Corozal is a village on the north coast of Honduras, located near the city of La Ceiba. It enjoys warm Caribbean weather, especially in summer, and is surrounded by beaches and coconut palms. Behind the beautiful setting, however, are very poor communities, who suffer from violence and abuse and one of the highest rates of HIV in the country.
The majority of Corozal’s population belongs to the Garifuna community. Tearfund works with a partner, Asociación Misionera Garífuna (AMIGA), made up of local Christian churches. Together they are working on campaigns to tackle domestic violence and sexual abuse.
These campaigns have emerged from AMIGA’s workshops on HIV, where the organisers began to hear stories from women about the abuse and sexual violence they faced. Similar stories were told by women from within the church. Their meetings and prayers became a space to release and start to process the impact from the crimes perpetrated against them.
As well as abuse and mistreatment, many women struggle with economic dependency and abandonment as their husbands work away from home on ships or choose to migrate. In such a macho culture there is little knowledge of the laws to protect women. As a result, AMIGA decided to address these issues more directly in workshops.
Watch a short film by AMIGA about speaking up against violence within families.
‘For a long time, in my heart, I had a strong desire to do something for my community – especially for the women,’ says Sister Dilcia Valerio, who along with her husband, Pastor Marvin Valerio, runs the Congregation of the Community Baptist Church of Tornabé, in Tela Atlántida. ‘Beyond the four walls of the church, however, I did not know what to do or how to do it. I also had some concerns because our congregation used to be very conservative, thinking that we are not of this world.’
Then Dilcia attended a workshop on violence prevention. It transformed her way of thinking. ‘Somehow it was like a confirmation that what I felt is in the heart of God. I became even more committed to get involved in a different way to support the vulnerable women of Tornabé.’
AMIGA meetings involve a talk based on biblical principles and examples of the topic from the Bible. For instance, Tamar’s story might be used to illustrate a woman fighting for her rights. This is followed by discussions where people participate and share their stories. During prayers, many of the women, including church members, will recognise their ‘spiritual brokenness’. This is when they start to cry and release and share all the pain and suffering they have kept to themselves since having been abused.
‘Where we had been harsh and condemnatory before, our congregation began to create space to talk openly about these issues.’
Pastor Gabino Bernárdez
An AMIGA workshop on HIV also changed the outlook of local pastor Gabino Bernárdez: ‘They gave me tools to give care and provide counselling to people living with HIV. From that moment I became a more compassionate man, to have the courage to help with patience. Where we had been harsh and condemnatory before, our congregation began to create space to talk openly about these issues. And little by little, I started to go to community meetings.’
As a result of the impact of AMIGA workshops, Dilcia has become more closely engaged with the community. She is part of the leadership of the Women’s Free Butterflies Network, which works for the prevention and care of female victims of violence and abuse by their partners. It aims to encourage women in communities to fight for the right to food, identity, health, and to a decent life and employment, among other goals.
‘At the beginning it was not easy. Some church members said it was not right for the pastor’s wife to meet with “women of the world”. It was then that I remembered the words of the Pharisees to Jesus, and why he ate with sinners. Jesus knew his mission. Now I also work to bring about the mission of God.’
Last year on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25th), the church in Corozal participated in a march as part of the campaign ‘Cambia tu chip’, or ‘Switch your chip’, an expression that also means to change your mindset. The campaign is aimed at promoting healthy relations between men and women and learning how to avoid violence. This was one of the church’s first steps in mobilisation and participation in the community alongside the local government and other organisations. This year they will march again.