When someone gives us a gift we appreciate it, and that gift will have a
special place and maybe it will remind us of the person who gave it to us. When someone
gives us affection we are thankful that such a person loves us, and since this is
something intangible, its worth increases. But when someone asks us to join her in the
most precious task, there is a feeling of a deep gratitude and the commitment to
reciprocate such trust. We thank Zoraida Ramirez Rodriguez for all these gifts on behalf
of Homahi and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
The Mother and Child Home Program at the Homahi Foundation was set up six years ago.
From the very first moments I become aware that the worst enemy we were
facingprostitutionwas hiding behind a mask of violence, exploitation, the most
depraved version of sexuality, and the crudest type of ignorance regarding love. This
enemy has the power to become intimately entangled with a womans identity. The
effect over time is to leave deceitful marks to the point where the person believes that
she is only good for such a thing. This has made me conclude that these women need to be
given the greatest care to protect them from themselves. When these expectant mothers
first arrive at Homahi, loneliness is written all over their faces.
Maternity and loneliness are so profoundly contradictory. The state of pregnancy in
human beings is a social event; not just biological; therefore it carries great symbolism.
If the consequences of pregnancy are abandonment, break-up, crisis, loneliness, then we
are experiencing the first symptoms of a society that is ailing. Our work slogan is
"to make a home of each house, a mother of each woman, and a son or daughter of each
child." Throughout these years, we have firmly believed that it is not possible to
give proper maternal love to an infant unless his or her mother has self-worth and gives
and receives love. But the price must never be degradation.
There has been a great deal of talk about the poverty and anguish in the family at the
end of this century. This situation takes away from human beings the essential gift that
gives them a choice: freedom. In times past, to deal with child abandonment in Argentina,
the only active program was adoption. This was the only alternative to a life of misery,
abandonment, domestic violence, and unemployment. We are aware that not all children are
wanted, and that adoption must be a free choice. When faced with such pressures it is
neither a free choice nor a fair one. Thus, Homahi is created to offer this potential
space. If a woman is helped to heal the wounds that have been caused in the chain of love,
then her child can become a son or daughter.
Even though it may appear to be obvious, when it comes to a collective community
decision as how to deal with prostitution, it is extremely difficult to get a consensus.
This issue touches all of us without exception, highlighting moral problems and the plural
standards of morality that surround us. This involves the prostitute as well as the
"client." When this is misunderstood there will be unfairness all around.
This topic has brought all of us to discuss it properly, and there is no room to
apportion blame in an arbitrary fashion, particularly since we are talking about human
beings. We are aware that when money is exchanged for sex, this degrades both parties. The
consequences for the lives of each person differ considerably. The "client" will
not loose his social status, his familys affection, or his financial worth; on the
contrary, his power is asserted on each occasion. On the other hand, and on a daily basis,
we come across human beings who have lost their pride in being women, and that to rescue
them from exploitation we have to invest considerable efforts. These women have lost their
families, friends, social status, health, self-esteem, and finally their children. The
existing laws do not go as far as punishing such harm.
The scope of Homahis programs includes: child pregnancy (minors of 12 years of
age); incest and sexual abuse of children and adolescents; child abuse and abandonment;
family violence; adolescent pregnancy (ages 12 to 18); work exploitation of children and
adolescents; trafficking in babies; illegal adoption; and high risk maternity due to the
following: drug dependency; delinquency; poverty and marginalization; chronic illness;
mental illness; sexual exploitation for commercial purposes; mental handicap; motor or
The handicapped mother lives a drama, which I ask you to stop and reflect upon, as it
is a subject that is usually neglected by our competitive and arrogant societies. Any
handicap which afflicts a woman renders her more vulnerable, and adds to her poverty and
loneliness, thus making her an easy target for abuse and sexual exploitation.
Since it was founded, Homahi has given a special priority to helping high-risk mothers.
