This week we have been visiting Bilwi, the capital city of La RAAN, to meet with the Salud Sin Limités organization here and visit the women’s shelter to learn more details about how it functions, how many women usually stay in the shelter, the budget, the upkeep, programs offered, and any other information that could be relevant when designing and planning for our shelter in Siuna! Also, Juan and Eliza attended a United Nations conference on the state of volunteerism in Nicaragua. Bilwi is about a 12-hour drive from Siuna. 12 hours in a bus on dirt roads complete with potholes, swerving to avoid the potholes, and 95 degree weather made for an interesting experience to say the least. Luckily, we made it out very much alive and with minimal casualties, only one puking incident and A LOT of dirt. By the time we arrived at the hotel, the word shower was pretty much synonymous with gift from God.
Our experiences today made the bus ride more than worth it. Dan, Phil, and I spent the morning meeting with Shira, the director of the shelter here sponsored by a program called Movimiento de Mujeres, or The Women’s Movement. She gave us a tour of the shelter and spoke with us about their organization, the types of services they offer, problems they’ve faced, and offered a few suggestions and important things to keep in mind during the early stages of the shelter in Siuna. The initial focus of the shelter here was offering legal assistance, psychological counseling, and medical services to women that have been victims of domestic violence. The external building offers these services for women who live in Bilwi and in neighboring communities. The internal building, which is the actual shelter, is for women who are using these services and have nowhere to stay. It’s located behind the external building, which offers more privacy, and has a kitchen, playroom, and three bedrooms. Over the past few years, the priorities of the shelter have changed to match the needs of the community. Now, the focus is on children and adolescents that have been victims of sexual abuse, unfortunately a common and widespread occurrence. Initially, women and their children were housed in the shelter but when the police came to the women’s movement with cases of young girls who had experienced sexual abuse in need of psychological care and a place to stay, the shelter opened its doors and is now home to mostly young girls, all victims of intrafamilial sexual abuse. Currently, there are 17 people total staying in the shelter, including one adult woman who brought her two daughters.
The most important takeaway from this meeting with regard to our project is how this shelter recognized the needs of the community and adapted in order to best suit the public. Because the situation of domestic violence in Siuna is very similar to the situation here in Bilwi, it is very possible that our shelter may need to eventually expand our focus and services offered to include adolescents and children who are victims of sexual abuse. It’s definitely something to keep in mind and share with Reina and Shellda when we return to Siuna. However, a major difference between our project and the project in Bilwi is the support we are receiving from the government in Siuna. In Bilwi, the shelter receives no funding whatsoever from the government and has a difficult time working with the Ministry of the Family, a governmental organization responsible for ensuring protection and legal services. Luckily, as of right now the government will play a major role in funding our shelter. Shira also gave us a lot of advice for early planning of the shelter based off of her own learning experiences and trial and error during the development process. She was very knowledgeable about how to successfully maintain and oversee the function of a shelter and definitely a great contact for the future. Meeting with her gave us insight into what our project could hopefully become and also prepared us for some of the challenges we might face.
With everything we learned this morning combined with a chance to meet and play with the children staying in the shelter this afternoon, the trip to Bilwi has been memorable. It’s great to meet everyone involved in Salud Sin Limités and it was an important step in gathering information to maintain the shelter in Siuna and plan our future projects within the shelter! We are all very excited to return to Siuna, share what we’ve learned, and begin construction of the fence on Thursday.