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Dedicated to the memory of my mother Maria Concepción

“Hija, tienes que ser la voz de justicia para la próxima generación.”~M.C. 



In August, 2012 I launched my advocacy research study on domestic violence in the Dominican Republic. This Latina researcher examined how the epidemic of domestic violence follows many of the immigrant Dominican women that settle in the Washington Heights and Dyckman areas in New York City. Regrettably, many Manhattan women shelters and community outreach groups are not able to be culturally responsive to the unique and complex needs of this particular immigrant population.  As a result, many of these battered women eventually go back to their abusers and face insurmountable obstacles to break the cycle of domestic violence in their lives.

The goal of this research project is to collaborate with a local grassroots organization in the Washington Heights area, and offer research findings that can steer and shape their organization action plans to better serve this population of battered women. Ultimately, a program evaluation can demonstrate how this grassroots organization is effectively meeting the needs of Dominican women and making a noteworthy impact. Similar to my research work and program evaluation of a Girls Rescue Shelter in Kenya, findings from this research study and program evaluation can help the grassroots organization seek and secure substantial grant funding from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and/or the United Nations.

THE LATINA PROJECT: BREAKING THE SILENCE AND CYCLE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is endorsed by President Hipolito Mejia and Senator Aristi-Castro of the Altagracia Province. During this trip, I had the honor of meeting with the aforementioned dignitaries to discuss public policy and potential channels for raising awareness to ratify change. With the help of several Dominican local community advocates such as former Councilman Victor Manuel Batista and Mr. Pena,  I conducted focus groups and individual interviews with battered women in the town of Bonao. This field study helped me to better understand the multi-faceted phenomena of domestic violence in the Latino community.

None of this work would have been possible without the amazing support of Loida Pujols who has served as a UN consulate-general for the Dominican Republic. This global citizen and passionate Latina advocate helped pave the way to support and make my research dream come true. Thanks to Mrs. Pujols, SOCIAL CHANGERS WITHOUT BORDERS, INC is able to leave a research footprint of positive social change in our first Latin American country.

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Education as a Social Justice Tool: Adelante —The Latina Perspective


Education as a Social Justice Tool: Adelante—The Latina Perspective

Vilma Caban-Vazquez, Ed.D

In order to understand the power of your tomorrow, you must go back and understand your humble beginnings.


It’s the summer of 1969. My story begins in a tiny New York City studio apartment in the poverty stricken neighborhood of “Alphabet City”, known to the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants as “Loisaida” otherwise known as the lower east side (Miyares & Airriess, 2007). Born the illegitimate love child of a married Puerto Rican radio announcer and an immigrant Puerto Rican “campesina” (country girl), this feisty niña let out the warrior hunger cry that reverberated in an empty apartment that only housed a mattress and a small transistor radio—my mother’s sole companion. After sharing the news that she was pregnant, “mi papá”  was nowhere to be found. However, for many lonely days my mother eagerly and fondly listened to her first love. Sitting on her mattress, cradling her little miracle, she would tune in on her little radio seeking the smooth radio voice of her heartless and absent lover. The “campesina” desperately worried about how she was going to raise her daughter alone.

Fast forward to a moment in time, around 3 O’Clock in the morning where this resourceful single mother frantically tried to figure out how to feed her daughter. Facing a bare refrigerator, and just some sugar and rice in her pantry, her solution was to warm up some water and place 3 teaspoons of sugar to hold this hungry child for the night. The number three was a significant number to my mother.  The Holy Trinity…in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Somehow, this divine trinity would intercede. Her options were limited as an uneducated woman with a second grade education, and a limited skill set. She braced herself to face another 12 hour workday in a crowded and hot garment factory. “Mami” knew the moment she would bring her precious and hungry “Hija” to her altruistic “vecina” (neighbor), that she would have a warm bottle of milk waiting for her hungry child. As she rocked her “nena” to sleep, praying that sunlight would soon come, she painfully thought about her reality… “Aye Dios mio. ¿Que voy hacer?”.

