1.16.16: A day of reflection and closing

Saturday, January 16th, 2016.

The day’s title in our itinerary was essentially “Wrap-up Day,” and so on Saturday morning, everyone awoke with the understanding that that would be our last official day in the Border Studies Program. After eating our second-to-last waffle at the Roadrunner Hostel, Jeff drove us away to the Smithsonian Museum exhibit on the Bracero Program, called “Bittersweet Harvest/ Cosecha Amarga, Cosecha Dulce.”

The Bracero Program was a USA-MX agreement that granted American work visas to Mexican migrants from 1942 to 1964. Since many US citizens moved to the cities to work in the defense industry during the recession and WWII, the purpose of the Bracero Program was to alleviate the agricultural need of the USA. Although there were 5 million contracts made, there was an estimated 2 million people from all over Mexico who moved to almost every American state to work. The contracts allowed workers to stay in the USA between 3 weeks and 18 months, but because of the seasonal nature of agricultural work, the average amount of time workers stayed in the States before returning home was 3 months. Many workers signed up with the Bracero Program in order to support their families back in Mexico. Contracts were to ensure workers with adequate housing, food, medical care, and wages. In reality, however, these heavily depended on the bosses’ willingness to provide such services. Many workers lived in overcrowded sheds with extreme heat, others literally received paychecks totaling to 1 cent for the week since food, room and board were automatically deducted from their pay. When the workers signed their original contracts, many only spoke Spanish and could not read, and so they signed papers without knowing where they would go nor for who they would work for. In a video, which was part of the exhibition, an ex-Bracero explained how work in the fields felt like slavery as workers would “come [to the USA] to suffer.”

This exhibition helped to later compare the experience of the Latino migrant over time. Throughout hundreds of years, people have traveled in a circular motion between the Americas in search of work. During the Bracero years (and today) Latino workers were discriminated against, abused, and exploited. It was difficult for me to accept the reality that governments are fascinating at creating seemingly harmless new systems of oppression. What we saw in the museum and throughout the week with Border Patrol, ICE, Kino, and others was on everyone’s minds as we returned to the BSP classroom to reflect on the week’s events. We were asked to split into small groups and create concept maps of what we had experienced, how the experiences changed and helped us, what they taught us, and how they can be shared with others. Key concepts that arose were those of the warmth of the people we met (migrants, deportees, detainees, humanitarian workers), the humanization of people as opposed to their dehumanization (regardless of whether they were migrants or Border Patrol), and the different struggles on both sides of the border. Two main questions that caught the group’s attention were “Hay muchas fronteras, cuales vas a cruzar?/There are many borders, which will you cross?” and “Who was the United States built for?”

Our final activity in the classroom was sharing the “future steps” we had for ourselves. Some desire to write or draw of their experiences, while others plan to organize seminars, teach-ins, and reading groups in Haverford. Everyone, however, agreed that they desired to continue educating themselves about the issues of immigration along the borderlines and across the Americas.

Before eating our last dish of Mexican food in a restaurant called “El Guero,” we stopped by the San Xavier Mission, the “first effort of colonization” of the area. After looking around the beautiful church and outdoor shrine, we walked up a small hill, which had two lion statues seemingly marking an entrance to the hill. These lions did prepare people for an introduction of sorts, as a shrine filled with dozens of long candle jars was around the hill, behind these lions. A green-ish gate separated what seemed like a tomb from the candles in the floor, and the place gave the impression that it was a place of mourning and remembering those who had passed. At that time, Alissha and Jeff gave us all candles and asked us to think of someone and honor them by lighting a candle. While some decided to remain silent, others prayed for the people who perished in the desert, those who will attempt to cross, and for those who either live in the shadows as undocumented fellow Americans or were returned to their land of few opportunities. Our last view of the shrine and our last thoughts left with the amazing sunset that lit up the sky and mountains.

Thank you for reading my post. -Maria Gpe. Bojorquez-Gomez ’16

1.17: Moving Forward: Return to Philadelphia

Dear CPGC Global Citizens,

Our last day in Tucson! Although one member of our group has already left for home in Phoenix for the night, the remaining 8 of us have the morning and lunch to ourselves. Following a day of planning for our return to Philadelphia, a group of us decided to hike “A” Mountain, which was relatively close to the Roadrunner Hostel, while others slept in and went downtown for last minute shopping.

