Latin America Concerns Committee Report to Representative Committee – March 2016

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 continues to work with Casa de los Amigos, El Salvador Project and Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program. Since Annual Session 2014, the Child Refugee and Migration subcommittee has been very active in disseminating information and involvement in immigrant rights. The following are their reports:

Casa de los Amigos

Casa de los Amigos approaches yet another transition! This one is all good, and the Casa is in a good spot. There’s a board meeting this Saturday to, among other things, make a final decision about a new executive director. To all of you good Casa allies out there, here are three accurate 2016 Casa talking points you can use to talk to anybody in the world about Casa de los Amigos:

  1. 2016 is the Casa’s 60th anniversary year! There will be a celebration in October, and the Casa’s deep roots will be a present theme throughout the year. The celebration will also serve as a release date for a long-awaited book about Casa de los Amigos. Kickstarter campaign launches any minute now, when you hear about it please help spread the word!
  2. The Casa’s peace work is stronger than ever. You have to visit to truly get a sense of the dizzying array of projects and movements that the Casa is meaningfully involved in. But you should know that the Casa houses thousands annually in its peace guesthouse, provides emergency housing to migrants and refugees, central meeting space for dozens of NGOs, supports local small producers and solidarity economics, has a cool environmental concerns program, and is a social justice clearinghouse for movements and groups from around Mexico and the world.
  3. Hayley Hathaway is sad to go but feels right in her decision to turn the page and leave the Casa after over six years of nonstop service. The good news is that the Casa today is on an excellent footing, a wide net has been cast and 60-some applications received for the director spot. The important things to know about bringing in a new person at this time is that the person will arrive to a firm foundation of partner-based programs running strong, financial support and institutional networks, and a dynamite on-the-ground team willing to work to help orient, train and support a new director.

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 either in cash or through community service or financial support for another student. Of the current university students, eight are new students from the rural communities of Suchitoto and five are continuing students from 2015. Fields of study of the students are varied, including law, business administration, art, medicine, accounting, social work, nursing, agricultural engineering, teaching, civil engineering and architecture, and international relations. Twenty-two students live in a house in San Salvador that we rent in partnership with several other programs that also support university students from the municipality of Suchitoto. Our Field Director, Robert Broz, is the principal organizer of an annual university fair in Suchitoto, El Salvador, that brings prospective university students together with representatives of institutions of higher learning and representatives of programs that offer financial aid.

A small part of our budget goes to enable rural villages to organize periodic skills workshops with socializing for elderly people, workshops on production of inexpensive and efficient “rocket stoves” to reduce the labor of gathering fuel for woodfires and reduce smoke that contributes to childhood asthma, and to help fund Alternatives to Violence training in El Salvador.

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 a newsletter that is sent to supporters 2-3 times per year and periodic visits by Field Director Robert Broz to Pacific Yearly Meeting, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, monthly meetings of these two yearly meetings, and other supporters in the US.

Guatemala Friends Scholarship Program (Progresa)

Progresa is soon to celebrate its 43rd year providing an opportunity for education to rural, poor Mayans. We saw 17 of our students graduate in 2015. Their careers included teaching, law, nursing, natural resources, computer science and bookkeeping. In the 2016 school year, we have 75 new and continuing students. Most are women and they are studying at the university level.

Progresa’s Teaching English Experience has just completed its 7th year with 15 North Americans and 15 Progresa students sharing a fun-filled and rewarding week together in Antigua, Guatemala. Join us next year January 3-11, 2017.

In the 1990’s Progresa received funding for scholarships for refugees of the armed conflict from Casa de los Amigos when Casa laid down their Central American Refugee Program. We were invited to the community who received these scholarships, Primavera del Ixcan, for their annual meeting and celebration. It is in a remote area and it was an adventure getting there. We have 18 former and 2 current students from this community. In a meeting with our former students (many are teachers), we learned that this community has an educational system far superior to other communities in remote areas with 97% of their children finishing primary school. One of our former students was responsible for obtaining governmental approval for a high school in the community.

The new President of Guatemala just appointed one of our former students, Hector Canto, Assistant Secretary of Education in charge of rural education. Hector has asked to speak with our director, Miguel Costop, about Progresa’s work in rural education. We look forward to this collaboration.

For more information call Donna Smith (707)542-2874 or Harriet Lewis (707)526-1066 Co-Clerks of the program at Redwood Forest Meeting.

Child Refugee and Migration Subcommittee

Lynnette Arnold (Santa Barbara Meeting), convener

We have been meeting regularly, tracking and reporting on the work of some monthly meetings, collecting and sending on information and information sources about child and family asylum seekers coming from Central America, adding to the resource list on the PYM website and following political changes and challenges regarding these refugees. We have begun to plan for an Interest Group for 2016 Annual Session.

In the minutes of our meetings we have discussed and shared specifics about Johanna’s asylum-seeking (Redwood Forest), Sonia’s perseverance and status (Santa Barbara), the providing of sanctuary and assistance to a family (La Jolla), family detention challenges, new information about programs from various sources, reports on the East Bay Sanctuary visit to Central America, learned of and passed on ideas about how we can help even if not near the border, and provided encouragement and information to monthly meetings.

We want to do more educating of ourselves, advocacy and making presentations, and supporting meetings providing sanctuary. We are planning an Interest Group for Annual Session with the leader of the Bay Area Immigration Covenant as speaker.

Donna Smith and Ann Boone, Co-Clerks of LACC