"I want to grow,” is a sentiment often heard among the women in SEW businesses. For Ana Ruth it was more than sentiment, it was a life changing goal. Ana Ruth had taken the dangerous trip to the United States at two different times in her young life. She came to the Los Angeles area where she worked in restaurants, learning how to organize and cook and serve. “They treated me badly, humiliating me, but later changed their attitude after seeing my work habits.” Involved in an abusive relationship, Ana Ruth declared, “ I couldn’t take it anymore… he was so jealous. One day he almost kills me, but didn’t because my children were there.” She yearned for the security of her family, realizing that there was “no place like home.” So, Ana Ruth returned to San Rafael Cedros, Cabañas, El Salvador.
There she encountered one of SEW’s staff, Iris Ayala, who was meeting with women in San Rafael Cedros. Iris was helping them envision how they could work their way out of poverty by starting a business.
Ana Ruth knew she had just the right background for starting a restaurant. “My goal was to produce typical Salvadoran food – to revive our culture. Everyone looks for papusas. I have a special touch – a secret flavor that I know will market well.” With SEW’s help, Ana Ruth, her sister and two cousin helpers, launched a small restaurant in the local street market.
While the restaurant is doing well, what brings the deeper smile to Ana Ruth’s face is her own transformation as a woman who believes in herself. “I want to grow” was as much her dream as that of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
“In San Rafael,” Ana Ruth relates, “we formed an association of women entrepreneurs for justice and created a basic school for gender. 20 women participated and the topics that touched me the most were self-esteem and inner-family violence.” The women and Ana Ruth spoke of societal expectations of women, of Salvador’s machismo culture, of the experiences of physically and psychologically abusive relationships. In the safety of the circle of women, they realized that their stories were not unique in the fear and the suffering they had endured.
“Now,” Ana Ruth says, “I feel capable of talking with other women about not letting themselves be violated.”
When asked what advice she would give other women, Ana Ruth replied, “Organize, come together, value themselves as they are because women are very important. We are able to succeed on our own, without being humiliated by maschista men, that only see us as women, not as human beings. Participate in your community; take on roles of leadership in your municipality. Listen to yourself– grow into the woman you can still be!” (Ana Ruth’s sentiments translated by Hannah Shultz)