We set off at a bright and early 8am for what was meant to be a 20 minute walk to the base of the mountain, yet somehow this turned out to be an hour and fifteen minute walk, and we were on a time crunch, so the summit of “A” Mountain was never reached. However, the group of us that went did have fun! Two of us saw a lone coyote under a bridge, and plenty of murals reminding us to “Be Kind”, a theme found throughout Tucson.

Back at the hostel people were packing and organizing bags to ensure that items that needed to be checked, were. A final breakfast of leftover food from the week, including green peppers, soy milk, and bagels, was eaten alongside fresh waffles. For lunch two of us went to the nearby Food Co-Op, where they had house-made Chocolate Hazelnut Muffins and BBQ Tempeh over rice. The Co-Op was a great stop for other luxury food items, such as loose leaf tea and kombucha.

By noon we gathered in the Roadrunner one last time to head to the airport. The Tucson airport was surprisingly large, and comfortable seating was abound. As for security, we did not have any major concerns, although a jar of coconut oil was thrown away along the way. While waiting for the boarding time, we ate the sandwiches we had bought earlier that day, while one of us satisfied a craving for McDonald’s fries. Yet another one of us had not had enough burritos that week, and purchased one from Qdoba. By 3pm, we were in the air and on our way to Atlanta!

During the layover in Atlanta, the eight of us gathered around a laptop to go through a slideshow of all the photos we had taken that week. It was strange to think that 7 days could be compressed and expressed through a 15 minute slideshow, yet there were places photography was not allowed, such as the Florence Detention Center, and Operation Streamline, both of which were powerful experiences.

At 1 am on Monday morning, the 8 of us were dropped off at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, both of which were surprisingly covered in a thin layer of snow. Although we felt physically tired, we were mentally prepared to respond to questions about our trip, and to begin the next steps in our efforts of bringing back all that we learned.

1.15.16: Florence Detention Complex/The Florence Project

Today we drove north to Florence, AZ, a town in which inmates–there are roughly 15,000 detained in nine facilities– outnumber normal residents. We visited the DHS Florence Detention Center, one of the smaller and lowest-security facilities in Florence, which contains ht.

Officer Joseph Villagomez, encountering our rather intense group on his first day of giving tours, described DHS Florence as the “queen of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) centers.” Villagomez described the facility in glowing terms. We were told of excellent medical care, ice cream served in the summer, and even movie nights with popcorn for prisoners. After hearing from Mariposas Sin Fronteras last night about their nightmarish experiences in detention centers–cold cells, repulsive food, and sexual violence–it was easy to dismiss Villagomez’s claims as little more than misleading fluff.

In a recurring theme from throughout the week, the reality was different and more complex than we expected. The conditions we observed on our tour were impressive for a detention center. Some of the detainees were playing a rousing game of soccer on the large Astroturf field in the rec area. When we walked by the detainees, they smiled and waved back when we greeted them. Karen even informally asked several of the detainees about the conditions, and without exception, the detainees responded positively. The food looked good, too.

Still, for us these relatively rosy conditions did not overshadow the fact that this facility’s existence alone fuels the prison-industrial complex that helps to control the undocumented immigrant population and exploit them for cheap labor. Our leader, Alysha, informed us that Florence is essentially a “model” facility and conditions at other nearby detention centers, such as Eloy, are much worse. The Pinal County Jail had the worst conditions of all until ICE ended its association with the facility in 2013, due to advocacy pressure on top of financial concerns.

Our visit to Florence was another lesson in the dangers of black and white perceptions of reality. Just because the conditions at Eloy and the Pinal County Jail may be unacceptable does not mean that all detention centers treat their prisoners poorly. And of course it goes the other way too—Florence’s positives do not diminish the awfulness that members of Mariposas Sin Fronteras endured in similar facilities.

Part of the reason the debate on immigration is so polarized is that the two sides are often speaking totally different languages, viewing reality through their own lens and minimizing or ignoring evidence that contrasts with their views. The complexity and “greyness” of immigration in the U.S., as we have been faced with in the last few days, make the issue particularly ripe for this confirmation bias. The effects of confirmation bias have been well examined in psychology as well as political science literature. In Unequal Democracy, Larry Bartels shows that Americans with high political knowledge are more likely to have strong, polarized opinions on one side of the political spectrum. This is what we are seeing in the current immigration debate, and it has led to a great deal of confusion among the general public.

