During Dulce´s tenure to date at CASA, she has done excellent work and been a strong proponent of including emergency shelter for people in need, especially underage women and women with children. Ironically, during the interview with Dulce for this article at the CASA Hospital, a young woman came into the hospital for an appointment.
This ex-patient gave a warm embrace to her friend, mentor and psychologist and radiantly explained that her ultrasound had gone well and her first, planned pregnancy was doing fine. Today this young person and her partner work for the San Miguel Police Department, a job she acquired after finishing her high school with a scholarship from CASA and after working with the nonprofit as a community peer counselor for two years, work she says has well prepared her for her current job.
Dulce explained how this young woman came to CASA in 2008 at the age of 16 after first living in a violent household and then spending the vast majority of her life in an orphanage in Celaya. The young woman had been referred by a government agency that thought of CASA because there was literally no other place for this 16-year-old to go; she was a teen who was not welcome in the orphanage anymore, especially since she was desperate and looking for her birth mother.
In this case, as in similar cases, there was a place at CASA for her and the first living situation offered was with the midwife students in dormitories at CASA; later Dulce opened her own home before this young woman was able to rent her own apartment.
After saying goodbye to her good friend, Dulce explained that this is a case that she views as very successful because the young woman set goals in her therapy, all of which she has accomplished. The goals were to become independent, finish school, find her birth mother and establish a family.
Dulce shared for the interview another more recent case she has attended to, another woman who suffered violence in her home and stayed at CASA´s temporary shelter for two days. During time, the woman decided to move ahead and legally denounce her partner for the violence.
“This woman told me what so many others have told me before—that when they finally make the decision to leave and tell their stories; that is when they realize how much they have suffered. They now have choices. I tell women that they have already suffered the worst and that while it is understandable that they are afraid of the unknown, it will be fine since the worst is over!
Alejandra’s method for learning more about gender discrimination also included furthering her education. After receiving her degree from the Autonomous University of Querétaro she took a course on this topic. She learned about CASA in 2004 because the then Director of CASA, Irma Salas, was also enrolled in this area of study.
Irma arrived at CASA as a young woman with no prior experience, lots of desire to work and good will towards all. She was in the process of completing her social work degree, which successfully accomplished this during her long and fruitful 22-year tenure at CASA.
Irma says that when we requested an interview with her about her experiences at CASA working in the field of violence. Her mind and heart went wild.
“Do you remember Juana?,” she asked. I did.
It was about 1990 and Juana was a peer counselor who came to CASA with two young children who were immediately placed in the CASA Day Care while she worked. Among other horrific details in Juana´s past was the fact that her husband used to pour lighter fluid on her and threaten her with lit matches. Juana understandably was very aggressive with her fellow peer counselors and Irma, in charge of this program, had her hands full.
“Years later I ran into a young man who came up to me and enthusiastically asked if I recognized him. I did not.”
Then, the young man said that he was Juana´s son and had been at CASA; he said that she was doing well in the United States, sending back considerable money to the family. The teen proudly announced that he had finished middle school. He was going to continue to study was living with his grandmother. He thanked Irma and CASA.
“The amount of violence I see every day in my work is overwhelming and if the child is under 12 years of age, the law only gives us a window of three months to work with this child.”
I learned a lot as I interviewed Irma, and I found myself flabbergasted. I asked Irma about her training to deal with such difficult situations, and she replied that every day she uses what she learned at CASA.
After the interview, an email was sent to Irma to thank her for her time. She responded by sharing yet one more case she remembered:
“In September 2012 a knocking on the door of our home at 1pm awaked my husband. A young man about 17 years old was there— completely naked and crying. He said there was another person in the car and we ran to help a young woman who was also naked. My husband wrapped a blanket around her and my son gave clothes to the young man.
We slowly learned from these neighborhood kids that they had been watching a movie together in the home of the young man; it got late and the father lent the teen his car to take the girl home. They were crossing the roundabout near the Mayor’s office when three men with guns stopped them, had the girl go in their truck and forced the young man to drive after them. Both young persons were repeatedly raped and were told never to tell anyone or they would be killed.
The young couple went to Irma because they knew her and the family and knew they could help.
Irma and her husband went to see teen´s parents who had a difficult time accepting the reality of this crime against their children and while the adults spoke, Irma’s son called the police because the youths were understandably in a panic that they had been followed and were going to be hurt.
At 4am the parents and children were at Irma’s house and finally, after painful
talk, they agreed to report the crime only if Irma and her family were there with them every step of the way. The young people received needed services from sexually transmitted disease testing to pregnancy testing and more, including psychological counseling.
At 7am Irma and her family returned to their home, painfully aware of the vulnerability of each of us, the reality of our fragility and need to support each other.
Both of these young people returned to thank the family and continue to maintain a friendship with them.
In a couple of weeks—in late January—a meeting will be held at CASA. Those in attendance will include the women mentioned here and other colleagues from other organizations such as Las Libras. They will meet with the goal to figure out how to pool resources and leverage our work to better meet our common goals that include a violence-free environment for all.
To end this series, we asked Michele Connor, past SMWalk Chair, and Board Member at CASA to interview Trish Snyder, current Chair of the San Miguel Walk. Michele learned that Trish first came to San Miguel de Allende in 2004, and later was introduced to CASA in 2007 after reading an article in the Atención in which Shelley Bull, a past organizer of San Miguel Walk, was looking for volunteers.
Before Trish knew it, she had volunteered to be Chair of the 2009 San Miguel Walk.
“Dick, my husband, and I have always had passion to help victims of domestic violence. We were on the boards of domestic violence and human rights programs in Wilmington, North Carolina. Dick was director of an anti-poverty agency and through this agency arranged to have a women´s shelter built in Pennsylvania, among other accomplishments.”
Trish has been the chair of SMWalk for numerous consecutive years and says, “I think the primary function of SMW is fundraising for money to support the CASA programs that address domestic violence. Second, is awareness raising.”
Trish is particularly proud that when she first started fundraising for CASA, there was only one psychologist on staff and now there are three. Last year, the dedicated San Miguel Walk committee of 24 enthusiastic volunteers raised US$36,000.
Trish was very enthusiastic during our interview about the need to continue to work. “We need to keep getting the message out that it´s not OK to hurt a child, a parent, a loved one, a girlfriend, anyone. People need to speak up; only then we begin to make a change.”
Trish and her coworkers have done an admirable job, as have past chairs and committees for the San Miguel Walk. We all hold in common the cause of eradicating violence and keeping CASA alive as a community resource. As Trish puts it, “I think CASA´s mission and work model is fabulous, and there should be a CASA in every community.”