Sister Rebecca Trujillo chronicles the development of Magical Shoes, a program for girls with disabilities and their mothers that was peer-selected to be part of the GlobalGiving Girl Fund.
Special Families Saint Julie Billiart has always been a project led by mothers of children with special needs. We have developed programs in Matagalpa, Nicaragua that support these mothers and their children. Our programs specifically address the violence to which they are often subjected. Two years ago, we did an investigation to determine if we were effectively combating this issue. There was little research on this topic, so we hired an outside consultant to help us research and evaluate our programs.
We realized the incidents of violence were rising in our city and surrounding communities, especially among girls with disabilities. Our investigation showed girls with disabilities face the greatest danger, but their challenges are invisible to most. We pinpointed three reasons, which our team felt we could address:
- Mothers are often in their own cycles of violence
- Mothers are unable to emotionally process that their daughter is disabled
- Mothers have difficulty processing their emotions
As a result, mothers become overprotective of their daughters, so the girls are never allowed to fully develop and mothers have another level of stress. Some mothers have 45-year-old daughters who they still consider girls because they never had the opportunity to develop as adults (a result of being overprotected) and lack of resources to deal with their disabilities.
We also learned that in comparison with disabled boys, girls with disabilities are the least developed because they stay at home while the boys (who are generally not overprotected) have more freedom. We realized the number of boys active in our programs is twice that of the girls, with the exception of our life skills classes.
Based on our research, Special Families started an intensive three-year program to learn how to work with the problem of violence that persons with disabilities face. We started to integrate the issues associated with violence into our different programs. For example, we started a program for boys with severe disabilities in life skills. But until we had more staff training we did not know how we could work specifically with girls. We thought because we had girls in the life skills program and are a mother-led program, we were helping the girls. We realized that was not enough. We needed to be doing more.
We went back to our research and our baseline. How were we working with girls? We were shocked to discover our emphasis had actually been more on boys than girls. We were unknowingly perpetuating the cycle by thinking the life skills program was addressing the issues. This year, we are implementing more permanent programs specifically working with the girls and their mothers.
We believe the mother-daughter relationship is key to stopping the cycles of violence that exist for them. That’s why we created a new program called Magical Shoes, which works to affirm mothers and girls with disabilities. Through the program, they can walk in each other’s shoes to become more empathetic and aware of each other’s needs. We are using a new concept of affirmation groups, where we will build community between mothers with girls with a disability, between girls with a disability, and most importantly between each girl and her mother.
The program subjects include education, health, relationships, parenting skills, recreation, abuse and prevention of violence, and overprotection. The groups are led by a psychologist, as well as interdisciplinary staff.
After our initial assembly, we were flooded with calls from mothers wondering when we were going to start and how they could participate. Our hope is to make it a permanent program and to develop awareness of this problem in our communities. What we’ve discovered is that when you connect mothers to mothers, it’s like magic.
Thanks to support from the GlobalGiving Girl Fund, we have had the opportunity to meet with different community leaders in Matagalpa and to bring about more awareness. We were really surprised at how many people recognized the significance of Magical Shoes and the need to do it with affirmation. Mothers need to face issues within themselves so they can support their daughters. They need support from other mothers facing the same situation. Our continuous goal is to help mothers move forward in their own environment and grow along with their daughters because their relationship is very special and can make all the difference in the world—another bit of magic.
The most successful nonprofits Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. They listen to the people they intend to help. They act on what they hear, making feedback a part of every project. They learn from their actions, and they continually repeat the process—strengthening their impact with every cycle. Read more Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. stories in the Learn Library.
Featured Photo: Girls with disAbility and Moms Stop Cycle of Violence by Special Families