Later in the day, we met with lawyer Lauren Bellows, who works for the Florence Project. Funded by the federal government’s Department of Human Health and Services, the Florence Project provides free representation for detained immigrants working on obtaining resident rights for its clients. Most of Bellows’s clients are children that came to the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

Bellows informed us that with a good attorney, undocumented children can often win resident rights. Without the pro bono help of the Florence Project, consulting with a lawyer is often too expensive for undocumented immigrants, and achieving resident rights is far more unlikely.

1.12.16–Border Patrol and Kino Border Initiative

On Tuesday, January 12, 2016, we started the day by heading out of Tucson, Arizona to Nogales and Border Patrol. We ended up being at Border Patrol for four and a half hours. We were met by four Border Patrol agents, Agents Ortega, Queriapa, Robbs, and Blanco. All four are part of the Border Patrol’s PR detail right now. Our tour started at 10am with an intense question-and-answer while we waited for our background checks to finish (Border Patrol had not registered our visit and run our backgrounds before our arrival). During the question-and-answer, we learned a bit about the history of Border Patrol, from the time it was called Mountain Watchmen and was not an official part of the government (much like the minute men today) until 1924 when it became the more familiar Border Patrol. Border Patrol had almost become a reality in the United States five years earlier, but the Patrol was denied. During the brief history lesson, Agents Robbs and Queriapa went through some of the notable “line of duty” deaths of agents, including a Russian immigrant Border Patrol agent who was shot in the face by a drug smuggler in 1998. Agent Robbs used his police baton as a pointer during this presentation.
After our group was vetted by Border Patrol, the agents led us into a room for a presentation about the work that Border Patrol does. One of the first slides of the presentation was a table about the number of arrests, pounds of marijuana, and agents in the Tucson sector from 2000 to 2014. They agents point out the drop in arrests between 2000 and 2014 (616,000 arrests to 87,915) and connect it to the increase of agents (1,550 to 4,052) rather than (as other groups have and would throughout the week) to an increase in deaths. The agents spoke extensively about the consequence delivery system, which criminalizes immigration more and more and punishes people in harsher and harsher ways. Additionally, Border Patrol talked about deporting people through different ports of entry, into wildly different parts of Mexico. They called this “self-regulating” anti-immigration tactics. Border Patrol used terms like “alien” and “OTM” (“Other Than Mexican) throughout the presentation and did not consider them dehumanizing terms. When asked about refuge and asylum, Agent Robbs said that people know to ask for asylum. At the same time, Agent Blanco said that no, people did not know to ask for asylum.
Moving on to violence, Border Patrol spoke about the less-than-lethal force to which they have access, including pepper ball guns that shoot compacted balls of different ground peppers. Not meant to cause internal damage, these balls explode into powder, causing disorientation, temporary blindness, and coughing. The balls sometimes break skin and can be fatal if shot into the eyes or other soft tissue. As such, agents are trained to shoot the middle of the body—it is both the largest target and the least likely to be fatal. Border Patrol does not know the effects the compact balls of pepper could have on pregnant women or fetal development. Discussions of less-than-lethal force led to the José Antonio case in which a teenager was shot through the fence in Nogales, Sonora. He was shot upwards of 10 times, mostly or all in the back. The facts of the case are unclear and Border Patrol did not want to talk too much about alternative methods of subduing a child throwing rocks. After being asked if there was a lack of resources—not all agents are equipped with things like the pepper ball gun—Agent Ortega said that Border Patrol did not want for resources—they have access to Tasers, firearms, batons, pepperspray, rubber bullets, rifles, shotguns, pepper guns, and grenades.
Border Patrol moved on from the José Antonio case to discuss their good relationship with the Mexican government and then onto ways to “track migrants.” This part felt very much like a lesson on tracking and hunting game. They talked about sign cutting (looking for prints) and tracking (following prints). They showed us carpet booties (used by travelers to hide distinct footprints) and Ghillie suits (worn by travelers to blend in with the dry grasses of the Sonoran Desert). Border Patrol said that once these techniques may have worked, but with the powerful surveillance tools at their command, Border Patrol had no problem catching such travelers. Including motion detecting cameras, infrared video, mobile surveillance capability units, ground sensors, remote video surveillance systems, robotics, the radio room, planes, drones, and trucks, the $3billion budget of Border Patrol covers enough technology to, theoretically, bar migrants from the United States. There is special training for those working in the radio room—which is filled with enough screens showing video feed to cover a large wall and four tables—and after 9-11 there was an increase in funding as immigration became an issue of “national security.” When challenged on the grounds that the terrorists involved with the attacks on September 11, 2001 entered the United States with visas on an airplane, Border Patrol was more that willing to talk about how everyone locks their doors at night because of the 10-20% of people who might break in and that the United States must be the same way. Our group asked if they had ever actually caught someone intent on committing acts of terror at the US-Mexico border, the agents responded that if they see someone who looks like they are from a “Middle Eastern country” they will put them through secondary inspection to determine if they are a “special interest alien” or from a “special interest country.” Such cases are then out of Border Patrol’s hands and, therefore, they had no statistics on such cases.
We moved on to the militarization of the border, a phrase Agent Ortega dismissed as blatantly incorrect. When pressed on the issue, Agent Ortega repeatedly said that Border Patrol is not the military. Agent Robbs jumped in, saying that they might look like the military since their suits are made for rough terrain, as are their boots, but that they, unlike the military, were not allowed to wear cammo. They do, however, have armored trucks, intense surveillance techniques, and access to lots of firepower, just like the military. We discussed the difference between the fence between the United States and Mexico and the fence between Palestinian land and Israel. Agent Robbs was very excited to discuss this. He talked about how the fence in Israel and its guards are meant to kill travelers, including shooting people on sight, exploding tunnels, and a fence built to keep people out, whereas Border Patrol tries to apprehend travelers, fill tunnels with cement, and slow people down enough to catch them. The non-discussion of militarization moved on and we began discussion Border Patrol’s effect on local communities. The agents listed their efforts to build connections to local communities, including increased safety, working with humanitarian aid groups, and BORSTAR, which is the Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma, and Rescue unit.
We touched on the Forward Operating Camps, which are camps that can be relocated quickly based on current patterns of migrant activity before moving onto the use of force model. The model simply matched up actions on behalf of a traveler and the response allowed by an agent, all determined by ability, opportunity, and intent:

Compliant–Cooperative Control
Passive Resistance–Contact Control
Active Resistance–Compliance Techniques
Physical Assault–Defensive Tactics
Threat of Serious Injury or Death–Deadly Force

The agents talked about the fact that about half the agents patrol, are Latinx, and/or have college degrees. They said that transparency of the Patrol was getting better, racial profiling has not changed, and community outreach is getting better. We talked about their role in Operation Streamline, the creation of their “Alien Transfer Exit Program”, the fact that there is no abuse of power over or abuse of detainees.
After four hours, we went outside to see one of the transfer trucks used to move travelers in Border Patrol custody. The truck seat eight detainees, through the agents admitted that sometimes more will be put in the truck until someone else can meet up with the driver. They pointed out that the cab of the truck is heated to the same temperature as the back so claims of inhumane temperatures could not be true. Caged cars, like police cars, do exist and are used for smaller numbers.
After four and a half hours at Border Patrol, we piled back into the van and drove to Nogales, Sonora in Mexico. Driving through the border took almost no time, though the towns on either side of the border were worlds apart. We arrived at the Kino Border Initiative and were met by Joanna, a year-long volunteer.
Joanna went through some of the history of KBI once we were all settled. In the 1990’s, the number of deportations to Nogales grew by leaps and bounds. The Sisters of the Eucherist, who run the comedor, founded the precursor to KBI. In 2008, Jesuits came to Nogales to do a study on the deportations and find out what they could do to make a difference. In 2009, the Jesuits founded KBI, named after Father Kino, to further the work of the Sisters. KBI includes a women and children’s shelter, a men’s shelter, housing that is made available upon demand to trans* individuals, medical aid, clothing and shoes, information about traveling home, and meals.
KBI aims to be a “humanizing presence” on the border and works towards “humane migration policies.” KBI uses the word “humane” to draw attention to the human dignity that every person has and that is consistently ignored in the United States’ immigration policies. KBI works on education both local communities and visiting groups like ours. They are a binational organization that, in addition to their work with migrants, work to end violence (especially physical violence in Mexico and lack of protection/food in the United States), promote T-Visas and other anti-trafficking work, engage with Border Patrol in action rather than just discussion, and advocating for migrant rights and safety. KBI serves between 70 and 100 people each day during most of the year; during the winter, numbers usually drop to 50-60, though with the recent raids in the United States, numbers have reached as high as 120 people in a day during the past weeks.
When people come to learn and volunteer at KBI, three goals are laid out: Humanize, Accompany, and Complicate. By humanize, Joanna explained, KBI hoped that each person would leave with a name and story for at least one face in the room. Accompany meant that we should make the journey with the person for however brief a time we are with them, and complicate meant to take what we had heard (especially earlier that day at Border Patrol) and view it in relation with or opposition to the stories we were learning.
After singing to see which table would do dishes, our serving dinner, and everyone’s cleaning up, we left Kino Border Initiative and headed to HEPAC (Hogar de Eperanza y Paz), where we would be sleeping for the duration of our time in Mexico. We had dinner before heading up to the dorms and going to bed.