Mami vowed that her daughter’s future would be different, and it was…my mother’s vow for a better tomorrow runs in this Latina’s veins in the form of strength, perseverance, and a desire for educational social justice. Little did my mother know that my birth place “Loisada” played a central role in the development of the Puerto Rican Movement or better known as the “Nuyorican Movement” (Laó-Montes & Dávila, 2001) . On the same streets that my mother walked her infant and a dream, walked the likes of Puerto Rican poets, intellectuals, and artists. This Nuyorican intellectual, political, and social landscape included poverty programs spearheaded by groups such as the Young Lords and the Black Panthers…both seeking education as the equalizer in socio-economically deprived communities. As a young girl, I was the beneficiary of social poverty programs which included a call for head start, free lead testing, and free breakfast programs. In retrospect, the Latino voice of social change to help those less fortunate was mixed in with my young warrior cries hungry to fulfill my mother’s dream…a better life.


As a Latina researcher and advocate reflecting on how my education served as a tool for social justice, I immediately gravitated to my mother’s narrative. Segura (2007) asserts that motherhood is a political, economic, social, and cultural construct that shapes a daughter’s pathway. Numerous studies suggest that the mother/daughter relationship and their stories of personal struggle serve as an instrumental tool for daughters to fully interpret their identity and to help “…envision their possible future selves” (Gomez, 2009, p.84). With this in mind, one can examine the multiple factors that contribute to Latina achievement. Sy (2006) posits that one of these factors includes the level of support that the mother demonstrates in nurturing her daughter’s educational goals and her ambitions. Likewise, Gomez (2009) asserts that Latinas draw “metaphorical sustenance from their mothers, most often finding them strong, resilient, and nurturing of their hopes and dreams” (p.85). The key to addressing a Latina’s education as a social justice tool is to find ways to tap into the power of motherhood and the pivotal role that it plays in shaping a Latina’s dream.


More information about this type of autoethnographic writing:


Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 373-395.

Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social Research, 71(3), 691-710.

Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 733-768). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a reflexive researcher: Using our selves in research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Gomez, M.L. (2010). Talking about ourselves, talking about our mothers: Latina prospective teachers narrate their life experiences. Urban Review 42(8), 81-101.

Laó-Montes, A. & Dávila, A. (2001). Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

McIlveen, P. (2008). Autoethnography as a method for reflexive research and practice in vocational psychology. Australian Journal of Career Development, 17(2), 13-20.

Miyares, I.M. & Airriess, C.A. (2007). Contemporary ethnic geographies in America. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Reed-Danahay, D. E. (1997). Introduction. In D. E. Reed-Danahay (Ed.), Auto/Ethnography. Rewriting the self and the social (pp. 1-17). Oxford: Berg.

Segura, D. A. (2007). Working at motherhood: Chicana and Mexican immigrant mothers and employment. In D. A. Segura & P. Zavella (Eds.), Women and migration in the U.S.—Mexico borderlands (pp. 368–387). Durham: Duke University Press.

Sy, S. R. (2006). Family and work influences on the transition to college among Latina adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 28(3), 368–386.

Research Methodology for Recent Program Evaluation




Program Evaluation Methodology

In order to conduct the program evaluation study, Social Changers without Borders, Inc.  dispatched program evaluators to a girls refuge shelter in a rural village 100 miles south of Nairobi.

[Research Images @ and ]

The program evaluation team employed a qualitative instrumental case study approach. Based on Creswell’s (2008) characterization of a qualitative instrumental case study, the research team explored the organizational structure and activities of a community-based organization serving a Kenyan Maasai community. The goal of the team was to develop a deeper understanding of the central phenomenon of female genital mutilation.  wherein understanding is limited—in this case the understanding of female genital mutilation among Maasai girls in the Rift Valley of Kenya.

Participant Selection

To hone in on the central themes related to TNI’s organizational structures, the SCWB program evaluators used a qualitative and purposive sampling technique—criterion sampling. A criterion sample size of 18 participants contributed to one-to-one interviews wherein said participants had a predetermined criterion— community stakeholders directly working with TNI’s Tasaru Girls Refuge Shelter (Hatch, 2002). The community stakeholders included community leaders, spiritual leaders, former Maasai circumcisers, local law enforcement officials, children’s officers, TNI staff members, TNI executive board members, and rescued girls from different regions and Maasai tribes in the Maasai territory.