Problems that are dealt with by the program involve vulnerable women who deserve
societys support. They have a right to their dignity, to love as daughters, wives,
and also as mothers. So that they can go forward, they must change, but this is also
How we work at Homahi
It is not difficult to guess what thoughts may be on the mind of a handicapped woman
who has been abused: "What am I, but this?" Her perpetrator may well have
referred to her in such a fashion. Let us imagine that this already disadvantaged young
woman finds out that she is pregnant and decides not to have a "quick and
cleansing" abortion. The Consejo Nacional Del Menor (National Council for Minors)
makes referrals to our homes. Civil courts may also request, through the National Council,
that a young woman be placed for treatment with us. Many of the placements were made
without any expectations of success or hope that the young woman would be able to care for
her child, let alone become a gainful member of society. Many courts did not trust the
validity of our help.
In time, we have had successful referrals. This is the only program of its kind in the
country. Our professional team is highly specialized. Our skills are increasingly in
demand for the treatment of difficult cases. We have opened up new areas of work
endeavoring to help lone mothers become members of a society that becomes more and more
demanding and exclusive.
Selected statistics which highlight some of our successes are as follows:
- 32% of the total number of referrals were or had been women in prostitution
- 16% of that total had been initiated into prostitution when older than 16 years
- 25% of that total had been initiated into prostitution when younger than 16 years
- 49% of that total suffered from mental, sensory or motor handicaps
- From 1991 on, 75% of the referrals were discharged and 25% remain at Homahi
- 27% of the cases were discharged because of marriage or return to the family
- 55% were in stable family relationships and work conditions on discharge
- 10% were referred to other institutions for various reasons
- Only 8% were discharged not having met the objectives.
Each home has a team made up of Trainers in Everyday Living and two coordinators in
charge of providing comprehensive follow-up to each case. This team ensures that each
resident keeps her appointments at the Rehabilitation Center, and will encourage each
mother to develop an appropriate daily routine so that the relationship with her child is
strengthened. The residents intellectual and learning capacity is evaluated so that
they can attend school at whichever level is appropriate; primary, secondary or tertiary
level. Doctors have a dual role, curative and also preventative through health education.
Language and communication skills are quickly assessed. Mothers are trained to stimulate
their childrens speech, avoiding future learning problems. Psychologists
provide an assessment on admission, so that in consultation with the team, a
psychotherapeutic treatment can be devised on an individual basis. It is essential to deal
with those dysfunctional or violent models the mother may have internalized, and to avoid
these being transmitted to her child. Children are also assessed psychologically on
admission. Mother and child participate in joint activities led by a pedagogue specialist
in evaluating mother-child relationships.
Training for Employment is essential for the case to be successful. The Foundation is
constantly developing new initiatives that offer the residents proper work training which
should ensure that they obtain gainful employment independent of the program. We are
currently promoting the creation of a Social Enterprise Program despite the high
unemployment that exists throughout Latin America; this is a new challenge for us. These
children whose mothers are handicapped deserve to have their own identity now, they
deserve their mothers love.
As a way of offering support and follow-up the program must be linked to something that
gives the mother a viable and dignified life style. So far, we have been able to organize
training programs in several skill areas, including: cooking, candy preparation, and
catering for banquets; making of party favors and brides bouquets; making industrial
ceramics; making rubbish bags, and developing secretarial skills and training for
These programs are essential because of their therapeutic value, particularly for those
women who are victims of sexual exploitation; these programs prepare them to earn money
with dignity. Those young women who were in prostitution lack stimulation and the will to
learn a skill. From the beginning they compare it with the monetary profits they used to
get while in prostitution. In spite of our limited resources, we ensure that each resident
is paid a small amount of money on a weekly or monthly basis from the beginning of his or
her training. This small amount has a symbolic value. By undertaking some training which
will enable her to value herself more highly and be productive, a woman learns the value
of money and distances herself from previous degradation. However, money is required to
carry out these objectives.
