The car engine clicks off and my heart skips a beat. It’s my first home visit of the summer, and I have no idea what to expect. The social worker and I make our way towards the house, where we are suddenly hit with a foul, indescribable odor. I know nothing about the woman I am about to meet, other than the fact that she has four children, is pregnant with number five, and has had no running water in her home for thirty consecutive days. As we approach the house, I get a better look at the place that this family calls home. Massive cracks run throughout the foundation, the paint is cracked and peeling, and the amount of flies swarming the front porch is unreal. As we make our way to a side door around the back of the home, we are greeted with welcoming hugs by a woman nearing the end of her third trimester. She brings us to a set of stairs outside her home to sit, because she thought the state of her home was too soiled for company. With the sun beating down on our shoulders, I will never forget the story that unfolded on that hot summer day.

With five past evictions on her record and a current attempt to break free of an abusive relationship, this mother had to accept any home that she was offered. Unfortunately, this had brought her to a dilapidated duplex home deep within the Cincinnati streets. As soon as this woman had liberated herself from an abusive man, a new dominating landlord had entered her life. Within the first three weeks of living in her new home, her landlord refused to pay the water bill, leaving a pregnant mom with four children in house where they cannot bathe, flush the toilet, or get a glass of water to drink. For the past thirty days this mother had been filling large tubs of water from her neighbor’s hose, and carrying them up three flights of stairs into her bathroom. Because of the toll the pregnancy had taken on her body, she was running out of strength to continue this painstaking task. She told us the horrible words her landlord had spit at her, and about his degrading comments regarding her being a single mother. Despite the oppression this mother was immersed in, her strength as a woman was remarkable. Her story continued as she told us that her strength in God remained as powerful as ever, and each day she fought to become the strong woman that her mother had taught her to be. As our conversation came to a close, we left her with as many resources as we could. The words she left us with, however, were far more powerful than anything we could have given to her. As we hugged her, preparing to go, she looked me in the eyes and said “Yeah I’m a woman, but I’ll show him just what a woman can do.”

When reflecting on the issue of women’s rights, my mind instantly returns to my experiences in Xavier’s Summer Service Internship, where I spent my time at Healthy Moms and Babes. In two months, I learned more about women’s rights than I have in my twenty years of living. Achieving equality between man and woman is a constant progression. As a whole, women have made great strides towards such righteousness; however, I have learned that individual stories are continuously overlooked. This summer, I was exposed to a range of women who were thrown into a cycle of domestic abuse, where they were constantly put down because physically, they were not as strong as men. Despite this, I was also able to see the mental strength and intelligence that these women held. When put into these situations, there is a passion that emerges from these women unlike any that I have ever seen. Though there was a constant struggle for resources and safety, the strength that these mothers had was nothing less than empowering. Although there are many holes to be filled in our journey to seeking equality, the passion that fills empowered women is truly unstoppable.

Tess Petrozzi is a sophomore nursing major and a Community Engaged Fellow who regularly volunteers at Cincinnati’s Jimmy Heath House and Caracole. Last summer she worked at Healthy Moms & Babes as part of the Summer Service Internship program. When she’s not working to save the world she enjoys a good spaghetti dinner followed by cookie dough ice cream for dessert all the while having the Black Keys songs playing in the background.