Return to the U.S.

January 14th, 2016

We woke up early today to the sound of roosters crowing and the smokey smell of nearby chimneys. After packing up and loading the van, we headed back to the U.S. Once arriving to the US/Mexico border, the border patrol officer asked to see each of our passports, and briefly questioned us. We quickly passed through (Katie mentioned that the patrol inspection was particularly short), we hurried off the Arivaca, which is an hours drive away from Nogales. We enjoyed the spectacular scenery, which included desert flatlands and abundant mountains, including on mountain that the Tohono O’odham believe was the birthplace of humanity. After meeting up with John and Paula, we headed towards the desert trail, not quite knowing what to expect. John and Paula prepped us before beginning the hike, informing us of the sanctity of the land and trail itself. John mentioned the land on which we stood has been traversed for thousands of years, by indigenous peoples traveling for trade and commerce. We hiked a mile in, until reaching the sacred shrine created by migrants who had passed that region. On our walk we noticed many food cans, items of clothing, and water jugs, reminded us of the people who had taken this journey before us. At the shrine, there were many water jugs with messages of hope and motivation left behind so that the migrants would know that they were not alone. We sat for a moment of silence at the shrine, and reflected on all those who had passed away on their journey. Since October, the bodies of nearly 40 migrants have been found along the Arizona/ Mexico border. We began our walk out in silence, and continued to gather the discarded trash that the migrants had left on the path.

After another windy and bumpy drive through the staggering mountains, dips, and hills of the desert land, we arrived in Arivaca to visit the Office of Humanitarian Aid run by People Helping People. There we met Eva, and over a delicious lunch of burritos, she spoke to us about the work the Office does and answered our many questions. She emphasized that the organization was established as a community response to the conversion of Arivaca a warzone within the past couple of decades due to the viciously heightened security along the border. She expressed her belief that change can only arise through social movements, and said “I have no faith in politicians.” She recounted tales of the actions her Office and local Arivacans have taken against the border patrol and the effects of the government strategy of “prevention by deterrence.” This tactic is a method of funneling migrants through the most treacherous parts of the desert by more strictly enforcing security through urban parts of the border, which results in death. After purchasing some T-shirts and stickers from the Office supporting this organization, we loaded into the van and began the one hour or so journey back to our hostel Roadrunner in Tucson.

That evening, we returned the Border Studies classroom, where we met four members of Mariposas sin Fronteras, over a delicious dinner of (homecooked!) pupusas. Mariposas sin Fronteras is an organization devoted to advocating for LGBTQ individuals in detention centers in the Tucson area. All of the organizers we met were members of the LGBTQ community, and most had experienced time in the detention centers themselves. They revealed to us the incredibly atrocious conditions suffered as detainees, especially due to their sexual orientation. The way in which they spoke about their past and current struggles was inspiring, because each of them maintained hope, joy, and dignity despite what they had live through. They spoke to the unwillingness of the white queer community to welcome them or other people of color into their movements promoting the rights of LGBTQ folk. They also addressed their own ministry, which includes meeting with detainees and drawing on their personal experiences in detention in order to provide solace and guidance to these people, who they consider to be family. One of the four, Brandon, concluded by saying that speaking to groups like us is like planting seeds, and that he loves to harvest hope in young leaders who will create the change that he hopes for.

We hope you enjoyed this post! Brought to you by Miriam Myers and Callie Kennedy.

The Then & Now, Bi-Co in Tuscon, Arizona

Haverford and Bryn Mawr meet again, not on our campuses this time but in Tuscon, Arizona. Nine of us arrived in Tuscon yesterday to participate in the CPGC Borderlands Field Study and experienced a fun night eating enchiladas and moles and exploring 4th ave.