Oppression will never be eradicated from a stance of impotence or doubt. Our work has
been well thought out and grows in strength. It would be essential that by consensus, all
business enterprises would support our work, since prostitution and drug trafficking are
permanent alternatives as a source of income which is easy to get. This war cannot be won
with weapons, but through consensus. By spreading widely our concerns, we must discourage
those who benefit from human degradation. Offering treatment to those most affected is our
duty just as it is our duty to lead the way to consensus.
Program for Handicapped Mothers
As citizens it is our duty to strengthen the relationship between both parents so that
their families become new cells in society The Homahi Foundation has set up a program,
which recognizes the rights of handicapped mothers. Handicapped women have the right to be
mothers This program is the only one of this type in the country, and it is fulfilling an
old debt by offering comprehensive help to these women who, until now, have been devalued
and excluded from society.
Pregnant handicapped women face a number of family, social and economic problems that
place them and their children in a very high-risk situation. These are underprivileged
women who have been victims of rape, abuse, domestic violence, and general exploitation.
When they become pregnant and go to maternity hospitals, they are targets for insults and
run the risk that their babies may be taken away from them. If their children are not
adopted, they are highly unlikely to have post-pregnancy care let alone follow-up during
their childrens first years of life.
No one helps them to establish good relationships with their children to prevent future
problems. There is the belief that these women are not able to love or to be loved by
their children. They are totally abandoned, full of fears, and anguish which could result
in post-natal psychopathology. Nobody helps them to raise their children. This is a lonely
time for them. Yesterday they were handicapped women neglected by state and society.
Today, they are deemed unable to be mothers; they are surplus to this arrogant society.
The situation becomes more desperate when there is no housing or work, which would go to
meet basic human needs. In conclusion, the facts deny all human logic. These human beings,
who are most vulnerable, are not supported by but dumped by society.
Our general objectives are to include the Prevention to Abandonment system; providing
protection, assistance, and social skills training regardless of the age, physical, mental
or sensory handicaps of the women we serve, and give priority to a therapeutic approach.
One of the objectives with the highest priority is the childs right to life and his
or her identity. By giving the mother support, the mother will be able to give her
child two things: life and a name.
Handicapped women, who are pregnant, many times facing an unwanted pregnancy, are
already experiencing a deep sense of abandonment. Sexual abuse, prostitution, deception
and indifference should not determine whether a woman may overcome all this and establish
a family. We work towards this end. Our specific objectives are varied and many. They
include the following:
- To offer comprehensive help to mother and child avoiding automatic separation or
separation without due consideration;
- To offer appropriate sexual education;
- To prevent the child from being deprived of maternal care in early infancy;
- To enable the mother to look for and find family affection to help her in her role as
- To promote a sense of being a part of society;
- To intervene to avoid inappropriate or fast adoption processes carried out by private
agencies interested in monetary profit;
- To prevent those high risk situations where family estrangement, violence, abuse, and/or
ill treatment, would be detrimental to the child; to offer information on legal rights the
mother may be entitled to have on professional advice;
- To treat any psychosocial problems using a multidisciplinary approach;
- To give advice by way of courses, seminars, round tables, etc. to all those who directly
or indirectly help these mothers and their children;
- To encourage amongst the residents a spirit of solidarity, sensitivity to handicap, and
learning to cooperate so as to enjoy a harmonious environment;
- To provide help in case of accident or health problems;
- To teach them to care for their own health and of their childrens, i.e.
breast-feeding, stimulation from an early age;
- To implement all those principles which enhance education;
- To encourage economic and financial independence;
- To increase the communitys participation, such as business offering jobs;
- To establish closer links with the state, the municipality, and the World Health
- To offer a real work option apart from the corruption and exploitation in which the
women found themselves previously
The handicapped mothers, either expectant or with newborn children, live at an assigned
Homahi Home, following the decision of the treatment teams. The professional team at
CE.RE.SO. (Social Rehabilitation Center) formulate diagnoses of the residents, which are
the basis for their treatment and any other recommendations. This should promote changes
in the health, education, socialization, and information areas. Follow-up is periodic so
that the team members are in contact with each other.
