As the pandemic turned all of our lives upside down, we suddenly found ourselves at home every day, using our 220 sq. ft., two-bedroom apartment for two jobs, virtual preschool, and everything else already related to home. Though difficult some days, we were able to adjust as a family and in general enjoy some extra time together. For other families though, the strict lockdown experienced in Bolivia meant that they had to deal with an increased threat of violence, not from anything outside, but from inside their very homes.
Many international organizations have predicted an extreme rise in intrafamily violence given the multifold stress brought on by the pandemic. Especially in Bolivia, where many people work in the informal sector, our two-month strict lockdown was close to a death sentence. Merchants were not able to go to the markets or streets to sell their goods or offer their services, and many families were left wondering how they would survive the two months. WMFB responded to over 200 family’s basic needs during this especially trying time, but many more families all over the country were suffering during this time. In the first two weeks of lockdown alone, there were 545 reported cases of intrafamily violence, only counting the numbers from five major Bolivian cities. As a ministry, we had also been working on a training course for churches, with the goal of identifying and preventing intrafamily violence before the pandemic struck. When all of our plans got put on hold, the idea of doing a training workshop got put on hold too. However, after seeing the rise in family violence all around us we began thinking of ways to still share the information. In the end, we decided to move the course to an online platform. This involved a grueling couple of months of filming and editing the teachings sessions and transferring all of the activities to an online platform. After a lot of hard work, we began promoting the course through Facebook, text messages and email. To our surprise, people began to sign up and we were able to begin a course.
As the course went on, people from several different churches began to analyze and question different presuppositions and cultural practices that enable and even cover up situations of violence. We asked leaders to begin drafting plans for sharing ways to prevent family violence within their churches and were excited to hear how people are putting them into practice. The subject of the course was so germane to the situation we were all living, that with our ministry partners we decided to offer a second session of the course and a follow-up training is currently in development.
After many years of off and on church involvement with WMFB, it has been an encouragement to see interest deepen in one of the most trying times. Intrafamily violence is an issue that ties in closely and increases vulnerability for sexual exploitation. As churches become aware of these issues and begin putting safeguards in place to support victims, we become partners in responding to the needs of survivors. I’ve had to recalibrate my idea of abundant life after a year of living in the shadow of a pandemic and seeing vulnerability and risk of sexual exploitation increase through strict lockdowns, job loss, and death. But one of the things that give me hope is new partnerships with churches that are aware of the realities and effects of family violence and are willing to make changes, so their congregations can be safe spaces for survivors. May we all continue to collaborate and pursue abundant life for all!