Resilience and Determination to Reclaim a Life of Dignity

In Guatemala, our teams have witnessed the devastating effects of violence on impoverished communities, but also the resilience of individuals and families as they rebuild their lives with the accompaniment of our interdisciplinary human rights defenders. Sofi*, a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman, was the victim of sexual violence in her home. Her father was her primary abuser. Sofi sought help from her family and community, but instead of supporting her, they blamed and humiliated her and finally forced her to leave when she reported the abuse to the police. The violence that provokes internal forced displacement can have many faces. Sofi’s story is one of many in which the violence happened at home and against which the state offered no protection.

Cristosal’s protection team of psychologists and social workers met Sofi when she was deeply immersed in a cycle of pain and guilt. Cristosal received the referral through the system of attention to victims of forced displacement because government services had ignored her case even when it was in legal proceedings. She had confined herself to a small room, and given up her education, dreams, and relationships to protect herself as best she could. She was even contemplating ending her own life to escape her suffering. 

Her trust in Cristosal and personal resilience took time to unfold. When she was ready, Sofi was moved to a safer place where she was treated with respect and could begin to remake her life. As Sofi adjusted to her new environment and received much-needed support, her mental health improved. She no longer experienced suicidal thoughts or ideas of fleeing the country. However, she still struggled to plan for her future, including her education, relationships, and vocation. 

As the team walked with Sofi through her decisions and plans. She was able to take up her studies again and get the papers she needed to apply for work. When she was ready to leave the shelter, Cristosal helped her with groceries, to find a place to live, and with the rent money she needed to move in. Our legal team assisted her as she faced her abuser in legal proceedings. He was convicted and sentenced, bringing a sense of justice and closure for Sofi. This process took many months because the comprehensive accompaniment of a survivor takes time, but the results in Sofi’s improved mental and physical health were worth the investment. She is now not only safe but has rebuilt a plan for her life and has every hope of moving forward to meet her personal and professional goals.

At Cristosal, we accompany at-risk populations and individuals facing human rights violations in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Our protection program offers emergency humanitarian assistance and psychosocial accompaniment to victims in creating a new life plan based on their interests, needs, capacities, and hopes. We have accompanied over 7,000 people who have experienced forced displacement.

Today, Sofi is on her feet and leading a fulfilling life. Sofi’s resilience and determination to reclaim a life of dignity and restored rights embody the transformative impact of the durable solutions that Cristosal works to create. By supporting individuals like Sofi, we contribute to building stronger, more resilient communities and societies.

*Sofi is a fictitious name to protect the identity of the person.

*This photograph is for illustrative purposes only.

Read more about Internal Displacement in Guatemala at IDMCA

Review of  2023 in Guatemala, at HRW