Each team member keeps case records. Written reports are submitted on a quarterly basis
on initial diagnosis and treatment progress. These are forwarded to the appropriate
authorities dealing with the case.
The Foundation employs professionals so that each case receives comprehensive
treatment. Whenever possible there is a close liaison with the staff at the public
hospital. Therefore, staff can treat the residents from both establishments.
The Social Work Department does any work related to establishing communication
with close relatives up to three generations, and ideally relationships are be
reestablished. Up to date information on mother and child are also this departments
responsibilities. Accurate evaluation of the mothers mental handicap enables us to
determine the extent of their learning difficulties and whether or not they can be dealt
with within the regular school system, but it is increasingly difficult to arrive at an
accurate diagnosis because of the boundaries that separate mental handicap from social
dysfunction. The concept of normality becomes ever so diffuse as the critical conditions
of family life increase toward the end of this century.
What is labeled, as Social Dysfunction is the subject of great controversy among the
different professionals such as doctors, educators, psychologists, pedagogues, auditory
specialists, etc. Mental handicap refers to something different, particularly from the
teaching perspective. The Psychology Department is responsible for formulating a good
diagnosis of each resident. They deal with all matters related to mothers psyches
and the circumstances of their pregnancies. They evaluate each childs potential. In
this way, there should be joint diagnosis and prognosis pertaining to any mother and
Thus far, we have been able to identify some dysfunctional patterns with respect to the
way the mother perceives her child:
- The child represents the magical solution (unconsciously) to all conflicts. The child
becomes a "war trophy" through which she may exercise some power over her
- The child becomes an "offering" with which to deserve the partners love
- The child becomes an "undifferentiated" extension of the mother. The child
becomes a partner in this rather pathetic situation.
The dysfunctions do not by themselves indicate the seriousness of the problem. In our
experience there have been many cases, which have been successful following a
comprehensive treatment. It is important to mention that research indicates that in almost
all cases, women in prostitution have been victims of incestuous sexual abuse in infancy
by their own parent or close relative. This data helps us to formulate prevention programs
and also gives us grounds to offer these women therapeutic treatment to help them live as
useful members of society. Needless to say, these programs must not include any judgmental
attitude, as this would increase guilt; it is essential to remember that this person had
no choice when they were sexually abused. The trauma can be quite severe and can be
expressed later on in a variety of ways, such as depression, suicidal attempts, feelings
of self-destruction, psychopathology, psychosomatic illness, depression, etc. To encourage
these women to be in control of their lives once again, it is essential to undo all these
traumas with the utmost care.
All professionals working in the medical department include as part of their treatment
an educational and preventative dimension. They are fully aware of the importance of
health education as the first requirement for a dignified quality of life.
We also have a Social Assistance Department. This is, in our opinion, an
essential part of the help offered at the home. If the residents are not able to become
fully reintegrated into society and able to hold down a job regardless of the high quality
of the treatment they received, we cannot speak of full recovery.
The most important goal in this process is for the resident to learn to take risks, to
be able to attempt new things, to make mistakes, to learn from these experiences. This
should enable them to be in control of their own lives.
The Foundation invests considerable effort in ensuring that the residents are given
assistance that is as comprehensive as possible to ease their lives as handicapped
mothers. This community-based approach means that society should also learn to value these
mothers. In other words, all the techniques and methodology used should be highly
Mothers exhibiting dysfunctional behavior (stealing, prostitution, trafficking in
drugs) have responded positively to this approach and in the short and medium term have
been able to secure jobs with a salary according to the going rate in the market.
Follow-up is offered to the residents until they have acquired a level of stability in
their jobs, and the main objective from then on is to facilitate a permanent discharge to
the community. It is felt that learning money management is fundamental to having an
independent life style.