Today, we began our day with more food (waffles) and set off to the Border Studies Program’s classroom where we met with public defender and founder of Derechos Humanos, Isabel Garcia. Unlike any other speaker I have ever encountered, I think it’s safe to say Garcia kept us all captivated and in awe as she spoke with such knowledge and experience about the history of immigration in Tuscon and the current state of immigration today. Garcia put an emphasis on the fact that migration is “the journey of the poor” and at its core is economic. Garcia also spoke about the use of the criminal justice system as means to control labor especially since the United States has proven to be comfortable with immigrant labor while simultaneously having strict immigration laws. What stuck with me the most was Garcia’s insight into narratives and education and how they have played a role in the way we think about the issue of immigration; we don’t know immigration today because we don’t know the history of immigration. Garcia left us with her desires for us as students with newly acquired knowledge to share what we have learned and will learn about immigration with our own communities.

Our day continued with lunch at the Roadrunner hostel and a trip to the United States District Court of Arizona to experience Operation Streamline. Before we entered the courtroom to witness Operation Streamline, we made a little detour to the U.S Marshals Service office and had the opportunity to speak with a U.S. Marshal supervisor after looking around the office and asking a receptionist, “what do U.S. Marshals exactly do?” To my surprise, besides capturing fugitives, they watch over the judges and hold immigrants awaiting court in their office. When we finally entered the court, we saw Operation Streamline in effect. Operation Streamline is a proceeding in which about 70 undocumented migrants that have recently been caught at the border go before a magistrate and accept a plea deal for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry. These undocumented immigrants are sentenced to jail time ranging from 30 days to 180 days. I don’t think I was prepared for such an experience as the proceeding began and I heard the movement of chains around the hands and waists of the undocumented immigrants as they stood up to answer the magistrate’s questions responding with “Sí” and “culpable”. I was left thinking about what they were truly guilty of because just like the private attorneys in the room that were making about $125/hr, the migrants were just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Filled with many emotions, we debriefed with David Wolf, an attorney working with the End Operation Streamline movement and spoke with him about everything we had just seen. Our day of activities ended with at trip to El Tiradito, a shrine that means the castaway. El Tiradito served as a symbol of hope and we left our hopes and wishes in the wall.

I hope that migrants planning to cross the border get to live the life they rightfully deserve.

Los Quinchos — An Organizational Low-down

This summer, we are working as volunteers at Los Quinchos, a Nicaraguan non-profit organization that seeks to rehabilitate and offer hospitality to abandoned and mistreated street children from Managua, many of whom are victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as drug addiction. The organization has four main projects: the Filter House in Managua, the Los Quinchos and Las Yahoska projects in San Marcos, and a career development project for older teens in Granada. The organization was founded by Zelinda Roccia, an Italian woman who, during a visit to Nicaragua in 1991, witnessed the devastating reality of so many homeless boys living on the streets of Managua (many of whom were orphaned by the Contra Wars of the late 1980´s); that same year, she uprooted her life in Italy to found Los Quinchos. “Quinchos” is an Italian word meaning “little rascals,” and it is the term that is used to affectionately refer to the boys in the program; four years later, Las Yahoskas (named after a river in Nicaragua) was founded to serve girls living in similar circumstances on the streets of Managua.

The Filter House serves as the organization’s most direct link to the day-to-day lives of kids (usually ranging from ages 6 to 18) living on the streets or in abusive households in Managua. Every child participating in the Filter House program has been assessed by the organization´s “street doctors,” Los Quinchos staff (often former participants in the program themselves, and almost always trained in psychology/social work) who have spent a lot of time with the kids on the streets of Managua, and who have determined which children are living in unhealthy or harmful circumstances (often in their home life), and who, thus, are in need of a relocation to a more stable and nurturing environment. The kids usually live with their parents while participating in this part of the Los Quinchos program, but it is understood by all parties that the end goal is for the children to eventually live permanently at the Los Quinchos or Las Yahoskas sites in San Marcos (weekly weekend visits to San Marcos are an integral part of the Filter House´s efforts to smooth the transition to the more orphanage-like lifestyle at the sites in San Marcos). The Filter House hosts meals, academic reinforcement exercises, as well as various non-academic activities before and after school every day. Participants in the Filter House program usually spend between a few months and a year in this, the organization´s Managuan branch, before officially coming to live at the “finca” (farm) with Los Quinchos or at the organization´s Las Yahoskas site. Though we are not working at the Filter House site specifically, we felt that it was important to explain where the majority of the Quinchos and Yahoskas are initially introduced into the organization.

