Marisol with her daughter Saida and her son, Jose
Communication and understanding between the staff of a charity and their sponsored families is crucial if the empowerment of the families is to be successful.
At the Integral Heart Foundation we could not be any luckier in that regard. Our social worker and family liaison, or social warrior as we like to call her, is Marisol; a 34 year old all-terrain woman.
Marisol is the mother of three children and a grandmother of one girl. She is happily divorced and also the owner of four dogs. In addition she is both the heart and soul of our interaction with all of the families with whom we work. She also plays a significant role in the running of our school, La Academia, in Antigua.
Marisol is the motivated, reliable, responsible and loyal person we could wish for. She always said that she was very lucky to have met us, but on the contrary, we think that we are the lucky ones.
We met Marisol in March of 2010. Debora used to give talks to the moms of another local NGO on empowerment and hope. During one of those talks Marisol, who was in the audience, broke her silence and began talking, sometimes crying about the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of her life in the slum. Debora calmed her down and afterward they talked in a private session together.
Marisol´s life was something like this: She lived in a one-roomed tin shack on the side of a rough hillside slum. She was married to an alcoholic and abusive husband. They had three young children and almost no income, the little that the husband would earn was spent on drinking. After that he would come home and abuse her physically and verbally in front of her children. On occasions the kids would also get a good part of the abuse. He also had relationships with other women, and would spend part of his earnings on them and not on food or clothing for his family.
Marisol grew up in an environment where the request for help from her culture was:; “That´s God´s will, we all deal with the same thing”. But Marisol could not and did not want to understand this.
So she came to this talk for moms in the desperate hope of getting help.
That was the beginning of her relationship with us and what was to become The Integral Heart Family. At that point Debora offered her some part time work as our housekeeper. Over the first few years, and as our foundation came into being she then began to help us with that work.
Marisol, with our guidance and support, separated from her husband and finally got divorced.
Our work at that time involved many visits to our sponsored families, a process which we trained in at another charity. Marisol learned from us and began talking to the families. We soon realized that many of those mothers trusted her with more information than they would impart to us because they considered her more like a friend than us ‘gringoes’ from a NGO.
Slowly she began earning their trust and the parents began to trust us with their children who had begun attending our various programs. Marisol had a knowledge and understanding that came from her life in a slum, and she knew all the tricks that abused women use in order to deny their situations. She also knew how to respond from their perspective.
She is still learning by attending our Critical-Thinking workshops, invited guest-speaker events and by taking other outside courses. She even took the step of introducing herself to meditation. She works in many different fields, such as social work, family visits, and receiving donors and visitors. She helped paint the school rooms and cooking and we see her all the time playing with great love and care with our younger students. Now, she is teaching and giving talks herself to the students on potential, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, and training to the new staff on the operations of the school.
Today Marisol is the mother figure at our school, La Academia, but also the boss; she can be strong and inflexible when needed. She manages the budgets, salaries, social visits, school times and food baskets for the families and she, and her children no longer live in that horrible slum
Below you a little more of her story through photos:
Marisol doing home visits 2012
Cooking at our first kindergarten 2012
With a group of students 2013
Painting the school
Family food basket time
Marisol learning meditation
Attending a guest speaker event
The approach to her former home in the slums
Marisol teaching a class at La Academia
With the IHF school operation team 2016