Over the past few months a lot of energy has been investedin trying to motivate the ten members of the women’s group in El Pital to launch themselves to the next level.
Momentum is gained and lost quickly with the changing of the wind. The stalling of funds, a group argument or
lengthy periods of inaction are enough to drive the momentum downwards quickly. Last month we experienced this in a
profound way. After a monthly meeting with the Adelante Foundation, the laughing, encouragement and spirit was
broken when one of the women of the group returned home to find her two year old daughter had fallen into the wash
basin, which was full of water. When family members and neighbors franticly pulled her out of the water, the little
girl was purplein the face, cold as ice and was no longer breathing. There was no way to know how long she had been submerged
beneath the water before someone found her or if there was any way of bringing her back to life. However despite
pleas from various people, the family refused to rush her to a hospital, afraid of being arrested for child neglect,
a serious offense in Honduras. Hence, she was pronounced dead by the family. Just like that, in minutes a life left
thisworld to soon, and Sulma, once a proud, single- mother of five, would never again hold her baby girl.
Within moments, people flooded the house, taking turnsholding Sulma’s head-up while she wailed. Her other four children lay on the bed frightened, crying, understandably-
a bit confused. Neighbors and more distant family membersentered the room and began to strip down the baby and put proper clothes on her to display her for the viewing,
while fighting to pull her out of the arms of her mother or siblings. People kept saying to the close family, “Pull
it together.” I didn’t understand how that was even a reasonable request for anyone who just lost a family member in
such a tragic way.
The women from the women’s group instantly stepped-in, doing anything they could to support Sulma and her mother
Paula, who were both committed members of their cohort. Unfortunately, between the screams and tears, each of us couldn’t help but look for some way to take it all back.
Take away the pain go back in time just a few hours. But most of all, looming over everyone’s head was the rule that
had been put in place by the women, which prevented them frombringing their children to the meetings. Despite the irrationality of it, each of them felt somewhat responsible. I
personally as a facilitator of this group wished I had been more sensitive. I wished I had pushed the women to
discuss each rule they put in place and consider how it might impact some women.
Merely two hours after having concluded our last meeting the women meet again in the living room of Dona Alba’s
house to discuss how to respond to this horrible situation. They all quickly pulled food off their already barren
shelves to prepare a basket of food for the bereaved family. Late into the evening the women and I took turns
preparing mounds of tortillas, rice and spaghetti, all of us jammed packed in Sulma’s smoky kitchen. By 1 a.m., the
exhausted bodies began to fade off to sleep, resting only to awake to an indescribable emptiness. Over the next few
weeks I quietly kept an eye on Sulma and Paula often dropping in to see how they were doing. While deeply impacted
and saddened beyond belief, I found myself amazed by the solidarity and selflessness that was present among this
group of newly unified women during this time, each sothoughtfully standing by Sulma’s side, helping her gain strength each day.
While the experience had brought the women together, it had also left a deep scar on the group and all its
participants. A few weeks later, it was clear to Heatherand I that when Sulma’s baby girl died that day, so did the spirit that had been alive in each of those women. For
weeks we struggled to motivate them to attend meetings, to get out of the house or to reignite the excitement around
their collective vision. For each, the idea of the women’s group seemed to have left a bad taste or memory in
After a month of disappointing meetings, minimal attendance and low energy, we knew we had to be creative to push us
and them through this tough time. After much deliberation, Heather and I decided, perhaps this was a perfect time to
just believe in the women and trust that they truly are the only ones that can get themselves outof this slump. Therefore, we took this opportunity to start turning over heavily the responsibilities of the group
tothe women themselves. Up until this point we had been facilitating and leading all the meetings, waiting for theright time to start slowly handing responsibilities over to them. While Heather provided a lot of the structure of
the first meeting they facilitated, she eloquently set each woman up beautifully, trying to equally divide each
responsibility amongst them all. Finally, last Sunday, for the first time in the twelve months of working with these
women, Heather sat back and became merely a spectator, watching the women facilitate themselves, make decisions,and play games. I unfortunately was unable to attend the meeting myself that day, however, I hadn’t needed to attend
to be able to feel the heightened energy and excitement from the women that afternoon after they left the meeting
and theradiating pride from Heather.
Slowly Sulma has been healing. And while the death of her baby still haunts us all, the experience is a lesson to
all that sometimes it takes loss and moments of complete breakdown to give birth to new life.