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Elisa's Story

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Who am I? My story through time

My name is Elisa, daughter of Augusta and Antonio, I’m the second of eight, and I can proudly say that I am the product of what my mother formed, I’m somebody who supports others on their journey. I’m Peruvian, and was born in the north of Peru, close to the border with Ecuador in a small town. My father, Antonio, was a military man and for that reason we traveled around Peru during our childhood. 

Elisa in front of a painting.

My path was marked by the commitment and the responsibility of being the oldest sister or being part of the oldest ones. During my childhood, my mindset changed in an accelerated way, due to this there was no time to enjoy it. Being one of the oldest of 8 gave me the commitment with myself and with my family to be attentive to the needs of others. For this reason when I had my own daughter I wanted her to enjoy her childhood. I think that it’s the best stage of life without responsibilities, just playing, dreaming and growing. Now I have the joy of being a grandmother and I enjoy watching my granddaughter playing, reading and dreaming. 

 

I was a shy girl and didn’t know much about relationships between young people. However I was learning about this topic little by little even though it caused me a little fear and curiosity. Back then I was between 13 and 14 years old, and I can say this, fear, because I always saw my mom pregnant. We’re 8 siblings and at that age I had noticed that my mother had been pregnant 3 or 4 times. I didn’t understand why there were so many of us. Sometimes I compared myself to my friends that had 1 or 2 siblings, and because of that I didn’t feel good. 

 

Mom never talked to me about this topic. I took care of my younger siblings, but when I got married, a few years later, I made myself the “promise” of only having one child, because I had lived a childhood and adolescence taking care of them, my siblings, with a lot of restrictions of all kinds, especially economic ones. My mom never used or tried to use any contraceptive method, because at that time it wasn’t very common to use it. I grew up with that idea and life took care of making that promise come true.

 

Time passed and when I was 17 years old I went to university. I remember when I entered, my parents were very proud but worried at the same time, especially my dad, because it was a university to train engineers and the majority were men. Out of 10,000 students who entered only 30 were women. It was a personal battle, especially with my dad, who finally understood that I as a woman also had the right to compete on equal terms with men. It was a very gratifying time as a student full of experiences and knowledge that marked my professional life. Being a woman and a minority opened doors for my future formation abroad. I traveled to Germany and other countries of Latin America like Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

 

This joy and happiness was truncated by political events that occurred in my country; that is to say, the joy of being a young professional full of dreams and plans was frustrated by the events that took place. It was the years 70 to 75 and at that time there was a revolutionary maoist movement in the Andean areas and in the jungle of Peru.

 

It was a new ideology from the left that was probably ignited by the social and economic differences of a sector of the population; “poverty and lack of opportunities were the breeding ground for that ideology.” This conflict lasted a long time, close to 20 years. It practically began when I entered university in the years 70-72, and as time progressed the consequences of this “armed conflict” were devastating for many. 

 

After the Conflict, the society of my country was not the same. We found whole Andean Communities that were displaced fleeing political violence and many social problems that, I think, influenced my generation, in the realm of young people who graduated university during that time. The consequences in the population once the conflict ended changed our way of thinking and perceiving the society we lived in, but we were able to see and be able to see the inequality and poverty in which one sector of our population had been in. We were able to see up close the condition of women being discriminated against with no hope, because many were single mothers and abandoned, and they were left adrift without knowing what to do to keep living in the capital city far from their communities. They fled the violence that hit their homes and without being able to speak Spanish well, because many spoke only Quechua or Aymara, and they gathered in the slopes of the hills that surround the capital city.  

That situation made me think and take action with social conscious. When I had the opportunity to work in the German Cooperation my job consisted of “empowering” these country women, teaching them how to live in a city far from their community, what their rights were, as women, as Peruvians, training themselves to learn a trade so that they could get ahead on their own, performing some activity that would allow them to have a livelihood in their lives. In this way, over time, they formed small cooperatives and work groups that helped them support their children. We talked about their rights as women, from the care they and their daughters should have, their value as citizens, and what their worth within their community and society. We talked to them about the trauma they experienced during that violent time and how they could overcome it.

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Peruvian handcrafted art.

I had read about a psychological technique, which consists of “talking about what had happened to you and what was a problem for you.” “This problem could be dissipated and the person could feel relief from sorrow or understand what had happened, if you told it and others listened to you.” 

 

We tried to help these women by forming groups, chatting with them as they carried out their tasks like fabrics and embroidery. They talked about the problems experienced and what had happened to them at that time and while they talked they shared their feelings and comforted each other. These dialogues helped many overcome the traumas and they found some peace and comfort. We led these groups for a few months and later some helped others with the same “Dialogue Technique”. This social work always challenged my technical training in university. I remember years later, I studied a Master’s in Social Management that helped me understand the social aspects of my life more.

 

Time passed and my daughter was already close to entering university. About 20 years had passed since the experience with those women, the country had changed as well as the society, and we found ourselves in a time of frank political tranquility. Terror was eliminated and society was beginning the path to reconciliation between different actors. 

Elisa with her family in Wisconsin.

My daughter was motivated by these feelings of justice, national reconciliation, and social conscience. When she was in university and in her first year of law school, she enrolled in a summer program to travel to the United States as a three-month fellowship the following spring. This trip changed the course of her life, and she met her now husband. She returned to Peru after three months but after a short time she made the trip back to Wisconsin to stay. When I said that this trip changed her life, I meant that it changed all of our lives. After a while, Gonzalo and I traveled to the United States; she is my only daughter and we wanted to be together in this new country. When we arrived in this country I was confused about what to do, I knew that the health sector was the only one at that time in 2010 that offered job opportunities, and for that reason I began my studies as a Medical Laboratory Technician.

My daughter had graduated from the University of Whitewater and after a short time working in Milwaukee she went to work for Planned Parenthood. I saw my daughter excited about her work. The passion I saw in her working with this Organization caught my attention and I wondered, “What does this Organization have that makes my daughter love her job and let her identify with it?” We talked and talked about the Organization and how it served the community. I was impressed and intrigued and when I finished my studies and graduated, once again, she asked me this question: “Wouldn’t you like to work for Planned Parenthood? There is an open position.” And so I did, and started working at the Racine Clinic shortly after as a Medical Assistant. 

I didn’t know about the Promoters until one day Maria Baker invited me to participate in the Promoters meeting on Thursdays at 5pm. I loved it, I identified with the work they did, I remembered what I had done years ago in my country and this lived experience was one of the reasons that motivated me to be a PPWI Health Promoter in my new place. 

 

I discovered that I had almost had a role as a Promoter when I started working with “displaced women” in the struggle to achieve an inclusive and just society. In many cases domestic violence was also present and these were the issues that Planned Parenthood Health Promoters worked on, and that’s why I felt even more motivated with my new role. 

Elisa with the Health Promoters of CCmás.

The latent memory of my childhood in the figure of my mother is still present in my work of being able to help women decide about who they are with regard to their family planning, showing them the way to make decisions about their reproductive health, and helping them understand that they themselves own their decisions and their future.

Elisa's husband with his granddaughter.

Elisa with her granddaughter. 

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