Foundation Maria Amor was founded in 2004 with the help of the local movement of women-organizations, the Pastoral Social (local Caritas) and Caritas Austria.
It is a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. In Ecuador 60% of all women experience some kind of violence in their families throughout their life. In Cuenca it is 7 out of 10! A shelter is a place where women come to when the violence gets so bad, that they feel the life of their children or their own life, is in danger. In 2017, 153 women have been killed in Ecuador just because they were women (Femicidio). So a women-shelter is a place to save lives, get help to heal traumas and injuries, get training and be empowered in order to find a job. A shelter is a place where women recover their dreams – in order to restart their lives with independency, autonomy and without violence!
At the moment the foundation counts on two spaces, which are designed to offer women what they need: Maria Amor runs a shelter in the outskirts of Cuenca. It is an ecological construction, which aims to protect the environment and to connect women and children with nature. On the other hand, the foundation runs a center in the town center of Cuenca. It is here where women have direct and easy access to information, therapy and training.
To restart their lives, women need a lot of help and real opportunities. That is why the Foundation Maria Amor started various programs that aim to provide women and their children with the support they need.
1) Emergency telephone line and external consultation.
The emergency telephone is a way for women or concerned friends to get in touch with the shelter. They can get information about women s and children s rights about the legal situation and where they can get immediate help. It is also a means where they can get psychological help. Be it via telephone or via a personal therapy session in the Casa Maria Amor, in the center of town.
Through the telephone line – the team also organizes women-help groups and training for students and groups that are interested.
2) Women's shelter – Nina Huasi – House of Light
The shelter is located in the outsides of Cuenca. Its address is kept in private to keep the women and children safe.
In the shelter women receive accommodation (each family gets its own room), healthy food (a lot of children but also women arrive with nutritional deficiencies), psychological help, legal advice and help in administrative tasks through the support of a social worker. The children have their won children center where they get help to improve in school but also learn about non-violent ways of communication and have enough space to play and be happy.
It is with the help of our professional team that women decide on which steps they want and need to take to be able to restart their life without violence.
In average women stay around 3 months in the shelter. But there is no time limit. And the length of their stay depends on the problems they have to solve and the steps they want to take.
3) Supported housing
One of the biggest challenges for women with children is to find affordable and dignified housing. The rents in Cuenca a very high and landlords don t want to rent to women who have children. That is why a lot of the women end up in very dangerous housing situations when they leave the women's shelter. They live in small rooms, with a shared bathroom and toilet in the hallway. In this type of housing you will typically find a lot of single men/workers, which put the women and especially their children very often in an unsafe situation.
That is why the Foundation Maria Amor renovated 5 small apartments in the center of Cuenca. Women can rent those apartments when they leave the women shelter at a very cheap rate for up to 6 months. A social worker will make sure that the women get advice and support during those first months of independent living. They are also encouraged to safe money in order to later on be able to pay the required guarantee payment for a safe apartment.
4) Mujeres con Exito – Successful women
Another big challenge for women who try to start an independent life is to find work that is safe and where they are paid enough to actually be able to sustain their children. A big majority of our women have not finished school and have no job training, which means the only jobs they find is cleaning houses. These jobs are traditionally low paid and involve large working hours, which makes it impossible for the women to take care of their children and start an independent and safe life.
That is why the Foundation Maria Amor opened the training center and small business: Mujeres con Exito.
Mujeres con Exito consists of three small businesses, a laundry service, a small café and a catering service where the women get theoretical and hands-on training. Mujeres con Exito aims at providing the women with the necessary knowledge, practice and self-esteem in order to be able to find a job and/or open their own small business. The women get training and earn their first money. Mujeres con Exito is run as an association which means, the women are not employees but actually members of the organization. In that way we want to empower them and teach them how to run a business, show them how to calculate prices, pay the bills, how to solve problems – in short: teach them how to make their own decisions and confront the consequences.
Mujeres con Exito was found in 2006 with the help of Carolina, a volunteer from the US who brought the first funds to buy 2 used family washing machines and a dryer. From the beginning on the women where included in all decisions and felt, that the business was theirs.
The Foundation Maria Amor has come a long way and has been serving more than 1200 women and their children. It is our goal to empower women to make their own decisions and provide them with the means and real opportunities in order to be able to break the cycle of violence and restart their independent lives.
During the last two years public funding of the Foundation have been cut by more than 50%. So one of the biggest challenges for the Foundation Maria Amor at this moment is to ensure the funds necessary to keep all services running.
20.05.2018, Marion Burger
Marlene VillaVillavicencio – Co Founder & Executive Director
Marion Burger – Co Founder & Program Manager of International Projects, Caritas Austria