Interview Design

In order to elicit qualitative data on historical practices and program structures, Rubin and Rubin (2005) recommend the use of qualitative interviews to help researchers reconstruct events that were not directly observed by said researchers (p. 3). For these aforementioned reasons, SCWB program evaluators gathered a richer set of qualitative data by conducting one-to-one interviews structured and directed by an interview protocol. The qualitative data gathered from interviews can be described as rich and structured conversations wherein SCWB program evaluators followed up on questions posed after an observation and other formal and
informal interviews (Creswell, 2008; Rubin & Rubin, 2005). In support of collecting a wide range of qualitative data, Creswell (2007) asserts that the collection of a rich data from various resources helps to ensure that the researchers triangulate findings. “Triangulation is the process of corroborating evidence from different individuals, and types of data within themes will arise” (Creswell, 2008, p.648). SCWB program evaluators triangulated qualitative findings by combing through detailed transcripts of one-to-one and focus group
interviews with a wide range of community stakeholders.

Data Collection Process

SCWB research team gathered information to develop a richer perspective of the TNI organizational structure. They acquired qualitative data from observation protocols, field notes, reflective notes, photographs, interview transcripts, electronic press releases, and other forms of unstructured text data found in newspaper articles, office memorandums, and formal and informal interoffice correspondence. Flick (2006) describes how the collection of “multifocus data” is a fruitful strategy to approach institutional routines (p. 272). Ultimately, the goal of collecting this wide range of data was to reach a point of “data saturation” which meant that participants shared findings pertaining to a set of categories or themes that began to repeat and ultimately the researchers were not able to acquire any new data (Stake, 2008). With the use of multiple forms of data, Denzin & Lincoln (2008) describe how qualitative researchers can triangulate findings that help to corroborate data collected from the observation and interview participants. The use of multiple forms of data offered SCWB researchers a vital tool for analysis, interpretation, and the trustworthiness of narrative findings.

Hatch (2002) asserts that the use of case study research falls within the “constructivist research paradigm” because the researchers intend to make sense of the participants’ world as well as offer rich narrative descriptions of the participants’ reality and perspectives (p. 16). The qualitative tradition of a case study is an interactive and sensitive examination because extensive qualitative data are primarily gathered from a
small number of participants in the form of observations, structured interviews, and bounded time focus groups (Rubin &Rubin, 2005). Researchers who conduct an instrumental case study choose to focus on separate or grouped individuals involved in a specific activity, event, or program (Creswell, 2008). Consequently, a wide range of qualitative data can be gathered to obtain various perspectives by conducting multiple interviews and observations (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). An in-depth analysis of qualitative data involved both inductive and deductive reasoning processes that brought to light a series of general themes that gradually emerged (Charmaz, 2000; Creswell, 2007). Through the use of a traditional qualitative inquiry and the framework
of an instrumental case study, SCWB program evaluators examined a series of issues related to a Kenyan grassroots community-based organization.

Creswell (2008) defines an interview as a recorded and structured conversation between the researcher and participant(s) wherein researchers ask general or open-ended questions (p. 641). Face-to-face interviews can offer a source of audio data valuable for understanding participants’ experiences and various events (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). Accordingly, the SCWB program researchers conducted the interview process to further explore issues related to TNI’s organizational structure and community outreach activities. The SCWB team conducted 14 one-to-one and focus group interviews ranging from 45 minutes to 75 minute interviews. In order to accurately gather data, the SCWB program evaluationteam recorded approximately 1,000 minutes of data from the one-to-one interviews using an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder (Olympus America, 2009). Qualitative data gathered from structured participant conversations helped the team gather rich data to develop a stronger understanding of the TNI community-based organization and its efforts in eliminating FGM, and forced
child marriage.

