The History of Special Families

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When Marlene Hernandez and Sister Rebecca Trujillo started visiting families  with children with different handicaps in the barrios of Matagalpa Nicaragua they knew that their lives would never be the same. ¨It was as if the mothers of these children were prisoners in their own homes. because of the lack of services and accessibility¨ said Marlene herself a mother of a handicapped daughter. It is an organization based on relationships.   For the first 4 years Marlene and sister Rebecca visited and listened and helped the mothers reflect on their own situation and connect with other mothers.  Each time taking mothers into different barrios to meet children better or worse off than their own.  As the mothers began to realize that they were not alone things began to happen,  lives began to change. Thus Special Families of Saint Julie Billiart was started.     



Foundacion Familias Especiales de Santa Julia Billiart (FE) of the Dioceses of Matagalpa Nicaragua is a non-governmental non- profit agency founded in 1996 with its legal juridical in 2001.  It began with an invitation  by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Matagalpa to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to try to give support to families who have children with disabilities. Sister Rebecca, a sister of Notre Dame, invited Marlene Hernandez to walk with her through the barrios of Matagalpa.  Then they organized an extensive census involving more than 300 high school students and 6 social agencies going door to door  to identify  families with children with disabilities.  Over 500 families were first identified in the city itself and later families from the rural communities began to hear about the work of the foundation, traveling hours to receive services.
¨We wanted to say to these families You are not alone.”  They were among other poor  families but because of their child’s handicap they were basically abandoned, with out access to basic services such as education, health, nutrition and employment, and transportation.  The idea was to strengthen these families and connect them to others within the society to continue to support their special needs.
Special Families or FE which means Faith, has developed programs organically over the years by helping the mothers  recognizing and articulate their own needs.  More than 1,200 families who represent some of the poorest in our society with the majority being single mothers, have found ways to join together.
The mothers of FE  now work with professionals to meet the following goals: 

  1. to help families attain the basic needs and services to help their handicapped children in the areas of health, education, employment, social, spiritual, etc.
  2. to help mothers work together to support each other in different groups and programs
  3. to sensitize the wider community to the abilities and needs of the handicapped and their families.

These goals are met with different actions directed to face problems in the areas of: labor, education, health, spirituality, social integration, physical accessibility and recreation for the person with a handicap. 
The structural foundation of FE is the Mother Leader in each neighborhood. These members of the organization realize different activities as promoters in their own neighborhood to promote health education and acceptance of their children. The profile of  the program has made important contributions in the area of creation of jobs for the handicapped, the conservation of the natural environment, education and culture, health and nutrition as well as transportation, mobility and accessibility for handicapped.
Including all their programs  they have served over 1,200 people.   The different programs include:  A special education center, a children’s park, Yogurt and cheese factory, café and art store, sign and printing company, paper recycling program, mental health program, chicken farm, wheel chair project, neighborhood outreach and development programs, women  empowerment programs, domestic violence intervention and prevention programs and a variety of clubs, commissions, and other associations for the handicapped.
The structure of FE is based on the participation of the special mothers  and workers through a General Assembly which meets annually to approve the work done by professionals and volunteers. They also elect a 7 member  Junta Directiva that is active in the running of the many programs, with its main purpose to keep the vision of the foundation of a community of families  working together.  The programs are run through an administrative team including the Directora of the junta directiva .  There is a team of the Responsables de Areas: 14 members who meet weekly to insure coordination and support for each program.  There is a Social Team with mothers and professionals, therapists, psychologists, social workers teachers etc.  who work directly with the children, they meet each month to do case management.
As FE began to develop other people came to join them.  “We met people from other programs and  countries who were interested in what we were doing so we invited them to work with us. It is always been our message You are not alone which opens us to receive help from other groups and individuals.” FE is very grateful for the support given to them by Moviemento Comunal  in Matagalpa in 1996, who helped them to receive their first program by giving them administrative support until they could get their own legal status in Nicaragua as a nongovernmental organization.  Since beginning FE has received programs and volunteers from over 14 countries. There has always been a spirit of solidarity which is integral to FE. These relationships are characterized by mutual support as FE offers valued experience in working professionally within the areas of therapy and special education.  This helps to create mutual learning experiences. 
To get an idea of the groups who work with FE supporting programs and funding please check with following web page links.