Spring 2017 Fellow: Stefania Doebbel, Covenant House International
Stefania Doebbel recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with Covenant House International (CHI) in New York City, the largest network of shelters for youth experiencing homelessness across North and Central America. Originally from Chile, Stefania recently graduated from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), with a Master’s Degree in International Affairs.
In this blog post, she writes about her experience developing culturally sensitive training curriculum for youth and staff, in Spanish, to foster greater sensitivity and build the capacity of staff service for LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and/or Intersex) youth.
I had first visited Mexico with a team of Columbia University graduate students to assess Casa Alianza’s service delivery for LGBTI homeless youth and help improve their capacities. Casa Alianza, as Covenant House is known in Central America, is the leading youth shelter organization in Mexico and Central America. As part of our initial research, I conducted more than 40 interviews with the organization’s staff.
One client named Gerald often came up in the conversations. Gerald was a 16-year-old transgender girl who had fled her home country, Honduras, where she had experienced persecution and harassment for being LGBTI. While facing the daily dangers of living on the streets, Gerald had begun transitioning from her assigned-at-birth male identity to her female gender identity, taking non-prescribed hormones and injecting silicone in her chest. She had been doing this without the aid or support of any relatives or networks. Finally, she found refuge at Casa Alianza in Mexico City, where she was able to receive shelter and care in a safe community.
Unfortunately, Gerald’s case is far from unique. LGBTI youth are often victims of constant violence, discrimination, and victimization. They experience rejection from their communities very often by their own families. Furthermore, there is often limited cultural tolerance for sexual diversity in Central America which can lead homeless LGBTI youth to experience rejection by many shelter organizations.
Casa Alianza has been working hard to address the unique needs of LGBTI homeless youth. After the research I conducted in Mexico with Columbia University, I came back to the organization as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow. In this capacity, I led a wonderful team of practitioners and experts from each of the organization’s sites in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico to develop a training curriculum to provide high quality services to the sexually diverse youth population they host, and also began the process for human-rights-based internal policies that support the full development of LGBTI youth.
I was lucky to travel to Nicaragua during my Fellowship, and spent a week with a selected team developing a detailed and culturally sensitive curriculum that will allow the organization to increase their knowledge and expertise on LGBTI issues. The final curriculum contains four Modules and covers topics such as Basic Terminology, Psychological Development of LGBTI Youth, Anti-bullying Techniques, and Sexual and Reproductive Health, among others. The curriculum is built from the experience of Casa Alianza counselors and the expertise of other well respected organizations working with LGBTI homeless youth.
The ultimate goal is that through this training, Casa Alianza staff across Central America continue to develop a greater understanding of the norms that many times guide our behavior and perceptions, and have the right knowledge and practical experience to give LGBTI youth in need the best chances of developing their highest potential.
(Girls participating in a Pep Rally in La Alianza Guatemala)
The Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship has been an unforgettable experience. It has enhanced my professional development as a human rights international practitioner, has improved my leadership and cross-cultural communication skills, and most importantly, has strengthened my commitment to work for the empowerment of the most vulnerable populations.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the trainings and policy reforms that Casa Alianza is implementing to protect and fulfill the needs of LGBTI youth, working to empower the future of many kids like Gerald throughout Central America.