Grunow was raised since birth by her grandparents in West Allis and through her great-uncle, she grew up hearing about poverty and destruction around the world. Even so, coming face-to-face with that kind of devastation shocked her, she admitted.
“It’s still a shock, even if you’re still used to hearing about it, particularly in that type of disaster setting,” she said.
The impact the earthquake had on her was great, she said, and from then on it became her mission to help others in Latin American countries gain basic human rights. She became more involved in social justice after enrolling at Cardinal Stritch University in 1980, and joining the social concerns committee with some of the students and sisters, particularly Sr. Anita Jennissen. “We discussed a lot about the suffering in Latin America, and a lot of the kidnapping in Peru, and some of the other countries that had a lot of inequality, a lot of repression.
|Name: Babette Grunow
Occupation: Freelance writer/community activist
Book recently read: “To Be A Revolutionary” by Padre J. Guadalupe Carney
Favorite movie: “Missing”
Favorite quotation: “If I preach and say, for example, that one must obey one’s employer, that one must work with patience and goodwill and do one’s duty for this landowner I am a ‘tremendous bishop,’ ‘a holy bishop,’ I can expect to be invited again to preach. But if, while speaking of the worker’s duty … I have the audacity to mention the worker’s rights and the landowner’s duty, then it is quite a different matter, ‘This is a revolutionary, a progressive, he is pro-communist…’” Dom Helder Camera, Bishop of Recife, Brazil.
(Catholic Herald photo by Amy E. Rewolinski)
“I started to look at suffering and that in not so much in terms of just ‘Oh, these poor people,’ but, there’s a reason why they’re so poor, there’s a reason why they’re suffering this much, and so it really opened my eyes a little more after that,” she added.
Grunow transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee two years later, where she majored in Latin American studies and history. She became involved with helping human rights movements in Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and, most recently for the second time, Honduras.
This past June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by soldiers and exiled to Costa Rica, Grunow explained. That same day, Roberto Micheletti, a right-wing politician, was installed as president, and a few months later decreed peaceful protests illegal and stifled freedom of the press, recalling Latin America’s long history of military coups and dictatorships. Since then, thousands of Hondurans have demonstrated daily in the streets for democratic rights as the country has spiraled into turmoil.
Sponsored by Witness for Peace, a politically independent, nationwide, grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience, Grunow acted as delegate in Honduras in September for about 10 days where she and a group of people investigated reports of human rights violations.
“Witness for Peace was starting to hear reports that there were killings of those who were protesting, there were things like the closing of the media stations, and other media in the country, and so they wanted to check it out,” she said.
“In this case (WFP) were taking down information about arbitrary arrests and the really vicious assaults that were going on, particularly on women,” she explained. “Some of the military had been attacking women and really targeting them, it seems, saying, ‘You’re only out here protesting because you don’t have a good husband.’”
That type of harassment, as well as kidnapping and unacknowledged arrests, were staples for the women living in Honduras who demanded to know what had happened to lost loved ones.
Grunow and others from WFP gathered testimonies of torture, disappearances, sexual assaults and limitations on freedom of the press and assembly. They gave the information to lawyers, union leaders, women’s organizations, journalists and government officials in order to eliminate atrocities.
|For more information on how you can help those in Honduras and other Latin American countries, visit Witnessforpeace.org or contact Babette Grunow at email@example.com|
“They also wanted to get the information out to the (United Nations), to human rights groups,” she added. “Just to make it known that this was happening, so that it couldn’t just happen in the dark, so that if you shine a light on it, then maybe it won’t happen.”
In addition to gathering testimonies, Grunow was also there to witness protests against the military.
“We were there more as observers, because there would be a stream of protesters, then there would be us, and then there would be the military,” she explained. “We were standing between them, and often we would just be walking alongside, and people would be thanking us.”
Because of the presence of WFP, the military often thought twice about their usual treatment of protesters, and wouldn’t clamp down as hard as they usually did, according to Grunow.
While working in Latin American countries, Grunow came face-to-face with difficult and often dangerous situations. However, she believed her work was important, especially her work with some of the women’s groups in Honduras.
“There wasn’t anything to celebrate, but there was a feeling that these women are coming together, these women are putting their lives together,” she explained. “This was over a series of years, and as the years wore on you kind of got the feeling that, ‘OK, maybe these (people) aren’t coming back.’ Their family members, their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their sisters. But, maybe some accounting could be made and they can find out what happened to them, and maybe they can find some peace and be able to put that to rest and begin to rebuild their lives. To have a new dawn on their lives and a new dawn on their country.”
She continues to be so involved with human rights violations in Latin America, Grunow said, because the injustices remain.
“The need is still there. I really do like the Franciscan idea ‘let me be an instrument of your peace,’” she said. “That is the biggest motivating factor (for me).
“I feel that we are all called by God, by just a basic responsibility to our fellow man to look out for one another, and particularly to look out for the least of us, for those who have the least, for those who are suffering,” she explained. “It’s just something that I have to do. I think we all should.”