Kika’s journey from early marriage to college student

Kika in her kitchen in Batey Carmona. “I’ve learned to value myself as a woman,” she says. Photo by Fran Alfonso.

Juanita ‘Kika’ Antelis Juan is the oldest Juan sister, at 26. For Kika, Muñecas Negras inspired an extraordinary change in her life. She grew up in a family of 10 and was married when she turned 15 (In the Dominican Republic, marriage is often forced upon adolescent girls by families struggling financially, to lessen her burden on the parents). Kika gave birth to her daughter Flor soon afterwards, and began working as a maid outside of her community.

Her husband made all household decisions, and during disagreements he became violent. Kika believed her life was set — she had dreams that felt too far away to even consider.

When her sister Yanilda joined Muñecas Negras, at first Kika resisted.

“When I first saw these dolls, I rejected them terribly. I said they were ugly! It was the color of their skin. Now I know what was happening: I didn’t accept myself back then,” says Kika. “I didn’t show this pain to anyone.”

Slowly, she began joining the workshops — and realized she was an extremely talented dollmaker. Kika began selling dolls at local fairs and even online. Soon, she was the primary income-earner in her home. The confidence she gained in Muñecas Negras helped her stand up to her husband.

“I was a kid when I got married. I didn’t know anything about living with a husband. When he told me to sit, I sat. Lay down, I laid. Run, I ran. I couldn’t breathe in my own home. But through this project, I’ve learned to value myself as a woman,” she says. “I’m not the same person I was then. I’ve taught my husband that I am not a slave. At home there are two adults, and we both have the same rights. Now, I see his perspective and finally — finally — he has learned to see mine. And he has learned to see me.”

Using income from selling her dolls, Kika enrolled in a local college. Today, she is finishing her first semester studying educational psychology. For the first time in her life, her dreams don’t seem so far away. 
“I used to work so my daughter could have a better life than me. But now I’m thinking about myself as well. I am who I am today because of this project,” she says. “It’s impacted our communities, our families, our husbands. Going to college was a dream I never thought was possible. And now it’s my reality.”