We are both working at the organization’s main site in San Marcos, a town located about 45 minutes south of Managua that is home to about 30,000 Nicaraguans. As we sit back and reflect on the parts of these past ten weeks in Nicaragua that we will most miss, it becomes clear that getting to know this quirky town has been one of many favorite parts of the experience. We have befriended a handful of San Marcos´ motortaxi fleet (one of whom asked for Rosemary´s hand in marriage this morning…he´s no longer our favorite); we know who sells the best street food, we know at a distance which of the stumbling men are drunk and which are the local ¨locos¨ (in local parlance); we know at what times we can grab a weak thread of wi-fi at each of the few available hotspots; and we know (and have occasionally been known to succumb to the impulse) where we will be offered free kittens.

An average day in Los Quinchos, Nicaragua?

Is it possible to speak of an average or regular day at Los Quinchos? Each day when we meet up to walk across town into work, we know that our expectations and previous experiences will serve at most as the crudest of compasses for the day ahead.

Displaying IMG_2177.JPG

On one particularly adventurous day, Jacob and Rosemary rented an ol´ clunker named ¨Chad¨(short for Charles Buckingsworth the Third- because he had the body of a used bomb shelter, but the heart of a king) to take a few stragglers to the beach.

Jacob is living with the family of Doña Marielena, the cook at the Filter House in Managua, and Rosemary is being hosted by Doña Marlene, the cook at the Los Quinchos Cultural Center in San Marcos. Needless to say, we have both totally lucked out with regards to our delicious meals! It usually takes us about 30-45 minutes (depending on how many friendly shop owners, taxi drivers and street venders we stop to chat with on our way) to walk from our neighborhood to the Cultural Center, which functions as the nucleus of the various Los Quinchos cites in San Marcos. We usually spend anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours tutoring some of the older Quinchos and Yahoskas who are studying and finishing their homework in the Cultural Center´s library before returning to their respective sites to prepare for classes that afternoon (in Nicaragua, most of the younger students attend classes in the mornings and older students go to school in the afternoon). Later, we usually split up to visit both the Quinchos and the Yahoskas. Rosemary is focusing the majority of her time working with the girls at Las Yahoskas, and Jacob is working mostly at la finca with the Quinchos, but we both spend significant time at both sites, getting to know and forming connections with all of the kids involved in the organization; both of our projects (explained below) involve both Quinchos and Yahoskas, so, especially as we have had to gradually devote more time to these respective projects, our time with the two groups has been practically split half-and-half.

Displaying IMG_2691.JPG

Jacob teaches long division to some younger elementary school boys.

 

Because there is no such thing as an “average” or “uneventful” day at Los Quinchos, there is not any specific list of activities or jobs that we will do every day while working at the Los Quinchos Finca or at Las Yahoskas. That being said, most days tend to involve: helping out with homework, leading academic reinforcement activities, leading group activities or team building exercises, playing soccer, helping out with chores, preparing for school, serving and eating lunch, accompanying the younger Quinchos and Yahoskas to the library in the Cultural Center during the afternoon, and assisting the other non-volunteer/full-time educators (who are usually former Quinchos or Yahoskas, or who are experienced teachers or psychologists). We also help out with and lead group activities and presentations when other delegations from various organizations are visiting the Quinchos and Yahoskas (the organization receives a substantial amount of its donations from delegations passing through Los Quinchos, just as our Haverford delegation did earlier this summer). In addition, we teach a fast-paced, after school English class to a select group of older Quinchos and Yahoskas who have expressed great interest in learning English, and who also maintain a high GPA in their other schoolwork; this course meets twice a week in a cafe nearby the Cultural Center, and this scheduled time for individual instruction with students who really want to learn has turned out to be one of the highlights of our week (except when the kids are scurrying off to smooch in the restaurant bathroom).

 

 

Displaying IMG_2033.JPG

In the course of a crazy week, Rosemary found herself accompanying ¨Romero¨ as he underwent a giant tumor reduction sugery

 

The Nicaragua Delegation (9 weeks late)

Okay, so for the sake of full transparency, we have slacked on this blog. We are posting now, with five days left in Nicaragua, out of sheer guilt. But the main reason we haven’t posted lies in the magnetic force that Los Quinchos seems to hold over us.* Every day is a ridiculous, moving, and sometimes story-worthy adventure at this organization that we have come to cherish, and we are happy to sit down and reflect for a few minutes about some of our experiences here.