An interview protocol offered the framework necessary to steer a series of interviews with participants. In the interviews, the SCWB researchers posed a set of open-ended questions and recorded the participants’ responses. Creswell (2008) asserts that participants can best express their experiences with open-ended questions. Data collected from interviews helped the SCWB research team “…uncover the meaning structures that participants use to organize their experiences and make sense of their worlds” (Hatch, 2002, p.91). Accordingly, SCWB researchers posed a range of open-ended, probing, and follow-up questions. After an examination of questioning strategies within different interview forums, H.J. Rubin & I. S. Rubin (2005) assert that the use of “probing questions” and follow-up questions help the interviewees share extensive details that may aid in developing a richer understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. The preliminary questions answered in the participants interviews served as helpful leads for finding answers to the sub-questions directing this program evaluation (Creswell, 2008, 1998; Stake, 2000). Throughout the interviewing process, the SCWB team collected audio data and transcribed the information from one-to-one interviews. Creswell (2008) described the transcription of audio data as the process of “…converting audiotape recordings or field notes into text data” (p. 246). The text data from one-to-one interviews assisted the SCWB program evaluation team in expanding their understanding TNI organizational structure and community outreach activities.

Qualitative Data Analysis

After collecting different forms of data, SCWB program evaluators engaged in the process of analyzing the findings. The process involved three tiers of data analysis. Upon completing these different levels of data analysis, the SCWB researchers adhered to a formal data analysis protocol that ensured the quality, accuracy, and the credibility of the findings.

Preliminary Stage of Data Analysis: Open Coding

After the qualitative data was gathered and organized, the SCWB research team followed a constructivist grounded theory data analysis approach (Charmaz, 2000; Creswell, 2007). The SCWB program evaluation team used this data analysis plan to make sense of the audio data and text data gathered from observations and structured interviews. During the initial stage of recording field notes and reflective notes, they had an opportunity to begin the data analysis process by reading the text data and developing sidebar or margin notes (Hatch, 2002). This traditional form of “hand analysis of qualitative data” is the process of reviewing the data, marking the data, and dividing the data into parts into codes or categories (Creswell, 2008, p. 246). As they engaged in the constructivist grounded theory data analysis process of reviewing a large body of qualitative data, they launched the preliminary process of sorting and coding the data (Charmaz, 2008; 2000). By using an inductive process of organizing the data into initial categories, also known as “open coding”, this data consistently fell within topics that were “…extensively discussed by the participants” (Creswell, 2007, p.160). This preliminary process of data analysis can helped the SCWB researchers begin to see the scope of the data findings.

Second Stage of Data Analysis: Axial Coding

Within the constructivist grounded theory of data analysis, the nature of the themes naturally moved from general to specific categories (Charmaz, 2008; 2000). This helped the SCWB team identify “patterns of meaning in data so that general statements about the phenomena under investigation can be made” (Hatch, 2002, p. 160—161). Creswell (2007) describes this second stage of the coding process as “axial coding” wherein the researchers review the database and seeks to find insight into specific “coding categories” (p. 161). This coding process offers the qualitative researchers “analytic scaffolding” for creating various data categories (Charmaz, 2008, p. 217). In fact, the object of the axial coding process is to make sense of the data and to identify codes that overlap or repeat so that you can collapse these codes into broader categories (Creswell, 2008, p.251). The broader categories can be seen as “themes” that have saturated data to support them (Charmaz, 2000). Researchers can organize these themes and codes within a “coding paradigm” or matrix (Creswell, 2007, p. 161). After coding the data and analyzing the various themes, the SCWB program evaluation team began the final phase of the data analysis plan.

Final Stage of Data Analysis: Selective Coding

Charmaz (2000) describes the final data analysis approach of the constructivist grounded theory as selective codingwherein the researchers begin to theorize and develop statements that help to explain the meaning of the findings. Although it may seem that the coding procedures of data analysis fell within a linear process, Creswell (2008) describes it as an “ongoing process involving continual reflection about the data, asking analytic questions, and writing memos throughout the study (p.190). As qualitative researchers, the SCWB research team engaged in the extensive process of data analysis to ensure the triangulation of data.



