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A letter from YAV Tina DeYoe in Guatemala

July 2011

Tenemos Derechos (in a panoramic world) …

A woman lifting her hand on a beach during sunset.I came into this YAV year really wanting to learn Spanish and really wanting to learn more about the Guatemalan culture. I have now been here 10 months and have definitely learned lots of Spanish and lots about the culture. After graduating from seminary last year, I really needed a break from all that theology I had been learning. I felt like I needed to put that theology into action. I really just wanted to go and be with the people of this world to learn from them, hear their stories, and take a break from the book learning I had been doing! And this year has also allowed me to really try and figure out in what capacity is God calling me to serve. If ordination is not for me right now in my life after seminary, then what is? In what way can I still be doing ministry in my life?

As I said before, I also wanted to learn Spanish because I have felt that it is a language I want to be using in some sort of ministry or career eventually in my life. I am very passionate about immigration and border issues and know that if that is the direction I want to be taking with my life someday I will need to know Spanish.

I also came into the year knowing that I would be working with women and their kids at a women’s shelter. This has been good and challenging work. The organization I work with is called Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons). They not only have a women’s shelter, but also have a daycare in a poorer community for single working moms and raise awareness in the community for women’s rights. At both the shelter and daycare my role is to do activities with the children and the women. Many of the activities involve learning (since a lot of these kids, especially in the shelter, have not been to school). But we also do lots of fun game activities and dancing! So more or less I am a teacher of sorts, but in a very non-formal setting. With the women (who are mostly teenage girls with children) I just try to be present with them and build relationships with them. We do activities as well, which include cooking classes, self-defense classes, self-confidence/self-esteem classes, team building/cooperation classes and even salsa classes! I am a person who loves to exercise and one of the ways I help lead exercising for the women (since they hardly leave the shelter) is by dancing. These women love to dance! So we learn salsa  and zumba and other days we just dance and as teenage girls do, they make up dances! It is amazing to see and participate with these women dancing. After having lived in situations of violence and rape that I can’t even imagine, to see these women dance just makes my heart happy. Now I am not by any means a good dancer, but we have lots of fun! I feel like this dancing with the women not only helps them exercise, but helps them gain back confidence they may have lost and helps them feel comfortable with their bodies (which is super important for teenage girls, especially girls that have been abused)!

Throughout my experiences working with the kids and the women, I have really gotten to know some of them and have even been there with them and listened to them when they are crying. It is tough to hear their stories of their past, but it is good to hear a lot of them say “NO!” to violence in their lives!

More and more throughout my experience here I have wanted to be a part of the actual shelter staff, whether a social worker or psychologist or the other staff who help direct and manage the shelter. I have wanted to help these women in another capacity, but as a volunteer I am an activity leader/teacher. This has helped me lean towards wanting to work in a women’s shelter back in the states and has even made me consider going back to school to get my MSW degree. I still have lots of thinking to do on all this, but am thinking that maybe working with women back in the states is what I need to be doing with my life right now and maybe where I am being called to serve.

I have definitely had struggles living here and living with a Guatemalan indigenous family for a year, but it has been a good experience, a learning experience. Guatemala is definitely a violent country with a violent past that the US definitely had a hand in, but for women living here it is even more violent. This is why I feel it necessarily to work with women not only of this country but women in the states. I am a woman and want to help other women see that domestic violence is not tolerable for themselves and the lives of the kids.

Thank you all again so much for supporting me throughout this year. The women and kids that I work with are amazing and I wish you all could get to know them as well! Paz!

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