Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade group helps break cycle of domestic violence

Silvia Beckwith, left in striped top, speaks to a group of domestic-violence victims in Miami.
Silvia Beckwith, left in striped top, speaks to a group of domestic-violence victims in Miami. El Nuevo Herald

Each one of them has talent. But many forgot their skills and hobbies when they lived under the yoke of domestic violence.

“He did not let me work, and he did not want to give me the money to go out and buy the fabric, because he said I was going to meet another man. I was tied down,” said Silvia Beckwith, an Argentine migrant, about her tempestuous relationship with the father of her two oldest daughters.

Now they have all gone back to what they like. One makes little ceramic dolls, and another makes accessories. Still another makes creams and soaps with organic products. Beckwith sews bags and aprons of her own designs.

The group of women in Miami-Dade County, almost all of them migrants and some of them undocumented, have founded a cooperative and sell their handicrafts at the Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood.

After postponing their dreams for years, they now hope to own micro businesses and earn a living from what they love to do. In the meantime, many of them also work cleaning homes or taking care of children or old people to make ends meet.

The Cooperative La Mariposa — Spanish for butterfly — was created three years ago by eight members of the Angel Mariposa Foundation, a non-profit that assists victims and survivors of domestic violence.

“Part of healing is not only to get out of the vicious cycle, but to forgive and forgive ourselves, and achieve economic independence through personal development,” said Maria Ruiz, founder of Angel Mariposa and a domestic-violence survivor.

Economic dependence is one of the factors that sometimes force victims to remain in abusive relationships, according to experts.

After leaving the cycle of domestic violence, many of the victims have few economic resources, and in many cases lack the work history that could allow them to find a new job quickly.

What survivors really need when they leave a situation of violence is the support of society

Alicia García, director of Fundación Voz de Mujer

That’s why support networks such as government agencies and foundations are critical to the healing process, said Alicia García, director of the Fundación Voz de Mujer — in Spanish “A Woman's Voice” — a non-profit based in Little Havana.   

“What survivors really need when they leave a situation of violence is the support of society,” said García, who has worked with victims and survivors of domestic abuse in Miami for nearly 20 years. “In many cases, they are preparing to start a new life, but many of them did not finish school, did not work many years or are not prepared to face the process by themselves.”

Her foundation focuses on preparing survivors for the labor market, by obtaining scholarships to vocational schools and short training courses.

“We train them for the interviews, and if they don't have adequate clothing we find it for them,” she said. “But there are also more basic necessities, like what to eat and where to sleep, or who will take care of the children while they look for work.”

Ruiz wants to provide this type of assistance through her organization, based in a rented house in northern Miami-Dade County. Several times a week the organization offers courses on art, painting, meditation or massage therapy — all at moderate fees that are plowed back into the foundation.

The women who attend the meetings and training sessions are frequently accompanied by their children.

“We believe that in order to bring about a social change, we have to change the forms, the mentality that makes us fall into a situation of abuse,” Ruiz said. “And that also includes the children. They are also victims, and could repeat patterns in the future if we don't help them to heal.”

Part of healing is not only to get out of the vicious cycle, but to forgive and forgive ourselves, and achieve economic independence through personal development

Maria Ruiz, founder of Angel Mariposa Foundation

That lesson hits home for Ruiz. Several years ago, her 17-year-old daughter took her own life. Ruiz, who has two other daughters, believes the abuse she was suffering affected the daughter and led, at least in part, to her death.

“I lost a lot. The most valuable thing,” said Ruiz, a migrant who graduated from law school in her native Colombia.

Now Ruiz designs accessories and does handwritten invitations, almost always with small butterfly decorations. For her, the butterfly represents the soul of her dead daughter.

In her free time Reina Gómez, a Honduran migrant who was a social worker and accountant in her country, makes and sells fruit marmalade and preserves.

In Honduras, Gómez helped to establish a women' cooperative that is now one of the largest in the country.

“I said, ‘Why can't we do the same thing here?’” said Gómez, who left her children in Honduras when she fled 12 years ago from a dangerous domestic-abuse situation.

With her experience in cooperatives, Ruiz’s studies in law and accountant Claudia Bustamante’s love of numbers, they pulled together enough knowledge and skills to launch a cooperative in Miami.

The founders of the Angel Mariposa Foundation said that they decided to create the cooperative when they saw that traditional banks had requirements for loans that many of the women could not meet.

For now, they are investing money from their own incomes, and have managed to obtain some donations for producing the first merchandise.

They already have scored some successes. Beckwith recently won a small contract to sew aprons for a beauty salon whose owner loved the designs. She also created some pieces that can be rolled into a small ball and carried in a purse.

“I learned to sew as a child, with my grandmother. This makes me happy. It's really what I like to do,” said Beckwith, who is now happily married and has another son.

For now, she cleans houses to make ends meet. But she has big dreams. Some day, she wants to have her own sewing workshop and teach others how to sew.

Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter @BrendaMedinar

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