Giovany Delgado recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with Casa Alianza Nicaragua (Spanish for Covenant House). Giovany holds an MS in Latin American Development from King’s College London. He completed his BA degree in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Miami and received a Diploma in International Relations from a European Perspective from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain, where he was a Benjamin Gilman Scholar, an initiative spearheaded by the U.S. State Department.
In this post, Giovany reflects on his experience working with at-risk adolescent youth in his native Nicaragua and its effect on his career goals. (All photos appear courtesy of the author.)
Reconnecting to My City through Grassroots Development
By Giovany Delgado
Ever since I came back to Nicaragua after my studies abroad, I’ve been reconnecting with the bustling city of Managua, Central America’s 2nd largest capital city. I call this city home. Yet, I hadn’t lived here for over a decade when I began my fellowship with Casa Alianza Nicaragua.
Youth participating in the annual Peace Festival, an activity developed to promote peace, unity, respect and solidarity among adolescents, their families and local communities.
At a midpoint in my career, I had dedicated my goals to strengthening civil society organizations and implementing development projects. The fellowship I was awarded by the Hilton Prize Coalition allowed me the opportunity to connect directly with one of its member organizations in my native country. For eight months, I worked with Casa Alianza, an organization with over 19 years of experience helping at-risk youth facing homelessness, drug addictions and multiple forms of violence, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
My fellowship made it possible for me to put my education and experience into practice, working to solve the complex in-country problems NGOs face in terms of economic sustainability, program development, evaluation and implementation. Casa Alianza is one of the few civil society organizations in Nicaragua with a unique and holistic approach to supporting at-risk youth in terms of protection and care. Its programs include social work support, health and medical care, family reintegration services, psychological support, legal services, a rehabilitation from substance abuse program and recreational, cultural and sporting activities. Throughout its 19 years, Casa Alianza has managed to provide recovery services to over 50,000 at-risk youth.
At Casa Alianza Nicaragua, adolescents have an opportunity to participate in alternative therapies as part of their recovery process. Yoga, floral therapy and Reiki are among the options available to them.
While working at Casa Alianza, I had the opportunity to go out on community site visits with the Street Outreach Program, and was able to witness the extensive network of services available to youth residing in either of Casa Alianza’s two residential centers. I worked to improve this network of services, re-organizing the services and implementing a strategy for their monitoring and evaluation. This strategy helped track and record the quality and number of services provided by the program while finding areas that needed further improvement and innovation. Additionally, I developed a methodological framework to enhance data collection for the family reintegration program, a community research tool responsible for investigating the socio-economic dynamics of each adolescent and his/ her family within the program.
During my fellowship I also assisted in elaborating a fundraising strategy focusing on international cooperation agencies, private sector companies and multilateral organizations. I used my multimedia communication skills to develop and market the Casa Alianza Nicaragua brand both nationally and internationally, boosting the overall online presence of the organization by 80%.
Lunchtime – Listening to the adolescents’ stories regarding their hopes and dreams brought meaning to the operational and administrative work I was performing.
These past eight months of my fellowship have been professionally and personally rewarding, as this work has allowed me to reconnect with Nicaragua and contribute to development efforts here. I have witnessed, through a grassroots lens, the work implemented and complexities faced by civil society organizations such as Casa Alianza. I have participated in developing short and long-term programmatic solutions. Moreover, seeing my work contribute to positive results in the recovery process of the adolescents whom I encountered was truly a touching and unforgettable experience. Thanks to the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship, I have reassured myself that this is the professional path on which I wish to continue.
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.
(Boys from Casa Alianza Nicaragua starting a running race on a football court in Managua)
In this post by youth psychologist Gabriela Monroy, readers are offered a glimpse inside one of the projects currently being implemented under the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program. Coalition members Covenant House International and the IRCT (the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) are working together to develop a comprehensive set of materials on issues related to trauma informed care. These materials will be used for training and as reference for healthcare workers and specialists to better understand the effects of trauma and how to approach traumatized youth.
Reflections on Working with Survivors of Violence and Torture
by Gabriela Monroy
I am a psychologist at La Alianza, Covenant House International’s (CHI) safe house for trafficked and sexually exploited girls in Guatemala. I am also the CHI regional coordinator in Latin America for the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program on trauma-informed care, which is being carried out by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and CHI. I was invited to attend the 10th International Scientific Symposium organized by the IRCT in December 2016 in Mexico City. When I received the invitation, I very much looked forward to the opportunity to learn from survivors of torture and those who work to support them. I knew I had much to learn and much to share. After three days of listening to the presentations and experiences from different countries, I began to realize that in many countries across the globe like mine, “normal” is similar to a war zone where death, torture, rape, abuse and abandonment of children is the norm and life is a continuum of traumatic events. The exception is a moment of human and humane interaction–which is what we strive to accomplish at La Alianza.
At La Alianza, young girls who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation find an environment that offers them the opportunity to finally be treated as human beings, in a dignified, respectful and non-violent way. For some of them, the violence in their lives has been so overwhelming that it can feel traumatic to be treated in such a humane fashion. Using a trauma informed care lens in my day-to-day work as a youth psychologist, I see, after some time of working with them, that the impact on their lives is visible. Society seems so surprised at the transformation that care, affection, and dignified treatment can produce. It is ironic because acting in a humane way should be the most common thing we do as humans, yet it still surprises us even more than the violence itself.
Every single presentation at the Symposium presented the testimonies and experiences of survivors on this continuum of violence and torture as examples of integrity and dignity. This simple reflection on my experience of this symposium hopefully will be a recognition and a homage to their courage and an expression of my respect for each one’s journey and all they have gone through.