*(The other reason is the absurdly unreliable internet and wi-fi)

 

We arrived in Nicaragua at the beginning of June for an orientation week with a delegation of four other students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr, all of whom are working at distinct sites around the country through an internship program sponsored by Haverford´s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. After several fascinating lectures on the history and political context of Nicaragua, as well as a presentation on the controversial proposed interoceanic canal project, we toured around the country to visit many of the different organizations associated with ProNica, the Quaker-based NGO that is supporting our internships. Jacob spent the first week after the delegation in Largartillo, a tiny village near the northern boarder, at a spanish language school. After working alone at Los Quinchos for a week, the value of working in a team this summer is overwhelmingly apparent.

We are all lucky to be supported in our internships by the power duo Ramon and Ada from ProNica. They periodically call us to check-in, or in the case of Los Quinchos, they drop by our work site, which is only 20 minutes from their house. Towards the end of June, our delegation met up in Managua to have a lengthier check-in and to gain a little emotional distance from the projects into which we had hurled ourselves. After attending a university forum on the Canal, we headed off to the beautiful Isla de Ometepe, a pair of volcanic islands whose shape must is and will always be the brunt of many crude jokes.

Having a weekend with new and old friends from Haverford simply reenforced our growing belief that embarking on an emotionally charged internship should be complimented by a support system of both those who are completely removed from the situation and those whose experiences are similar enough to provide sympathy and support.

 

Ojos bien abiertos (Eyes Wide Open©)

By Annie Kelly ’16 and Youkun Zhou ’17

A lot of interesting people find themselves at Ignacio Mariscal 132 in Mexico City. Casa de los Amigos is an international center for peace and understanding, or as we like to call it, one of the most unique homes you will ever find. Apart from being a community center with a long Quaker history, it is also a guesthouse for travelers, researchers, activists, and students and a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental sustainability, economic justice, and the human rights of migrants. On any given day in the Casa, you would find Spanish classes for migrants, or maybe a cooking workshop on how to make Salvadorian empanadas, offered by a former refugee who stayed in the Casa. In the guest lounge, there are the most interesting conversations between people from different countries and backgrounds, and every day people walk through the door looking for help with different needs such as clothes, food, or information. Work here is never predictable.

Volunteers with long-term guests in the Zócalo.

Volunteers with long-term guests in the Zócalo.

Our work in migration is mainly to provide a safe and homelike atmosphere for migrants as they settle down in Mexico. There are refugees here from all parts of the world with their own stories that we would otherwise never know. As volunteers here, we get to explore the city with them, accompany them as they look for apartments and jobs, and share breakfast and communal dinners with them. Once here in the Casa, you are part of a bigger community and support network in which all joy and sadness, troubles and triumphs are shared.

Holaaaa!!!

Holaaaa!!!

Another program that is important to the Casa is its work with local cooperatives. For example, Flor de Mazahua is a community of Mazahua women who make a living by stitching and weaving beautiful articles of clothing, dolls, and other products with indigenous elements. Cimarronez is another interesting cooperative that makes chocolate by grinding cocoa beans in a grinder powered by a single bicycle. Other organizations make jams, chili and honey. We also host a Feria de Multitrueke (a bartering fair) in which people can bring their own products and use alternative currency to shop. Events like this celebrate and value craftsmanship and individual talents as well as community.

Making chocolate with the bicimolina

Making chocolate with the bicimolina

Although there is always work to do at the Casa, we also work at partner organizations. Cynthia and Kerry go to Casa Tochán (which means “our home” in Nahuatl), a shelter for refugees that has a similar migration program as the Casa. Youkun goes to Fondo María, a feminist fund that is dedicated to offering accommodation, alimentation, and accompaniment to women who travel to Mexico City to have an abortion. Annie goes to Barrio Activo, a youth center in a neighborhood in the north of the city that strives for a safer, more peaceful environment for the kids who grow up there. The organization is currently hosting a three-week day camp in which 150 kids are participating with another 40 youth counselors helping out.

Annie with her group of kids at the summer camp, Atrapando Sueños - Construyendo Paz (Catching Dreams - Building Peace)

Annie with her group of kids at the summer camp, Atrapando Sueños – Construyendo Paz (Catching Dreams – Building Peace)

Our work has been as much fun and play as it has been rewarding and fruitful. It really does not feel like a summer internship because it does not feel like work. Rather it is our home, which we just happen to share with a constantly changing, but loving, caring and extremely devoted group of people.

Note: Ojos bien abiertos is a documentary that was shown at Casa de los Amigos.

Ojos bien abiertos – Eyes Wide Open – YouTube