On a cold winter morning, the women started gathering at the “Encuentro entre Mujeres,” or “Women’s Summit” in Tirúa. They were coming from different communities; some of them with babies in arms, others with younger children who had no place to stay while their mothers spent the day at the meeting.
All of them, members of Relmu Witral came to share their experiences over the loss of lives and livelihoods following the tsunami and earthquake that hit Chile this past February.
For most of these women, post-earthquake trauma and ongoing fears that interfered with their ability to weave were significant issues which they had shared with NESsT following its visit to Tirúa soon after the quake.
Through its Levantando Chile Fund, NESsT was able to bring professional psychological support to the women of Relmu Witral. NESsT hired its portfolio organization Domos to facilitate a series of group sessions, held over the course of five days in June.
Over 100 women were lead by facilitator Ximena Rojas in confidence-building and ice-breaking exercises.
They participated in a series of small group exercises on containing the effects of trauma, as well as workgroups that dealt with a variety of women’s issues including domestic violence, poverty, discrimination, social exclusion, and the lack of support from public authorities and institutions.
Many of the women had never participated in such activities, and although at the beginning they expressed a bit of resistance, by the end of the day they loosened up and were able to fully reap in the benefits of the sessions.
They shared their stories of their earthquake experience and how it affected them, each providing detailed descriptions on how they are coping with the overall disruption of their lives and their many losses.
Many of the participants agreed that it was the first time they had so openly discussed their personal problems. Domestic violence surfaced as a key problem affecting some of the women in the community, but which had been kept behind doors, mostly due to fear and shame. These women shared their experience of having undergone domestic violence in complete isolation.
At the end of the meeting, the women expressed their gratitude to NESsT and the Levantando Chile Fund for providing them with the possibility to openly talk about issues that went beyond the earthquake trauma, but that were exacerbated by it.
“We knew each other from the Relmu, but just from a distance, we had never talked before. Thanks to this meeting we learned that we have so many things in common...as if we had been sisters all of our lives."
The women also emphasized the importance of Relmu Witral in their lives and they thanked the organizers for caring about them as women - seeing them beyond the image of weavers.
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