LATIN AMERICAN CONCERNS COMMITTEE
REPORT TO PYM ANNUAL SESSION 2015
In 1997, PYM annual session established a standing Latin America Concerns Committee to gather and disseminate information to Pacific and other Yearly Meetings regarding Friends groups and service projects in Latin America. The intention is to support rather than replace spirit-led projects already supported by Monthly Meetings, Worship Groups and individual Friends.
LACC has met three times since last annual session. LACC, along with Peace and Social Order Committee, encouraged the invitation of Paula Palmer of Boulder Meeting to present a workshop at Annual Session 2015 titled Toward Right Relationship with America’s Native Peoples. The director of the Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program, Miguel Costop, is attending Annual Session and will be presenting an Interest Group on Quakerism and Mayan Spirituality. The basic elements of Mayan spirituality will be discussed by an indigenous Kaqchikel Guatemalan as he shares how Quakerism became part of his spiritual journey. Participation in a Mayan ceremony of thanksgiving will be part of this Interest Group.
This year six monthly meetings in Pacific Yearly Meeting have approved minutes of concern for refugee children crossing the border from Latin America. A special subcommittee of the Latin American Concerns Committee, Child Refugees and Migration, was formed to address this concern at Annual Session in 2014. Many Friends have taken action from visiting elected officials, to accompanying a local child refugee through the legal processes, to traveling to Texas to visit refugees being held in family detention facilities. Friends interested in learning more can contact members of the Child Refugees and Migration Subcommittee (see the LACC report posted on the PYM website).
PYM Latin American Concerns Committee and PYM Peace and Social Order Committee bring the following Minute of Support for approval by those gathered at the 2015 Annual Session:
“Those gathered at the 2015 Annual Session of Pacific Yearly Meeting support the efforts of the Latin America Concerns Committee and numerous other Friends who are seeking justice and showing compassion toward those who are fleeing the violence in their home countries and need a place of refuge in the United States. We encourage monthly meetings and individual Friends to read the minutes approved by monthly meetings and take them to heart. We also encourage Friends to support the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) to promote just and compassionate policies toward immigrants.”
CHILD REFUGEE AND MIGRATION SUBCOMMITTEE
The Child Refugee and Migration subcommittee, originally convened during last year’s Annual Session by Lynnette Arnold, has met via conference call on a weekly or biweekly basis a total of 30 times this year. We have a very dedicated group of 4 members who are on every call with another 4-5 who are generally on the calls. We also have an email list of about 25 who are kept in the loop of our work. One of our first actions as a group was to discuss together the leading of Spirit we felt guiding our work, which was later published in the September 2014 issue of Western Friend (and can be found online at https://westernfriend.org/article/love-always-protects). We also drafted a mission statement to guide our work, which reads:
“We are called to show love to the many children and families from Latin America who are arriving on our Southern border after fleeing difficult conditions in their home countries. We seek to provide a network among Friends in Pacific Yearly Meeting to share information about actions that Monthly Meetings are taking, as well as resources available at the regional and national level. Through this communication, we work to encourage Friends and others to take action to provide care for these refugees, to lobby political leaders for more humanitarian policies, and to speak out against fear and hatred and in support of kindness and compassion.”
As we have moved forward this year following our leading, many of us have worked with Friends at our Monthly Meetings to write minutes that address this issue. Six Monthly Meetings in PYM have now passed such minutes – listed here in order approved: Inland Valley, Humboldt, Redwood Forest, Santa Barbara, Orange Grove and La Jolla. Each of these minutes reflects how spirit is moving this shared concern in different ways within our community, and they can all be found on the PYM website, under PYM Documents, Committee Reports, LACC (https://www.pacificyearlymeeting.org/committee-newsletters-and-reports/latin-american-concerns/). We also compiled a list of resources with information on different aspects of this issue, which is posted on the website as well. The minutes and resources packet were sent out electronically to each Monthly Meeting within PYM as well.
We have also been working with our Monthly Meetings to move forward in corporate action. Sacramento Meeting’s Peace Committee brought forward a proposal that their meeting fund the legal defense of refugee children and the Meeting subsequently approved a donation to be made to the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant for this purpose. Redwood Forest has formed their own Child Refugees and Migration subcommittee of their Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and this group of 4-5 Friends has been actively accompanying a child refugee through the legal process. Santa Barbara Meeting held regular vigils for four months, sponsored a Friend to travel to Texas to visit the detention centers where refugee families are being held, and participated in a solidarity fast with detained mothers who had launched a hunger strike. Many meetings joined in an effort organized by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to send Christmas cards to many detained immigrants, and we were especially glad to have the active participation of young Friends from Junior Yearly Meeting in this effort. We have also organized screenings of a powerful new documentary on family detention (available here: https://grassrootsleadership.org/host-screening-no-sanctuary).