This research journey will cover a wide terrain. I will encounter a variety of different trails full of clear paths and unforeseen bends in the road. What is steering this research path? I am led by an ethical moral compass seeking truth for the participants of our study. This advocacy research will be a formal and evidence-based voice sharing the narratives of the change agents involved and the powerful stories of the participants involved with FGM. I firmly believe that this joint research path is a memorable life marker. One day when I’m old and gray…I will look back fondly to this memory and feel so humbled that God set me on this course. Where will it take me…only He truly knows.
Meeting with the Nairobi Team:
Today our research team met with the director of the Nairobi Equality Now office and we discussed our shared vision for our program evaluation study. The synergy between our teams speaks of the amazing compassion that we have for the child brides fleeing female genital mutilation. The EQNN women received us with such grace and enthusiasm. They communicated their appreciation for the special gift that the SCWB team will extend to their initiative. Social Changers without Borders, Inc. will conduct this program evaluation as a charitable service to support the TNI program director so that she can position herself globally to advocate for funds. Regrettably, the funding universe, seeks quantitative and qualitative findings that demonstrate how a program’s objectives are met. When the TNI change agent is on the field working intimately with the pressing issues of the girls… tell me…who has time to write up reports and do data analysis? I am asking God to use me as a vessel—a platform builder for others who need to establish this formal and scientifically-based voice.
Mentally Preparing:
I used a variety of resources to give me some background on the Maasai tribes. Today I learned that their lives mainly revolve around the raising of their cattle. This animal sustains this community because it provides meat, milk, and blood (the staple foods of their diet).

The Maasai are a resilient culture because of their nomadic roots. In fact, when it comes to issues of FGM…they are very resistant to change, because everything they do is deeply connected to traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. If you ask the Maasai to examine their practice of FGM and to change…you are asking them to do the equivalent of CTRL, ATL, DELETING a file that is central to their story…suspending their identity of who they are as a people.“Like many other cultures, the Maasai have myths about their origins, and the origins of their customs and traditions. Folklore explains the origin of female circumcision in the story of Naipei, a young girl who had intercourse with the enemy of her family, and whose punishment came in the form of circumcision, a decision her family took to prevent her from feeling the urges that had led her to commit the crime.Since that day, in a bid to protect their honor and the honor of the Maasai society, all Maasai girls who reach adolescence have been circumcised. The aim of FGM is therefore to limit the sexual desire and promiscuity of girls.” To read more on this you can follow this link

Safe in Nairobi


We had a wonderful flight. It was nice to spend some time in Amsterdam to gear up for the next leg of our journey to Kenya. Dutch is such a beautiful language…it reminds me a little of German.

Today we are in Nairobi getting ready to meet with the small grassroots organization director that will serve as a guide for our work with TNI. Tomorrow we are getting ready for the four hour trip. We are making sure we have plenty of water for our two week stay. I wonder if I will be able to sleep tonight. I’m counting the hours.

Packed and Planning Ahead


The public health and educational disparities that affect child brides fleeing from female genital makes my “teacher’s heart” cry out for change. These girls don’t want to get married…they want to go to school. The minute they become a child bride, they lose an education! As a school teacher going on this trip, I have learned that I may not be a public health expert, but my desire to give children a chance to LEARN is what can truly make a difference. This is where I fit in as an educational researcher…I will not second guess myself… but walk boldly in faith that God can use me as an instrument for global educational change.

I have all of my research materials printed and packed. I can’t wait to see the girls and to meet the director of the Girls’ Refuge Shelter in Kenya.  The program evaluation that our SCWB team will conduct is a charitable contribution that will serve the TNI Kenyan grassroots organization.  It is an honor to serve in this capacity.

I am more honored to travel with Elizabeth. Believe me when I say… I have seen Elizabeth in action at the Charity Red Carpet Event in New York.  She shared so many compelling narratives regarding the tragic impact of female genital mutilation (FGM).  By the end of the evening, the benefit participants walked away eager to learn more about this cause and how we can all help.  If you want to read more…visit and go to the BLOG page sharing more about FGM.

Don’t worry…in October…Social Changers without Borders, Inc. will have another event. A wine-tasting and silent auction that will showcase pictures and video from our work in Kenya.  When I get more information, I will post it on our Friends of Social Changers website.



In less than a week, Elizabeth and I will be flying from Amsterdam and landing in Nairobi to meet with one of the program coordinators from the Equality Now office.  She will be our liason for the program evaluation work we will do in TNI.  Wow…it is only days away.  I’m praying for so many things…cultural understanding, prime research conditions, and our well being.

Female Genital Mutilation among the Maasai of KenyaCollaborative project with Equality Now. Click the link for more information:

Program Evaluators & Researchers: Elizabeth Ndubisi-Ukandu, Dr. Vilma Caban-Vazquez, Ed.D and Dr. Tom Diamond, Ph.d