Andrea Montalvan Apagueño, from the Community of San Juan de Puritania (Loreto, Peru), has been a woman community leader (promotora comunitaria) for Minga Peru for a little over a decade and she is everything you’d expect a community leader to be—outspoken, confident, compassionate, and dedicated. She takes her role seriously and is deeply passionate about lifting others up. And because she’s such a model community member, you’d never know that her life journey was marred by domestic violence and a lifelong struggle with low self-esteem.
Growing up, Andrea was caught in a cycle of violence that affects many households in the Peruvian Amazon. Up until the age of 17, Andrea had been physically and verbally abused by her parents. As she got older and started a family of her own, Andrea would continue this cycle with her partner and four daughters. When she felt frustrated with her family, she would lash out by hitting and berating them.
“As a child, I was never able to confide in my parents because they were physically and verbally abusive. Unfortunately, this happens to many people here in Loreto, not just me,” she explains. “There are many children who are abused by their parents because they, too, were abused as children.”
Andrea was traumatized by years of physiological, physical and verbal abuse, causing her to suffer from feelings of inadequacy—and those feelings fueled her participation in a vicious cycle. Andrea was feeling trapped in this seemingly never-ending loop when she first heard about Minga.
One day, she ran into a woman, named Amarilis, who happened to be working for Minga. She was in town to do interviews with high school students who were correspondents of the radio program Bienvenida Salud. Curious about the work Amarilis was doing with the students, Andrea decided to strike up a conversation. She learned that Amarilis worked with the communities on various themes like self-esteem, domestic violence, and sexual health. After listening for a while, Andrea spoke up and said something that would change her life.“Señorita, I want to learn too!”
Andrea attended her first Minga training workshop a few weeks later in her community where they discussed how to parent with love, care, and healthy communication. Though she was dedicated to learning more and making a life change, Andrea’s self-esteem stopped her from being an active participant. She remembers quietly sitting in the back for the entire session, embarrassed that she might say the wrong thing. But with time and a few more sessions, Andrea began to open up and heal her wounds through the learning process.
“During one of our conversations, I just began to cry because it was the first time that I was having an open discussion on domestic violence,” she said. “Every tear that I cried reminded me of how I had mistreated my children and how my parents had mistreated me.”
For the next six years, Andrea worked hard to change her behavior and to fix things with her family, though it was far from easy. Her first impulse was to continue interacting with her family the way she always had but, through her training, she was learning new modes of communication. If she felt like hitting her daughters, she’d take a breath, calm herself, and say “No, I won’t do this.” Whenever she felt like arguing with her husband, she would remind herself that, in the end, she always felt better when she had a healthy talk about the root of the issue.“Conversation is everything and you can never justify violence,” she’d repeat to herself. And step by step, Andrea fought to bring her family to a better place.
Now, 12 years after her first session with Minga, Andrea is taking her own personal journey and helping others through her role as a Minga community leader. Not only does she give formal training on domestic violence but she also goes house to house in her community, educating her neighbors. If she hears about a mother physically abusing their child, Andrea will personally go to the mother and try to have a conversation. If she hears about a couple in an abusive relationship, she’ll visit them as well. Andrea is skilled at using her story as a learning opportunity, basing her attempt to help her neighbors in empathy, non-judgment, and compassion. She certainly has much to be proud of and looking back, she knows that she’s come a long way.
“Change isn’t easy but it is possible,” she says with confidence. “And if we, as women, decide to change for the betterment of our children and the community, we can break this cycle and free ourselves from these problems.”
Looking forward, Andrea has no plans to slow down in her work and dedication to her learning journey. Through her own volition, she changed the trajectory of her life, putting herself and her family on the path to success. And hopefully, along the way, Andrea’s story has impacted those around her and inspired them to be bold, dig deep, and make a profound change in their lives as well.
For over 22 years, Minga has empowered over 1,200 women from 50 remote and isolated communities of the Peruvian Amazon, representing one of the most marginalized areas in the country and in the region. Through empowerment training, Minga has ensured that women like Andrea learn leadership, communication, and self-esteem as a way to build more united homes, free from violence.
With your meaningful support, we can continue creating more united and happy families in the Peruvian Amazon.
** U.S. donations are tax-deductible and can be made through Minga’s fiscal sponsor, The Resource Foundation.