“I Love Myself More and I Love Other People More”

In high school, English was her least favorite class. Elena Rivers Zeledón disliked her school’s teaching methodology, with its heavy focus on rote memorization. However, Elena, now 24 and a university student, understood the value of knowing English and decided to enroll in the English course offered by the Center last January. She hoped that basic knowledge of English would improve her job prospects and make it easier to communicate with relatives living in the United States.

As her course neared completion, Elena expressed satisfaction with what she has learned. “I feel that I’ve learned English,” she said. “But not only that – I also like it now. The methodologies that are used here have shown me a simpler way of understanding English.” The course’s teaching methodology, which stresses learning through the games and participative activities rather than through memorization, has helped Elena overcome her shyness about speaking English: “I am shy about speaking English. But the teachers encourage you to participate with games and dynamic activities in order to draw out the words.”

In addition to her English classes, Elena was one of 64 women who participated in a workshop series offered by Proyecto FED (the Center’s violence prevention project) to all female students enrolled in Center courses. The workshop series included sessions on self-esteem, leadership, and economic independence. Elena, who had often struggled with low self-esteem, found the self-esteem workshops particularly valuable. The goal of these workshops was the strengthen participants’ self-esteem by showing them how to value themselves, build their support networks, and develop strategies to address challenges to their self-esteem, especially those related to domestic violence.

Elena described the self-esteem workshops as an “unforgettable experience,” recalling that the workshops helped her understand that “I am a beautiful person and I don’t have to pretend to be somebody else.” At the same time, the workshops provided a space for Elena to process the violence she had experienced growing up. “I come from a violent household,” she said simply. “I feel these tools [from the workshops] have helped me to confront my situation.” Before the workshops, Elena had considered the domestic violence she had grown up with to be a private experience that could not be discussed. But as her fellow participants shared personal stories of violence, her attitude began to change.  She no longer viewed her experience of violence as something she needed to hide but rather as a personal manifestation of a larger social problem that needed to be talked about openly and combated: “We don’t have to live like a dog in the rain in this world,” she asserted. “We can improve our conditions. We don’t have to resign ourselves to misery.”

Since attending the workshops, Elena has noticed changes in herself and her family life. These changes are rooted in her increased self-esteem: “I love myself more and I love other people more.” She has been able to transform her relationships with her mom and her sisters, speaking with them more honestly than ever before. She observed, “For the first time I have been able to talk with my mom about certain things and our relationship has changed for the better because of it.” The connection between increased self-esteem and ability to make positive life changes is a strong one. According to Ivania Pineda, the violence prevention project psychologist at the Center who helped facilitate the workshops Elena attended, “Once women learn to value themselves and their experiences, they are able to see themselves as leaders and protagonists of their lives and are able to make decisions to improve their lives that they were afraid to make before.”

Summing up her experience as a student and workshop participant at the Center, Elena said, “The Center has helped me not only through knowledge, which is important, but also psychologically… I could have studied English anywhere, but these things that the Center does are not things you can find anywhere. The personal changes I experienced are the most beautiful thing, the best reward. The Center has helped me move forward with my life.” As she moves forward with her life, Elena hopes to continue improving her English and finish her degree in business administration.

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