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Peacebuilding en las Américas, Coping with Pandemic

Coordinator Mónica Maher sent this report from Peacebuilding en las Américas (PLA). Their network of AVP facilitators in Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are coping with dire pandemic conditions: hunger, human rights violations, the collapse of public health systems, and more. They have set up a special PLA fund, ‘Peace Baskets Project – PAN PAV’   for donations. Scroll down for update and how you can help

Peacebuilding en las Américas (PLA)

an initiative of Friends Peace Teams (FPT)

Report for January – March 2020

Mónica Maher, Initiative Coordinator

As I write, Quito is quiet outside, as in much of the rest of the world. Under quarantine, people are at home and the sacred national bird, the condor, has returned, along with many other birds, butterflies and wildlife not seen in years in the city. The Earth is breathing again, as humans infected with the corona virus die tragically from not being able to breath. In the past two weeks, authorities in Guayaquil, the second largest city of Ecuador, retrieved 1,900 bodies from hospitals, homes and streets, five times the normal amount of deaths. The public health system has collapsed due to the demands; cemeteries and funerals are similarly overwhelmed. Many families are forced to keep the bodies of their deceased loved ones at home for three, five even seven days; in desperation and pressured by neighbors, many deposit the bodies outside on the street.

Ecuador has the highest number of corona virus cases per capita in Latin America, attributed among other things to frequent travel to and from Spain where over half a million Ecuadoreans have migrated over the last two decades. Due to the high numbers, we are under a State of Exception with many constitutional rights waived and strict penalties (imprisonment for 3 years upon third offense) for defying the 2pm to 5am curfew. Given the shutdown of the society, the majority of the population, which depends on daily rather than salaried wages, is going without income and therefore without food. The virus here is therefore called the hunger virus. At the same time, the pandemic of domestic violence has increased dramatically, with a 35% increase in reporting of violence by women who find themselves in lock down with their aggressors.

This scenario of a crisis in public health services, a suspension in legal human rights, widespread hunger and a shadow pandemic of domestic violence is a good description of what is happening throughout the region where our partners work. Of special concern is the situation of Salomón Medina who has been detained in a government quarantine center for over 30 days in El Salvador; please hold him and his family in the light, as well as our colleagues in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.

Columbia

 Franciscan Sister Patricia Duque reports that in Colombia those suffering most under the legally imposed quarantine are Venezuelan refugees with no access to secure shelter or government assistance. Depression is widespread in the population at large with some reports of attempted suicide in her area. Sister Patricia eagerly awaits resuming AVP work with adolescents in high conflict zones with a history of armed conflict, plagued still by gangs, criminal networks and economic poverty. She and her colleagues are passionate about promoting AVP to build the next generation of leaders for peace during this post-accord period, marked by ongoing violence and national polarization.

The last workshop held was an AVP Basic on February 11-14 with 24 youth, 14 females and 10 males, all leaders in Santa Ana, Granada, Antioquia, former center of the armed conflict, still a base for paramilitary and guerilla groups. The youth and their families suffered forced displacement during the war and are currently in the slow process of reconstructing the social fabric, facing major obstacles which cause interruptions in their studies and life goals. “We transform the consequences of the armed conflict” is the name of the youth project which has embraced AVP, inspired by the wonderful example of a young woman facilitator. A professor helped organize the workshop, asserting: No doubt it will be a great contribution and complement for the work of recovering the social fabric of this community. The first workshop was a great success with youth gaining greater self-confidence. According to Sister Patricia: an excellent atmosphere of community was created where spontaneity, happiness and profound participation flowed.

El Salvador

Salomón Medina, National Coordinator, was placed in a government quarantine center in San Salvador upon return in mid-March from Ecuador. One of a group of 37 people, he is being held beyond the initially stipulated 30-day quarantine period. When asked to be released, the group was told by authorities that the quarantine could be extended up to two years. Salomón has acted as a public spokesperson for the group which is well organized and united. Yet, human rights violations are hard to address under the current State of Exception which waives many standard constitutional guarantees. Salomón feels an urgency to return to his wife and children, and to resume his work whenever possible.

In February, AVP El Salvador successfully submitted the paperwork required by central prison authorities in order to re-enter the Apanteos Prison for men in Santa Ana.

AVP training began at the Samaritan House ministry for sex workers on 15-16 January with a Basic workshop for staff, some of whom are former sex workers. According to one participant:

I learned how important it is to value and respect myself. I learned to see the best in others. I liked how participative it was, that we had time to play, learn, participate…. Thanks to the workshop, I confirmed that the decisions I have made were successful in avoiding violence and in ending relationships that caused me harm; here I confirmed that I had not respected myself. This will help me speak up and describe when someone harms me, without causing violence.

