Sept. 18 – New London – Two Latinas and immigrant women create a safe space for women like themselves to find community and build skills to become leaders in the larger community.
Mujeres Entre Culturas, or Women Between Cultures, is an alternative support group for women from Latin America and from their heritage. Lisbeth Polo Smith and Esmeralda Amparo Bustamante, community health workers and local activists, run and lead the group.
“The goal is to empower women and create new leaders,” Bustamante said.
The group of women, whose number varies for each event, meet once a month to learn a new skill such as sewing, crafts, gardening, CPR and healthy eating. The women who attend workshops or classes come from a variety of countries – Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras. Some know English, some know little or not at all.
Bustamante said they plan to collaborate with various local organizations so that women are aware of what is available to them in the community.
On August 30, the group gathered at Spark Markerspace in New London to sew felt bags for reading glasses to donate to the city’s seniors’ center.
Polo-Smith said they started the group in March on their own and caught the attention of their employer, Ledge Light Health District, which sponsors the program along with Health Improvement Collaborative in southeastern Connecticut.
However, the group has nowhere to call home and they are currently meeting at the New London Senior Centre. Bustamante said they would like a location or office where they can store the donations they receive. She and Polo Smith stored the donations in their garage.
Bustamante and Paulo Smith are both Peruvians and have lived in the United States for over 20 years. Starting the group was not difficult for them, because they are well known in the Hispanic community.
Oftentimes immigrants come to the United States from difficult situations only to experience more barriers, isolation and discrimination, Bustamante said. She said they wanted to improve the lives of the women on the group; Make things easier for them, not harder.
Women in a support group have few options for mental health services. Women either do not have insurance or funds to pay for services, and/or cannot prioritize their mental health among other needs. Even if they could, there is a shortage of bilingual and bicultural providers.
Polo Smith said the COVID-19 pandemic has left many depressed.
Victoria Camacho, 34, lives in Groton and immigrated to the United States from Peru about seven years ago. At the August 30 event, Camacho said she didn’t really know anyone before joining Intercultural Women.
Since joining, Camacho said she has met more people and learned how to sew, interact with others and share stories. She said it makes her feel better because she’s not isolated at home. In September, Camacho will present a class to other members of the support group on how to make ornaments made of fruit.
“Here, if you know something, you can share that and teach it to others,” she said. “I love decorating.”
Camacho said the group encouraged her to start her own business making balloon decorations for weddings and birthdays. She promotes it on her Facebook page.
Maria Peña, 64, has lived in the United States for 27 years after moving here from the Dominican Republic. Peña, the retiree, who has attended two group events, said she loves helping people and has found a community with women across cultures.
“It helps me get out of the house and get out of depression,” she said.
#Latin #American #Womens #Local #Support #Group #Promotes #WellBeing #Leadership