Wendy - The story of a survivor

Humanium Metal by IM works for peaceful societies as a prerequisite for sustainable development. Wendy Caishpal in El Salvador is one of the people who has been affected by gun violenceNow she herself is a strong voice in the work for human rights and she sees Humanium Metal as an important step in changing the culture of violence in El Salvador.

Wendy Caishpal in El Salvador was only 16 years old when she was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down. Today, she is 31 years old, a respected lawyer and has founded an organization that fights to ensure people living with disabilities are able to enjoy their rights. This is her story. 

 It all started in March 2004 when Wendy Caishpal accompanied her 28-year-old cousin in his car to sell bread. On a street in their hometown of Ahuachapán, a woman motioned for them to stop as she wanted to buy from them. Wendy got out of the car and approached the woman. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man approach the car and, without a word, cold bloodedly execute her cousin with a shot to the head. At the same time, other men began firing from the side. – I felt how I was hit, first in the leg and then with several shots in the back. I collapsed. One of the men shouted that I was still alive, so the man who shot my cousin came up to me, raised his pistol and shot me again. Luckily, the bullet hit the arm. After that, the men ran away, Wendy says. 

 

 Taken to hospital 

She lost a lot of blood but regained consciousness. Two policemen came and took her to the hospital. – I remember that one policeman lifted me up in his arms and that there was blood everywhere. While we were going to the hospital, he shook me and asked me not to die. I felt like I was disappearing, but he did not allow me to, so I survived. She was taken to the hospital for surgery immediately, but she had already ended up in a coma that would last for fourteen days. It turned out that she had been hit by five bullets, of which the bullets that hit her in the back had damaged her spinal cord and made her permanently paralyzed. After three months in the hospital, the long rehabilitation process began. – That was when the real trial began. I had always been a sporty, active girl, and my legs were my life. At first, I refused to realize that I was paralyzed and thought that one day I could walk again. This made it extremely difficult for me to sit in a wheelchair. I hated it in the beginning. Above all, I was ashamed and did not want anyone to see me. I covered my legs and pulled away from my friends. Now I understand that it was because I could not accept who I had become, says Wendy. 

 

Threatened to silence 

While fighting physical and mental pain, she had to deal with the legal process against the perpetrators. – I had recognized the men who shot us and knew they belonged to a local gang. Some time before the shooting, my cousin and I had been stopped by gang members who were trying to force my cousin to show off his tattoos. He refused. I know it was the same men who then shot us. El Salvador gang members get tattoos to show off their gang affiliation. That his cousin had a tattoo, completely unrelated to any gang, was his death. The local newspaper had incorrectly reported that both Wendy and her cousin had died in the shooting. This kept the gang members calm, but when the police arrested them after a while, they realized that Wendy had survived. Members came to the hospital and threatened to kill both her and her family if they did not withdraw the charges. – My aunt said that I would not reveal the identity of those who shot me, for the sake of the family. So I took everything back and the men were released. Only then did they stop threatening me. 

 

The support through Humanium Metal gave strength 

Now followed a process of several years where Wendy had to accept her new identity and learn to live a life with a disability. Through various organizations, including IM’s partner organization Red de Sobrevivientes, which is a core player in Humanium Metal, Wendy has gained access to rehabilitation and personal development. – Through Red de Sobrevivientes and initiatives funded through Humanium Metal, I have, among other things, learned to become more independent and to dare to challenge myself. I have also gained knowledge about what rights I, who live with a disability, have in society. It has strengthened me and helped me accept my situation. Now I love my wheelchair! I also have a dream of one day being able to make wheelchairs in Humanium Metal. 

 

Paves the way for others 

Today, Wendy is single with two children and works as a lawyer. As a woman with a disability, she has challenged, and overcome, a number of difficult obstacles in society. – Being a woman and having a profession with high status is a challenge in itself in this country. That I, who also has a disability, has children and is single, has managed to both study and get a good job makes me extremely proud. I have accomplished it on my own, with the support of organizations such as Red de Sobreviventes. Wendy is now a role model for many and she has founded the organization Ahuachapán Without Borders which works to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities. – I see it as my task to pave the way so that it will be easier for those who come after me. I have already paid the price and am now doing everything I can to remove obstacles for others. She sees Humanium Metal as an important initiative, not only to strengthen individuals affected by gun violence but for the entire work of changing the culture of violence in El Salvador. – Humanium Metal is incredible. With the income from there, people like me, who have been affected by gun violence, can grow and develop. The initiative also contributes to building peaceful societies in our country. It is a long and complicated process. But it’s possible, says Wendy.

Text: Malin Kihlström