HPC Fellow: Catalina López Montero, Casa Alianza Mexico

Catalina López Montero is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with Casa Alianza Mexico (CAM), the name by which Covenant House is known in Mexico. In this post, Catalina describes the way CAM developed a comprehensive model of caring for homeless migrant young people. Catalina is a Social Work Professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico with a specialization in Youth Intervention Models.

Behind the Scenes of Caring for Migrant Children in Mexico
by Catalina López Montero

During my time as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow at Casa Alianza Mexico (CAM) in Mexico City, I had the great opportunity to research, document and archive their 20+ year history of working with migrant children and adolescents. Importantly, this gave me the opportunity to interview many migrant youth and understand migration from their direct perspective, from young people who are forced, for different reasons, to abandon their places of origin, even at the expense of their very own lives. Within this global phenomenon I found CAM to be an institution that understands how migrant children and adolescents are victims of a serious problem—social abandonment—and how addressing this humanitarian problem requires an integrated model of care, completely different from the social welfare handouts approach found among many Mexican institutions and NGOs.

CAM’s model of care for migrants has evolved methodologically over the years, through a continuous effort of reflection, evaluation and adjustment in order to remain responsive to migration’s changing socio-political environment. CAM’s work with migrants began in the early 1990s with their Street Outreach efforts, a core pillar of their work with migrants that remains key to this day. When unaccompanied migrant children arrive to Mexico from Central America and other countries, many of them find themselves on the streets, and like their Mexican peers, are without any identifying personal documents.

In the beginning, CAM’s street educators began working with migrants without even knowing they were foreigners. Through the personalized care they provided, the staff began to discover how there were many unaccompanied migrant children in Mexico City, and that it was necessary to create specialized strategies to care for them. For example, the staff needed to contact consular authorities, coordinate repatriations with other Covenant Houses in Central America and to start to understand the children’s journeys in order to identify what each child wanted and needed to help them reestablish their lives.

In the early years, CAM was one of the few organizations working with child migrants living on the streets of Mexico City even before the government was involved, but its network has grown and changed over the years to involve other entities, including the Mexican government. To this day, CAM’s continuous work and monitoring of the status of migrant children has won recognition from government agencies such as the Mexican National Institute of Migration, with whom they have been working for more than ten years; in 2006, the agency declared CAM an official child migratory station. In CAM’s shelter, migrant children and adolescents wait to obtain refugee status while they reside in an environment that guarantees the protection of their human rights and the development of their full potential.

As a university professor and social worker by profession, I have had the opportunity to work with many civil society organizations who care for children and adolescents working or living "on the street" - a name given to those who spent most of their day in this place; an important note on the name is how CAM recognizes that children are not “from the street,” because the streets have never been an acceptable place for any child to live.

There are many different models of care for vulnerable youth populations, but never have I come across such a comprehensive model like that of CAM’s, one so respectful of the human dignity of each person, nor one so committed to what happens to the children throughout their stay from the moment their street educators make the very first contact, inviting these children to think about an opportunity to leave the streets, and changing their lives by encouraging them to live in a new, safe, reliable home along with other peers, while always respecting their decision-making capacity.

During my fellowship I was amazed at CAM’s great commitment to their children and youth not only when they are living in their shelters, but also throughout the process of transitioning to an independent life. CAM provides them with the skills they need to take care of themselves in order to achieve emotional and financial stability, and the confidence of knowing they will have the support of an institution like CAM, who is like family to them.

Without a doubt, I have respect and admiration for the work done by Covenant House in Mexico on behalf of migrant children and adolescents. They have awakened in many children the certainty of a better life and dream, not just the American dream.

Casa Alianza Mexico, opening doors for homeless children…

(Photos courtesy of Covenant House)

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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