Aileen Silva Carroll ’99 lives in one of the most violent cities in Brazil so she can help victims of domestic violence. Murder is the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age in Recife, and the killers are often people close to the victims. Yet few services or shelters serve abused women, and the law fails to protect them.
“The Christian church has made very little effort to speak out or tackle the problem of violence even though it’s so deadly and there are many victims and perpetrators within the church itself,” Aileen says. A volunteer service-worker with the Mennonite Central Committee since 2003, she seeks to prevent and treat family violence by training pastors and lay leaders. She also speaks out as an advocate for abused women.
“I’m drawn to working with people in difficult situations, which is generally heartbreaking,” she says. Yet she persists because she feels called to help others. Aileen grew up in Colombia where her parents served as missionaries. She majored in Spanish at Westmont and studied sociology and psychology as well. During a semester abroad in Ecuador, she volunteered at a women’s prison, caring for babies and toddlers who lived there with their mothers. “I fell in love with the children and felt helpless because I couldn’t do much to make their lives better other than feed, rock and change them,” she says.
Aileen hopes her work with abused women will yield more lasting results. She has interviewed Brazilian pastors and Christian leaders extensively about their experience with domestic violence within the church and spoken to evangelical Christian women who have been abused. Using this research, she co-authored “Até Quando?” (Until When?), a book intended to educate both pastors and lay people about domestic violence. “Many churches have shown a great interest in the project and are asking for workshops and training on the issue,” she says. “I see that as a very positive sign.”
At the same time, Aileen has served as an advocate for victims. “Getting help in domestic violence situations tends to be a complicated and bureaucratic process,” she says. “It’s especially difficult for women with low incomes and little formal education. I help them understand their rights and the process of pressing charges and seeking protection.” She also leads workshops with Christian women’s groups and pursues faith-based approaches to domestic violence.
The wife of a Brazilian pastor at a small Mennonite church in a low-income area, Aileen earned a post-graduate degree in pastoral counseling from the Methodist University of São Paulo. “I spend a lot of time being involved in church activities,” she says. The couple expect their first child (a boy) in June and plan to move to the United States for a few years where Aileen hopes to earn a master’s degree in social work one day.
“I’m grateful for my Westmont education because it was very instrumental in shaping my vision of the world and my existence in it,” she says. “I participated in an extra-curricular group on the spiritual disciplines that truly changed my life. I think one of the biggest gifts Westmont gave me is the understanding that we have to think critically about Scripture and the way we put it to use. Thinking deeply and critically about the meaning of certain Bible texts is fundamental in working against violence, especially violence against women.”