Student talks victims through crisis situations
November 14, 2010 5:56 PM
The phone rings at La Casa de Las Madres, a crisis line for victims of domestic violence, and student volunteer Paola Souto answers the phone. She hears crying and yelling on the line.
The caller is an anonymous woman. Souto hears her say, "See, I'm calling, I'm calling! I'm going to let people know what you're doing to me!"
Souto, a 33-year-old student at SF State, has been volunteering at La Casa since February 2010.
Her dedication to helping victims of domestic abuse earned her a Diana T.Y. Chung Memorial Scholarship on Nov. 5. The scholarship is awarded to one new student and one current international student every fall at SF State.
"She is very modest. We didn't know her capability until years passed by," said Kasturi Ray, Souto's women and gender studies advisor for the past two years. "(The scholarship is) the beginning of her many successes."
Souto, an international student from Argentina, received a $1,000 check on Nov. 17 during the president's reception for international students.
According to Souto's friend, Elise Ukestad, a 22-year-old women and gender studies major at SF State, Souto enriches class discussions by contributing her unique perspective as an international student.
"She's passionate and driven about making women's lives and people around her better," Ukestad said. "She's on the path to create a definite difference. She's not doing it because she doesn't know what else to do and I think people can sense that."
Souto said working at La Casa is far from easy because of how intense things can get.
When she began answering the crisis lines, she was constantly worried about her conversations being cut off, leaving her to wonder what would happen next.
"Sometimes, you need to make up your own happy ending," Souto said. "It's a way to protect yourself from the pain and stress."
Her inspiration to fight domestic violence stems from her own experience in a year-long abusive relationship.
Souto was a pre-school teacher for eight years in Argentina but wanted a change and took a job in New York as a Spanish teacher in 2004. That same year, she became involved in a destructive relationship and suffered verbal abuse at the hands of her partner.
"When someone says something over and over again, you start to believe in it," she said.
Souto left the relationship and moved to San Francisco in 2006 where she took a class at City College of San Francisco and developed an interest in women's issues. Two years later, she transferred to SF State as a women and gender studies major and began devoting her time to learning about domestic violence.
"I realized I could bring my experience to my education and combine both things," she said.
Souto wanted to volunteer for an organization like La Casa because it works closely with domestic violence victims but was unsure about committing to the long hours of training and volunteering.
"Every time training was coming up, it was like, 'I don't know if I can commit for a whole month,'" she said. "Last February, I was like, 'okay, this semester is not crazy yet. I just better do it.'"
Souto began her 40-hour training routine at La Casa in February and started volunteering in March. She said working there provided her with valuable experiences that she hopes to combine with her education to help victims of domestic abuse.
Souto plans to get her masters degree in social work at SF State so she can educate people back home in Argentina.
"I feel it is my responsibility to take home what I'm learning here," she said. "There's a huge need for experienced social workers focusing on women and violence against women with experience in Argentina."
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