The woman who dreams of buying homes for all survivors of domestic violence
If Angela had one million dollars, she would buy homes for women who are locked in a life with violent men. The idea came to her after she escaped a horrible marriage. The first woman she would help would be a friend of hers who still suffers from beatings and humiliation.
Angela, 44, is a mother of six and a survivor of two violent marriages. She lives in a town in the south of the country. Three months ago, she started a new life, leaving her husband who had terrorized her and their children. “I realized that I cannot go on like this anymore when, in a fit of fury, he tried to tie one of our children to the doghouse, instead of the dog,” she said.
She fled in haste, taking only their three guard dogs: “I was afraid he would torture them.” Helped by a civic activist, Angela settled in a neighboring town, where she lives in a housing project.
She married her first husband, who is 10 years older, at the early age of 17, when her peers still went to high school. She was aware that she was too young, and she wanted to finalize tailoring courses at the vocation school, but the desire to escape from the violent environment at home was stronger. “I got married to run away from beatings and scandals at home,” Angela explains. Then she gave birth to three children. Even without qualification, the woman earned a living by repairing clothes or making dresses and skirts for fellow villagers.
At home, the beatings never stopped, and one of the most sinister incidents of violence happened just at the time of one of her pregnancies.
During one of his periods of overseas work, Angela’s husband died of a heart attack, leaving her alone with their three children. She was only 25. Shortly afterwards, threatened by in-laws, she was forced to leave the house. A few years in, she met her second husband, with whom she would sacrifice ten years of her life.
“Those ten years felt like a century,” says the woman. Violent with her and the children, the man would not let them enjoy life. Having nowhere to go, for years the woman endured psychological violence against herself and beatings of the children.
“He would even count the fruits on the trees, forbidding us to eat more than he allowed. If one of the children got a bad mark at school, he was not allowed to eat anything that day at home. If someone disobeyed, he hit them on the head with whatever was close at hand,” Angela recalls.
Although she had invested years of labor in the man’s house, she claimed nothing when she went away. “All I wanted was to live in peace with my children.” The woman says that she tried to leave earlier but had to come back because she had nowhere to go.
Angela’s life took a U-turn on Christmas Eve, when, in fear of her and her children’s lives, she came to a local NGO. They helped her to relocate to a housing project, where she lives with her mother and three younger children. The other children work and study.
A few times a week, the woman volunteers at a social care center, where she helps with cooking and distributing meals to lonely seniors. On her leisure time, she repairs clothes for the beneficiaries of the center.
Lately, she had prepared a site for a greenhouse to grow ecological vegetables for her family in the summer, and she wants to share the surplus produce with the needy.
Although life did not offer her lots of opportunities, Angela is a survivor and wants to help other women to break the chain of violence. That is why, if she had enough money, she would buy homes for all women who live with their abusers for fear of losing a roof over their heads. “I have a friend, and she doesn’t have her own home. She has a very hard life. When her husband gets drunk, he forgets about their home. She calls me up every evening and says that she feels like taking her own life.”
The southern region, where Angela lives, has no social services for women suffering from violence. Hundreds of women live hostages of their aggressive husbands for fear of losing home for themselves and their children. The first social service will open at the end of this year, as a result of a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme and the Executive Committee of the ATU of Gagauzia. The center will offer women a place to live with their children, will provide them psychological, legal and social assistance and will help them to find a job or to start a business. To ensure facilities for the center, the government of the ATU Gagauzia has offered a building, and UNDP, supported by the Republic of Korea, will allocate funds for its renovation and endowment.
Angela believes that such centers can save many women and children. “If this center existed now, it would help my friend out. Every day I think about her and pray she holds on” Angela says.