To strengthen our local efforts, we have also worked to make connections with others who share this concern beyond Yearly Meeting. Many of our efforts have evolved in coalition with other faith groups and community organizations including among others the Unitarian Society and the Interfaith Welcome Committee. We have also reached out to AFSC, including writing them a letter to express our concern with this issue. La Jolla Meeting also reached out to local AFSC staff, and was able to spark a rich conversation on this issue that helped strengthen the minute the Meeting eventually approved.
This year at Annual Session we will be holding an Interest Group on our work, including background information as well as suggestions of actions Friends can take on this issue. A child refugee and her mother will also be present and will share about their experiences, and we look forward eagerly to a rich discussion.
CASA DE LOS AMIGOS
Casa de los Amigos has had a full and productive year of wide-ranging peace work in Mexico City. The Casa’s Hospitality Program, which includes our social justice oriented guesthouse and community center, has been active as ever. Our flourishing Migration and Economic Justice Programs are built on this fertile ground. The Casa offers temporary emergency housing and accompaniment to migrants and refugees from around the world, and this summer we celebrate 5 years of continuous free, daily Spanish classes for the migrant community in the city. We continue to slowly renovate our historic building and move toward more ecological practices and infrastructure. This year the Casa has also expanded opportunities to share our work and witness by coordinating educational and awareness-building activities for many of our visiting groups. In 2015 we have organized three weeklong study-tours, including two successful Quaker Social Action in Mexico Learning Tours. This summer we are hosting four summer interns from Haverford College and will welcome a new full-time volunteer team in August. We invite all, especially PYM Friends, to come and participate in our community of faith, celebration, daily service and good will.
EL SALVADOR PROJECTS OF PALO ALTO MEETING
The El Salvador Projects of Palo Alto Meeting currently support 13 university students from poor rural communities with student loans that can be repaid in cash, through community service, or through financial support for another student. The students’ fields of study are varied and wide-ranging, from law and medicine to art and teaching. Many students live in a house in San Salvador that we rent in partnership with other programs that also support university students.
Annually, our Field Director, Robert Broz, is the principal organizer of a university fair in Suchitoto, El Salvador, that brings prospective students together with representatives of institutions of higher learning and programs that offer financial aid.
The Projects also help to fund a few positions in rural schools that do not receive adequate support from the government. We also help to support periodic skills workshops in rural villages on such topics as how to build efficient and inexpensive stoves and alternatives to violence training. We collect unneeded reading glasses in the United States and send them to El Salvador, where they enable older people to resume work and activities that had been beyond them due to vision loss.
The Projects are overseen by a committee of Palo Alto Meeting that supports the Field Director in discernment and planning and raises funds, largely through newsletters that are sent to supporters 2-3 times per year.
GUATEMALA FRIENDS SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
In 2014, 20 students graduated from the Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program (known as Progresa in Guatemala) 15 at the secondary level and 5 from university. We accepted 28 new students including 4 who are in medical school. Our total number of students for 2015 is 76. We have 46 women and 30 men, and 65 are indigenous. Of our 57 University students: 11 are in Secondary education, 8 in Professional Nursing RN, 8 in Medicine, 7 in Law and 5 in Business Administration.
Each student is responsible for planning and conducting a Community Service Project each year. This program has been successful in developing leadership in our students and providing needed service to their communities. Projects have included First Aid classes, Legal Rights training, recycling, organic agriculture, and domestic violence prevention.
Last summer, a group of 20 Junior Friends from North Pacific Yearly Meeting toured around Guatemala with our director Miguel Costop. During their travels, they met several Progresa students and graduates. They learned first hand about the hardships Guatemalans face and came to realize how important Progresa has been in overcoming obstacles.
The sixth Teaching English Experience was held in January with 14 North Americans teaching 14 Progresa students. It is such a rewarding experience that half of the teachers were returnees. Next year’s Teaching English will be held January 3-11, 2016.
The 30th Annual Student Conference was held May 2-3 Mixco with 60 students in attendance. Graduates of Progresa in the fields of psychology, civil engineering and nursing gave inspiring talks on Leadership. The theme for Sunday was “Who are the Quakers?” presented by members of Ipula Friends Church in Guatemala, North Pacific YM, Redwood Forest and Guatemala Monthly Meetings.
For all the work involved, we continue to feel encouraged and blessed when we see how lives and communities are enriched by the opportunities for economic and social justice that education provides.
Further information is available on www.guatemalafriends.org.
Donna Smith, Clerk
Committee: Barbara Babin, Margaret Bean, Erin Cizina, Laura Kohl, Nico Wright
Child Refugees and Migration Subcommittee: Lynnette Arnold- convener, Alvaro Alvarado, Holly Anderson, Laura Kohl, Maryanne Michaels, Patricia Portillo, Donna Smith, Leslie Zondervan-Droz