Helping Abused and Exploited Children in Chile

Helping Abused and Exploited Children in Chile

The daughter of a diplomat, Marianela Soto Hurtado spent her childhood in various countries in Europe, theU.S.,CanadaandChile. Yet, throughout her travels, she longed to stay deeply connected with her Chilean roots. This desire stayed with her even after she completed her M.Ed. in Human Development and Psychology fromHarvardUniversityand began working at the Boston Children’s Hospital, followed by theSouthEndCommunityHealthCenter, also inBoston.

Marianela specialized in school-based counseling and child abuse counseling. During a year of travel, she visitedChile, where she was invited to observe clinical sessions at different centers that worked with children. She was surprised by what she saw—although child abuse clinics existed, it was apparent to her that most counselors were not entirely sure how to handle such cases.

“It was as if when a child said she was abused, they could not hear it,” she remarked. She knew this was an opportunity for her to make a difference, so she devised a plan.

The first step was to begin working with the Giaretto Institute ( now Eastfield Ming Quong) in San Jose, CA, the first child sexual abuse center in the U.S. Marianela was eager to hone her knowledge and experience, and to take it back to Chile, but one crucial question remained unanswered—how would she sustain herself?

It was during her stint at Giaretto that someone at a private school she was visiting mentioned ICRI. Curious about this organization that was involved in children’s welfare around the world, Marianela made a trip to our Berkeley HQ office. She found her answer.

“What impressed me was the very dedicated focus on children, and very young children,” she says about ICRI.

Although she had contacted various larger organizations with a similar focus, at ICRI she found the perfect balance of support and autonomy that she was seeking.

“Here, you can create a project based on what you see is needed. At large or well known organizations, your supervisors decide that these are the programs they want to do, and you are an employee or a consultant for the ideas that they have,” she explains about her search. “ICRI requires you to be very responsible about what you know and don’t know, and can and can’t do, but it also allows you to be creative.”

After securing a formal partnership with ICRI in 2000, Marianela started looking for funding. From 2002 to 2006, she spent half the year inChiletraining professionals and childcare workers at centers run by Servicio Nacional de Menores (SENAME), a children’s rights government organization. She wrote proposals, obtained grants, and improved her curriculum for the rest of the year. By 2006, she had presented her well-received training at 54 child abuse treatment centers, 62 assessment centers, and 117 children’s group homes. She was able to impact thousands of children through the 850 workers she empowered. In addition, she taught at various universities, and hosted guest lecturers including Dr. Donald Bross, Director of Legal Counsel at theKempeCenterfor the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. Despite the success of this venture, Marianela headed back to theU.S.in 2008 because grants from foundations were drying up and the program could no longer be funded.

However, Marianela is not one to give up so easily. She is ready to pick up where she left off and is currently raising funds to revive the program. She is hoping to create a permanent branch of ICRI inChile, and consolidate her work there while expanding toPeru,BoliviaandParaguay. She knows her work is critical. According to a recent UNICEF survey, “the key child protection issue is the region of Latin America and theCaribbeanis violence: on the streets, in the juvenile justice systems, in the home, or in the form of sexual abuse and exploitation. By training professionals and child care workers in outpatient and residential centers that see abused children, Marianela wants to help the growing awareness of child abuse and how to prevent and treat it in neighboring countries that are starting to address the issue.

Marianela shakes her head in amusement when she recalls how far she has come in realizing her dream. She recalls writing her first LOI to ICRI, meeting with the board, and not knowing “anything about writing a proposal or how to get funds.”

Now, Marianela has come a long way, and she credits her partnership with ICRI for developing her as a leader and advocate for children.  Marianela is just one of numerous leaders in whom ICRI has invested over its 30 year history.  In our experience, people with a deep personal connection are the ones best suited to identify and address issues facing their home communities.  We are always on the lookout for other Marianelas- social entrepreneurs looking to use their unique talents and passions to make a difference for children and families in need.