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A safe place for women

The focus story for the 2016 Easter Appeal is Casa Noeli dos Santos, a safe house for women who have been subjected to domestic violence in Brazil.

Caroline Simpson, Digital Content Manager for Christian Aid Ireland, visited the safe house in 2014. Here she describes her visit and the inspirational residents and staff team that she met during her time at the house.

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Photo credit: Christian Aid/Tom Price

There’s a reason why we work with and for so many women in Brazil – the volume of gender based violence is extraordinary. And on visiting Casa Noeli, a safe house for women in the Amazon basin town of Ariquemes, the reason Brazilian women need our help was all too horrifying.

SADD (Anglican Service on Diaconia and Development) is a service of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil advocating for the rights of vulnerable communities, mainly women affected by gender-based violence. One of their projects is Casa Noeli dos Santos.

I wasn’t looking forward to this visit. Hearing stories of women facing horrendous cases of domestic violence is truly sickening. And actually – after having visited the places and processes which a woman must endure once she has taken the extremely courageous step of reporting her abuse – I didn’t feel any more positive.

We visited a number of places and people which a woman must encounter when she decides to report her accuser.

Give tax dodgers no where to hide

A police station for women. Photo credit: Christian Aid/Tom Price

States in Brazil have women specific police stations. Unfortunately the opening hours of these are limited, and actually, we discovered a number of unsympathetic male police staff who are tasked with helping the women.

If the women’s police station is closed, they must go to the town’s general police station. Here, the woman (and her children, if she has them) will be made to wait in a cell. The one toilet at the police station in Ariquemes does not work, and hasn’t worked for some time. I think you can imagine how this makes them feel.

Social services then get involved. It is at this point that light starts to enter the darkness, in the form of Casa Noeli.

Give tax dodgers no where to hide Once the centre’s co-ordinator Rev Elineide (pictured) arrives to take the women and children to the safe house, genuine warmth and compassion are finally shown.

The safe house itself, opened in 2011, is modest with a number of bedrooms, two bathrooms, an eating area and a small garden. Its location is kept as secret as possible.

Women are allowed to stay in the safe house for a maximum of 90 days while their cases are being processed and the staff of Casa Noeli help the women to find safe alternative homes. We’re aware that complex cases see some women staying up to eight months, but this is a rarity.

We’re told that conviction rates for domestic abuse are low – only around 20%. I’m not surprised – having heard the apathetic views of those in authority I’m a little astounded that the rate is actually so high.

I can't share too many details here of cases which I heard. And actually – the cases were so traumatic I don’t think I can bring myself to re-tell them.

But what you must understand is this – domestic violence towards women in Brazil is a massive, horrendous cultural problem inflicted by husbands, sons, grandfathers, uncles – the list goes on.

The cases include extremely violent psychological (which are extremely hard to prove, and women find that authority figures rarely believe them, with no bruises or external scars to show), physical and sexual abuse.

 

A life-line for women

When women arrive at Casa Noeli they are introverted, unable to trust anyone and in fear of their lives. Such is the hold which their aggressor has over them that some leave the safe house and return to the hell which they had originally left behind.

The safe house however is literally a life-line to so many women. Between January and November 2014 over 150 women had stayed in the house, with an average of 2 children per woman. The house is basic but it is safe.

As well as the co-ordinator Rev Elineide, we met the house psychologist, Lucimere (Mary), a pastor and a child-minder who all assist on the team of staff.

They are working to build a network with bodies such as the police and social services to help the women.

They also arrange workshops in skills such as baking so that the women can find employment and income once they leave the house. They promote independence and empowerment.

 

New life

In spite of what you may assume Casa Noeli is a place of great happiness. Some former residents who came back to meet us describe it as their second home. A place that they find a new family who care for them, not just during their time in the house but afterwards as well.

Give tax dodgers no where to hide

Photo credit: Christian Aid/Clare Paine

They don’t want to talk about their past as they are firmly looking forward. Eliete, one of the house’s first residents, can do nothing but smile as she describes the life she now has with her children and her plans for the future.

I left Casa Noeli with not a feeling of sadness but of encouragement and great admiration for its staff and residents. As we left women were laughing and children were playing in the garden. The women are a beacon of light and life in a culture of darkness and evil.

 

Support the safe house

Co-ordinator Elineide, herself a courageous and ambitious young woman outlined her plans and dreams for the house.

They are desperately in need of a car. Until recently Elineide was transporting women from the police station to the safe house on the back of her motorbike, and she still only currently has a small car, for which she pays all running costs. The car is also not big enough for the amount of food which they need to collect from the food bank, from which they acquire all of their food.

They would also love a bigger house, offices for their administration work and space for more activities. They want to become an independent referral centre to really help the women in the state who are so desperate.

I don’t know if you pray or even believe in God. But if you do feel moved to do anything would you keep these women in your thoughts?

Christian Aid is distributing funding through our partner SADD, but prayers can reach the staff of Casa Noeli, the women in the safe house and the millions of women who are still suffering violence and who are too terrified to speak out.

As they have requested, I pray for physical and psychological strength for them all. I felt really blessed to have visited Casa Noeli and to have met these wonderful women. I hope and pray that they will be able to reach so many more.

I don’t know if anything will change in the men of Brazil who think that violence towards women is the norm. I guess we can only hold on to the hope that places like Casa Noeli, raised awareness and education in this area will eventually start to have affect.

Please support our 2016 Easter Appeal and support women like the staff and residents of Casa Noeli dos Santos.

 


If you would like to read the rest of Caroline's blog from her 2014 trip to Brazil please visit carolinemeetsworld.wordpress.com. 


 

Easter Appeal

Give women in Brazil who have suffered abuse the chance at a new life.

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