While DVCC is a local organization, we are always eager to expand our global horizons through information sharing and exchange programs. Recently the University of Connecticut offered us an opportunity to participate in the U.S. Department of State's Professional Fellows Program. As a result, we hosted Laura Contreras Pena, a social worker from Costa Rica, who immersed herself in learning about how the DVCC provides services to individuals impacted by domestic violence. As part of the reciprocal federally-funded program, a DVCC staff member will travel to Costa Rica in February.
During her time at the DVCC, Pena observed our work in counseling sessions, support groups, the Norwalk SafeHouse, at trainings for Stamford Hospital staff and the Stamford Police Department, and with the PeaceWorks education programs in area schools. And even though Hurricane Sandy interfered with the end of her visit, Pena said she learned a lot from accompanying DVCC staff for a week. In her job as a social worker, most recently at the Hospital de Ciudad Neily in southern Costa Rica, Pena continually counsels women who are in abusive relationships, compounded often by their financial and emotional dependence on their partners and by a culture that promotes male dominance. After just two days at the DVCC, she picked up on the advantages of support groups as a way for women to empower themselves to be more independent and on technology as a means to improve communication. Citing the numerous excellent websites available here, especially DVCC's EsperanzaCT website, she noted that better websites in her country could be very beneficial, especially for people living in rural, isolated communities.
"A lot of our clients live far away, and better websites could be really useful for them," Pena said.
The Professional Fellows Program brings people from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise. Participants are placed in public, private and non-profit sector organizations across the nation where they learn first-hand how issues in their field are addressed in this country. UCONN is one of 17 non-profit organizations and universities chosen to host foreign professionals in 2011 - 2012 from over 50 countries and territories worldwide. In this multi-year, two-way educational and cultural exchange program entitled "Empowering Women through Social Entrepreneurship", professionals from Costa Rica and the U.S. receive fellowships to increase their knowledge about how to become effective social change agents.
Pena and nine other fellows from Costa Rica were here for a month, during which time they also learned about American culture through programs at their host universities, site visits and community-based events. They visited programs in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia, and ended their stay in Washington D.C., where they took part in the Professional Fellows Congress, a forum to discuss what they learned and to develop concrete projects and networks that they can implement upon their return home.
In February 2013, UCONN will send a delegation of ten American professional fellows to Costa Rica for follow-on programming, which will include Doris Urteaga, DVCC's Coordinator of Spanish Language Services and EsperanzaCT.