See more testimonies with photos from the workshop>

Two new AVP interviews with Marvelous Mary and Generous Gabriela were posted:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-jaXChU0Ls&t=69s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vie5lmCx91A&t=13s

Guatemala

Peace School, Guatemala

As part of the Peace Schools initiative, National Coordinator, Lorena Escobar, co-facilitated an AVP Facilitator Training on January 30-31 and February 19-20 at the El Pedregal Institute of San Patricio in Amatitlán. Six students and four teachers completed the training, including eight females and two males. They then assisted an AVP Basic at the Institute on March 11-12 for 28 participants. Apprentice facilitators stated:

* I learned to be a collaborative person, to work in a team. I feel I have the ability to be a facilitator because I like to listen and learn, to share with others what they need most.

* I learned that although I have my reasons for living, other people have other reasons. I learned that one should not judge a book by its cover. I want to be a facilitator because I want to express my thoughts to others and not judge others´ attitudes. It is important not to let anger control our thoughts, to remember our virtues, to be a better person.

* I learned very positive and beautiful things sharing with others. In order to be a facilitator, it is important to listen and be listened to.

*I learned in the AVP training that I need to be respected, friendly and collaborative with others, to share AVP with companions who are going through difficult processes with their families, support them, motivate them and tell them that they are valuable. 

Honduras

A wave of fatal violence, including targeted assassinations, swept through the national prison system in Honduras beginning in late December, triggered by the drug trafficking conviction in New York of the brother of Honduran President, Juan Orlando Hernandez. Amidst the acute crisis, the military attempted to restore order by seizing control of all prisons and prohibiting all outside visitors, including AVP facilitators. AVP work resumed in the Granja el Porvenir Prison of La Ceiba on February 16-19 with a Basic workshop for 23 men, and on March 9-13 in the Barrio el Inglés Prison of La Ceiba with an Advanced workshop for 22 men. Ondina Murillo, who coordinated the efforts, expressed great delight to be back with internal facilitators to expand AVP to others who embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm and gratitude. In fact, the workshop in Barrio el Inglés Prison was so well received that the director of the prison, a military colonel, and the sub-director, a military sergeant, attended the closing and chose their own positive names: Avila Aguila (Eagle Avila) and Francisco Fuerza (Strong Francisco).

Regional Coordination

 Sister Patricia Duque and Isaí Romero of AVP Colombia, Salomón Medina of AVP El Salvador and Yadira Rodríguez of AVP Honduras were together March 8-15 in Ecuador to attend the Regional Institute on the Study and Practice of Strategic Nonviolent Action in the Americas. It was a rare opportunity to be together face-to-face and an excellent chance to share stories, challenges and joy with each other. The group met twice with facilitators from AVP Ecuador. Salomón co-facilitated with Gabriela Reyes of AVP Bolivia, a mini-AVP for the 50 other activists in attendance. In addition, Salomon offered an evening session for participants on his work in El Salvador.

Since the corona virus quarantine began in mid-March, national coordinators have been reaching out through phone calls to share positive messages of peace and nonviolent conflict resolution to neighbors, AVP facilitators and workshop participants. Scarce internet access rules out zoom conferencing. Together, they have been brainstorming ways to address more systematically the parallel crises of food shortages, gender violence, child abuse and State human rights violations. They know their AVP skills and community strength is more important than ever now to respond to those in greatest need. More to come…

Update, April 21:

Our response to the Corona virus thus far and next steps:

Since the corona virus quarantine began in mid-March, national coordinators have been reaching out through phone calls to share positive messages of peace and nonviolent conflict resolution to neighbors, AVP facilitators and workshop participants. Scarce internet access rules out zoom conferencing. Together, they are devising creative ways to address the parallel crises of the health emergency, food shortages and family violence. They know their AVP skills and community strength is more important than ever now to respond to those in greatest need.

Woman with a ‘Peace Basket’ in Honduras

Since permission is granted to leave the house only in relation to food and essentials, the coordinators plan to frame their project for those families in need around food, which will be delivered as a peace basket to include disinfectant sanitizers and also messages of peace.   Delivery of the basket will allow coordinating teams to determine any additional emergency needs of the family, to offer motivation, and to provide support contacts and emergency telephone numbers.

PLA is now receiving contributions for the Peace Baskets Project – PAN PAV. Our immediate goal is to raise $5,000. All donations welcome. Read more & Donate here>  (ed. Note: when you fill in an amount, the space appears to leave donation earmark. Please put PLA, Peace Baskets Project.) 

We are also available to offer virtual presentations for your Meeting or group with our Latin American partners; if interested, please contact us to arrange: pla.coordinator@friendspeaceteams.org

Of special concern is the situation of Salomón Medina who has been detained in a government quarantine center for over 30 days in El Salvador. Read more about this here>

Please hold Salomón and his family in the light, as well as our colleagues in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.