“The Buhai Center Helped Me Become the Person I am Today”

Here in her own words is the story of A.V.* At the 2011 Buhai Brunch, A.V. joined Center supporters and shared on stage her tale of liberation from fear and hopelessness to a life of reward and meaning. A.V. spoke of the depths of despair from which she started when she crossed paths with the Center 15 years ago. Here is her full speech:

“Several years ago, I was trapped in a bad marriage. My ex husband was very controlling and emotionally abusive. He would often drink, get into rages, shout and kick things around in order to intimidate and threaten me. It worked. I felt weak and afraid.

I recall an incident, which was terrifying for me at the time, but which I can talk about today with ease. One weekend night, when I knew my husband would be coming home drunk; I went to sleep in my children’s bedroom so that I could hide and protect myself from his abuse. When my ex got home, he began looking for me, stumbling around, pulling the covers off the beds in the children’s’ room where my mother, who lived with us, was also sleeping. My husband’s violent mood turned to shock after he pulled back the covers, expecting to find me, and then he saw his mother in law glaring at him!

At the time, I tried to shield our sons from my troubles, but even so there are some things you just cannot hide. This was not the life I wanted for me or my boys, but I saw no way out. I was reluctant to get divorced because I had two young children and my mother to care for. I feared for our safety and economic security, I feared community rejection, but most of all I feared that I would lose my children because my husband had always threatened that he would take them away if I ever tried to leave him.

I didn’t know what to do or where to go to find help. I had spent a few hundred dollars at a paralegal agency that prepared papers to start a case for me, but they did a poor job. And then, when I had almost lost hope, a door opened for me because I had the good fortune to work for Blanche Bersch, who was on the Harriett Buhai Center Board of Directors. I feel truly blessed to have found the Center with the help of Blanche, as this really was the catalyst for change in my life.

The staff at the Buhai Center educated me about my legal rights and gave me all the tools I needed to gradually become my own advocate. The Buhai staff counseled me on all aspects of the dissolution process, including important issues such as how to keep me and my sons safe. The staff was kind, courteous, sympathetic and helpful in every way.

Once I started the legal process, the whole family dynamic changed. I was gradually becoming stronger and more independent. My ex no longer harassed me. He did not even challenge me for custody of our boys, as his main focus was to avoid giving me financial support.

When I finally went into court and got orders granting me a divorce, custody and child support, it felt like a terrible weight had been lifted from my shoulders and that I was now finally free to live my life.

My experience with the Buhai Center empowered me and gave me strength and confidence to accomplish what before I could only dream about. I began to focus on my education and got an AA degree in child development. Then I became certified as a health promoter and was hired by a community health center, to educate and assist low-income patients. I also do public speaking to raise awareness and organize my community in lobbying for decent health care services.

As part of my job, I reach out to help poor women and families in situations much like the one I was once in. I feel very lucky to be on the giving end instead of the receiving end this time.

Before I came to the Center, I never would have imagined that one day, I would be presented on stage with an award from La Opinion newspaper for being one of 30 distinguished Latina women who have made a difference in the LA community. This dream came true for me last year! And here I am again today, this time on a different stage, in front of all of you wonderful Buhai Center supporters to express gratitude for the assistance you have given me and others like me.

I am so grateful to the Buhai Center for being there when I needed them and for helping me to make a better life for myself, my family and the community I am privileged to serve.

The Buhai Center helped me to change my life and become the person I am today—a community leader and educator, a strong member of the Latino community; and most importantly, a proud parent.”

*Client’s name has been changed to protect her privacy