Making and sharing space for solidarity

By Vanessa Stevens | December 4, 2019 | The Americas | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

At a recent convening of GFC partners in Detroit, the power of connections was on full display.

“When I come to a convening with GFC, it feels like family,” said Ana Minauri, the 24-year-old Programs Director of Homies Unidos. Ana was standing in a circle with fellow advocates for migrant children’s rights, reflecting on our day together.

I was especially touched by Ana’s reflection. One of my most meaningful experiences as a GFC Program Officer is convening partners to share space for dialogue, learning, and relationship building.

My fellow Program Officer Rodrigo Barraza and I recently invited leaders from our partner organizations based in Mexico and the US to Detroit for a one-day convening ahead of the National Immigrant Integration Conference. As members of GFC’s Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative, we came together to strengthen ties across the US-Mexico border and to share experiences about child safeguarding and how to meaningfully engage girls in organizations.

Building trust-based relationships and solidarity across borders are critical for local and nascent organizations as they courageously work to address the migration crises confronting the region. As a convener, GFC creates safe, inclusive spaces for our partners to connect as advocates for children’s rights.

To start off the convening, my colleague Rodrigo led an activity called El Maiz del Buen Vivir. Roughly translated as the “corn of good living,” the activity begins with participants creating pictures of maize, including its roots, stems, leaves, and kernels. Having sustained life for centuries, maize is a meaningful symbol in the Americas.

At different points of growth in the corn, participants drew and shared stories of success and challenge from their past, present, and future. It was powerful to hear about the obstacles they had all overcome and their collective vision for their communities’ future.

These Maiz del Buen Vivir activity drawings, created by participants at the convening, represent their organization’s past, present, and future.

The power of convening to strengthen connections is evident in the emerging network of the Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative’s 12 partners. Rodrigo and I shared that since the first convening in August 2018 in Tapachula, Mexico, we have observed more than 15 collaborations in the network – ranging from working together to provide urgent aid to migrant children to a fully funded partnership to help children reintegrate in their home country after deportation.

We shared that through GFC’s social network analysis, we found that the Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative partners are more connected, with an 88% change in network density over eight months since the initial convening.

What’s more, we observed that the initiative’s 12 partners regularly work with more than 250 organizations combined – from civil society, academia, and government institutions – to strengthen the rights and wellbeing of migrant children. In addition to strengthening their connection with one another, there are vast opportunities for partners to leverage one another’s networks and partnerships.

“It was absolutely amazing to connect with people from other collectives/organizations who are supporting refugee and migrant communities. I really appreciate the opportunity to share and learn with each other. It was revitalizing and empowering to share space with everyone.” – Youth organizer, Immigrant Youth Coalition (Los Angeles)

Following the convening, partners attended the three-day National Immigrant Integration Conference with more than 1,400 participants working to strengthen immigrant rights and welcoming communities in the US. A national conference like this presents GFC partners – which are local and many times nascent organizations – with opportunities for greater exposure, networking with funders and national organizations, and learning about best practices and resources.

GFC Program Officers Rodrigo and Vanessa with seven of the network participants at the National Immigrant Integration Conference.

A youth organizer with our partner Immigrant Youth Coalition in California connected with attorneys and organizers from Washington, Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, New York, and Florida, who are also committed to supporting LGBTQI+ refugees. Maria Alejandra Martinez Corral, who works in Tijuana at Al Otro Lado to protect the rights of unaccompanied children, spoke on a panel titled “Justice at the Border.” Executive Director Alex Sanchez of Homies Unidos in Los Angeles connected with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national leader in criminal justice reform, and just one month later spoke on a panel with them in Philadelphia.

“The GFC convening was close to my heart because it gives me more beautiful possibilities. It was valuable to know the experience of others on the issue of migration, and to have the opportunity to ask questions on topics related to immigration and develop networks.” Michaelle Louis, Espacio Migrante (Tijuana)

My heart grows at convenings as I observe new learnings, greater connection, and renewed inspiration, with the hope that it strengthens our partners and their work to advocate for migrant children’s rights in their communities and beyond.

Header photo: Participants at the Detroit convening take part in an ice-breaker dance session! 

The Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative supports a cohort of 12 civil society organizations through core flexible funding, network facilitation, and capacity development to strengthen their programs and advocacy to protect the safety and rights of migrant girls in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States.

Read about the Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative previous convenings in Quetzaltenango and Tapachula.

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