Soap Suds to Empower Battered Women of Guatemala

July 23, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
For the last seventeen years, Lilian Wuj has seen an increasing number of women and children enter Nuevos Horizantes (New Horizons), a shelter she runs for women to escape their abusive husbands. While this may sound like an uplifting tale, it is not. Lilian watches helplessly as these women return to their homes to be further mistreated on account of their economic dependency. In a highly patriarchal society plagued by alcohol, poverty, and lack of government intervention, domestic violence is an accepted part of life. Lilian explains that the lives of these women are at stake and with no one else to turn to they come to the shelter for protection. Over time, however, the shelter has become too crowded, with resources running dry, and a worry that it may not be able to support all the women and children who depend on it. The situation is bleak and it does not appear that it will better any time soon.

United Planet, a Boston-based nonprofit, has decided to change the situation. The organization sends volunteers to Quetzaltenango to face a stark reality they seldom see back home. One of United Planet’s volunteers, Mireia Petitpierre, who spent ten days at the shelter last October said, “The truth is these women and children don’t know any other way of life than one of dependency. At home they depended on their husbands financially, but their husbands exploited this and would abuse them physically and emotionally, driving them out. During my time at the shelter, I could see how fragile and frightened the women had become. My presence and knowing that other volunteers would help to make their lives better enabled them to see a brighter future. They were grateful that we were there to help in some small way, taking care of their children, educating them with new skills. It was humbling and moving experience and opened my eyes to a completely new world, but we need to do more.”

More is what United Planet plans to do. United Planet has partnered with Nuevos Horizantes in a joint social enterprise venture to build a Laundromat at the shelter. The Laundromat will be useful as it will serve the many travelers and international volunteers in Quetzaltenango in need of a place to do their laundry. The business initiative’s real purpose, however, is to empower the women to earn an income. Battered women who wish to regain complete control of their lives have to overcome numerous difficulties. Economic dependence is often their greatest obstacle. With economic autonomy, the women learn that they can increase their independence with the right means. This independence inspires confidence in these women and gives them the will to survive and move on with their lives.

The need for the development of the Laundromat is great. At Nuevos Horizantes, almost 50% of the women at the shelter return home due to economic factors. Once home, they face abuse and sometimes even more violence from their husbands since they ran away in the first place. Creating job opportunities and a business that the women can co-own, they will finally feel that they can take control of their own destiny. Dave Santulli, founder of United Planet, says, “For most of the women at the shelter where we volunteer, independence and freedom is only a distant thought. Now we are working to turn that dream into a reality so that they can leave the shelter and live a life of their own making.”

United Planet is searching for means to launch the Laundromat for the battered women and children in Quetzaltenango. The organization needs funds, washing machines, and other resources required for the Laundromat. For more information on the news that is the subject of this press release, please contact Stephanie Leonard or visit

About United Planet
United Planet is an international humanitarian and educational non-profit public charity with 501(c) 3 status, based in Boston, MA. With members and volunteers in 150 countries, the organization is devoted to fostering cross-cultural understanding and friendship; supporting communities in dire need worldwide; and enhancing social and economic prosperity among cultures in order to unite the world in a community beyond borders.

Stephanie Leonard, Media Coordinator
United Planet