When we work with persons who have been tortured or victims of violence without seriously questioning and denouncing the existence of this continuum of violence, we run the risk that our support can become yet another act of violence, even without intending so. And because of this, as professionals and as members of humanitarian organizations, it is necessary to develop an internal alarm system sensitive to this reality.
Also, we need to realize that best practices for dealing with survivors of torture and violence need to be based in respect for their day-to-day experience and respect for the ways they have survived, and if we can recognize this then we may be able to transform the norm that violence has become into the exception. This is my hope. I am grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition for giving me the opportunity to be a witness to such courage.
(Gabriela Monroy, right, with one of her patients at La Alianza in Guatemala)
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is recognized annually on January 11th. Last year, President Obama proclaimed January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In his address, he called upon “businesses, national and community organizations, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role we must play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that currently, there are approximately 21 million people who are victims of forced labor globally. Women make up the majority of trafficked persons, and approximately half are children. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which involves a coordinated response for governments around the world to partner together and defeat this scourge of modern-day slavery. The Plan also calls for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader programs, especially for women and children.
Among the organizations working to eradicate trafficking in persons are Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize winners Covenant House and ECPAT, who have developed and expanded upon programs to combat trafficking, with a focus on youth. Both organizations frequently collaborate with their networks and local communities to raise awareness about the issues and advocate for human rights worldwide.
Below are a few examples of their efforts.
Casa Alianza / Covenant House
Casa Alianza (Spanish for “Covenant House”) won the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2000. With this support, the organization opened Hilton Home in the center of Managua, Nicaragua, which each night can care for up to 110 boys and girls 12 – 17 years of age. Hilton Home residents include boys and girls who have been abandoned and may live on the streets, have problems with substance abuse, and/or are victims of extreme poverty, human trafficking, violence, sexual abuse and exploitation. Staff in Nicaragua provide psychological and social work support, legal services, and health and medical care to assist youth with reintegration into society.
In 2009, Casa Alianza Guatemala partnered with the U.S. Department of State to open Asociación La Alianza, which now serves as a safe house for girls between the ages of 12-18 who are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. The organization’s Public Education Team has also trained over 6,000 community members around anti-trafficking awareness and education, as well as 1,000 members of Guatemalan police on how to enforce anti-trafficking laws. Through these trainings with community members and collaborative media and education campaigns, Casa Alianza is truly an exemplary leader in the fight against trafficking in persons.
ECPAT International is an organization devoted to the prevention of trafficking of children, having received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2013. The organization was first established in Bangkok in 1990, and continues to grow as a network of 90 civil society organizations in 82 countries.
ECPAT considered 2016 to be “The Year of Action,” as 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the first World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. ECPAT has partnered with the Regional Secretariat of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children and UNICEF to organize a meeting in Sri Lanka regarding several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to trafficking in children.
The international car-service company Uber joined ECPAT USA’s network of organizations participating in the ECPAT Code, which is a voluntary industry-driven set of guidelines focused on helping travel and tourism companies prevent child sex tourism and trafficking of children. The Code is a joint venture between the tourism private sector and ECPAT. ECPAT has recognized 19 U.S. companies for their participation in The Code, highlighting their “exceptional work to integrate child protection practices into their businesses.”
For Human Trafficking Prevention Month, on January 17, 2017, ECPAT-USA is holding a special screening of “SOLD The Movie” in Los Angeles, where “celebrities, government officials, the private sector, and the public will unite for the cause, raising funds and support for ECPAT-USA’s mission to create a world where no child is bought, sold, or used for sex.”
Both Casa Alianza and ECPAT are leaders in leveraging collaborations in their efforts to eradicate modern slavery worldwide. Ahead of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, we commend them and all other organizations and individuals working to raise awareness about these abuses around the world.
*Image from SOLD The Movie, in partnership with ECPAT-USA
Founded in 1972, Covenant House operates in the United States, Canada, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua. Today, it describes itself as “the largest privately funded charity in the Americas providing care and vital services to over 50,000 homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth annually.”
Casa Alianza (Spanish for “Covenant House”) won the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2000. With this support, Covenant House opened Hilton Home in the center of Managua, Nicaragua, which each night can care for up to 110 boys and girls 12 – 17 years of age.
Covenant House maintains three core programs for homeless youth: Street Outreach, Crisis Care and Rights of Passage, its long-term transitional living program. Supporting these core programs is a wide range of services that include education, job training, counseling and legal advocacy. This holistic approach allows children to reclaim their lives and become active citizens, removed from violence and poverty. In addition to providing residential and support services for homeless kids, the charity advocates for homeless youth at the local, state, national and international levels of government. It holds consultative status with the United Nations and held a prominent role in The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Last year, the organization released its collaborative 60X20 Strategic Plan to reach more than 60,000 homeless and trafficked youth a year by 2020. Read more about 60X20 and its strategic goals here.
In 2016, Covenant House became an active member of the Hilton Prize Coalition, an independent alliance of the 20 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. As an active member, the organization has committed to engage with the Coalition’s Signature Programs and Collective Impact Initiatives to foster collaboration in the international development and humanitarian sectors. “Covenant House/Casa Alianza is honored to be part of the Hilton Prize Coalition and to work together to make a collective impact in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” says Enny Rodriguez, Covenant House Ambassador to Latin America.
Covenant House’s comprehensive care on behalf of youth in the Americas captures the spirit of the Coalition. Its participation in the Coalition’s programs will not only raise awareness of issues related to at-risk youth, but will also empower communities and advance local, national and international partnerships.