Let’s Hold Out Hope to Young Women in South Bronx

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Sharon Ufberg NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Casa Atabex Ache, La Casa del Poder de la Mujer is what it’s called by the women who run it and are served by it. The name is a blend of their African, Latina and indigenous roots.

Casa means home in Spanish and acknowledges Latina ancestry.

Atabex is the representation of a goddess well known to an indigenous Taino Puerto Rican community.

Ache means power in the Nigerian Yoruba dialect.

The merged words from different languages reflect the heritages of the women being served. Many are a long way from any sense of home and have survived troubled childhoods in foster homes and struggling families.

For such young women, this group represents hope. In English, La Casa del Poder del la Mujer is called "The House of Women’s Power."

However, the Casa lost the last of its private foundation funding this year, like many small nonprofits, and the organization founded in 1987 has been struggling for survival.

Housed in a donated basement space of an apartment building, Casa is the only center in the South Bronx, N.Y., to offer a safe space for young women and girls to share their stories, heal from trauma, receive training and feel empowered to move up and out of the cycle of violence and poverty. About 25 women of all ages come to it monthly for self healing circles and programs. Some enjoy healing medicinal rites from their families’ traditional communities.

Well Known Identity

The South Bronx’s identity as the poorest and most marginalized community in the country is well known. Addiction, mental illness, violence and poverty surround housing projects, hospitals, mental health facilities and churches.

Mott Haven, Casa’s neighborhood, claims the highest rates of teen pregnancy and infant mortality in the state, according to the New York Department of Health Services. It’s in the poorest congressional district in the country, in New York’s northern borough of the Bronx, named the state’s "unhealthiest" county by the University of Wisconsin in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Casa’s Executive Director Dayanarna Marte and two staffers continue to work without pay. Because of their commitment to the organization and its mission, they each have gone back to school to get advance degrees and training so they are better equipped to rebuild Casa’s infrastructure and pursue strategic goals.

Starting out at Casa Atabex as an intern in 1998, Marte and the other volunteer staffers are continuing programming and workshops they run with the help of volunteer organizers and healers in the community.

Teen mothers lead workshops for other teen moms in a program called "Rooted in the Heart," an offshoot of an earlier Yo Tengo Fuerza project that targeted 12 to 18 year old girls.

"Yo Tengo Fuerza: I Have Power–Young Womyn Healing, Transforming and Being Free" is Casa Atabex Ache’s moving documentary. It tells the story of three young women, the abuse, violence and neglect they face at school, within their own families or in foster care and their journey to self heal through their involvement in programming at Casa Atabex Ache.

The movie came out of a pilot leadership training program in 2008 and demonstrates how much can be accomplished in a short span of time.

Spreading the Support

Dayanarna Marte (middle) holds hands during a Casa Atabex Ache retreat.Twenty women in that pilot program were taught self-healing skills and now provide crisis support to other women. Some work in New York City. One delegation went to help the victims in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Another has gone to post-earthquake Haiti.

The mission, says Marte, is to provide a doorway to boundless transformation "starting right here in the South Bronx." Here, she says, a young woman will have mentors. "She will find her voice, mind, body and spirit." Casa Atabex Ache is a one-stop center that holistically helps a young woman surmount trauma, poverty and violence, says Marte, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and a mother of two children.

"Here she will do arts as healing, have access to holistic mental health support, learn alternative life skills that connect her to the earth, learn about preventative medicine as an alternative to the declining health care system," she said in an interview with Women’s eNews.

Every day two or three young women stop by looking for work and training opportunities, she says. But with funding gone, they cannot help these women as they once did. Most of the women that stop by have been forced to drop out of school to look for work to support their families.

As a woman-led organization, for and by women of color, Casa Atabex Ache is like many other programs in this country that run on meager funds and uncertain funding commitments. The money to fund such projects is vital. Let’s remember our sisters, right here in our own backyard. They need our assistance, love and support.

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Dr. Sharon Ufberg is a respected integrative practitioner, health care journalist and consultant. She is an international leader and activist in issues of women’s health and safety and a delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. She can be reached at sufberg@gmail.com or http://drsharonufberg.com or followed on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/drufberg

For more information:

Casa Atabex Ache: http://www.casaatabexache.org/

Dayanara Marte’s article on WorldPulse: http://www.worldpulse.com/node/34176

New York’s 62 Counties’ Health Rankings: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/new-york

South Bronx Health information: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/dpho/dpho-bronx-insert.pdf

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