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)
Meriam Salem is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow based at Global Impact. During her fellowship, she had the opportunity to participate in the filming of the “Leading Thoughts” video series of the Storytelling Program. Here are some of her reflections on that experience.
As a student studying international development and human rights, much of my understanding of the field is rooted in theoretical frameworks and case studies that have historically changed perceptions of development work. I can describe trends in international aid, key public and private organizations, and the formation of the United Nations, but like with most theoretical classes, there is a learning gap between theory and practice. Students like me are encouraged to seek mentors for guidance as we prepare to go out into the field. Our mentors range from professors and internship supervisors, but rarely do we have a significant encounter with a CEO whose ethos and vision are the clockwork foundation of critical organizations.
The Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program’s video series, “Leading Thoughts,” offers opportunities for those interested in learning more about the humanitarian field and international development to hear directly from the mouths of the Hilton Prize Laureate organizations’ CEOs. Through my role as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow based at Global Impact, I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview for one of these videos. This interview was with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who is Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). Hearing about Mr. Madrigal-Borloz’s career trajectory, his background as a human rights lawyer, and his current position with the IRCT helped with my own understanding of philosophical frameworks operating at an organizational level. Observing the interview, I thought, “here is a person who truly believes that torture is unjust,” and I saw a CEO who carries that philosophical belief throughout the organization’s framework. In an hour alone, I learned so much about the work of great international NGOs and the growing demand for collaboration through the conversation with Mr. Madrigal-Borloz.
(Meriam, middle, with HPC Fellows Program alum Rachel Francis and Anna Russell during an afternoon of filming for the Storytelling Program)
Through this series and other opportunities, the Hilton Prize Coalition brings in leaders and experts in the field from the Hilton Prize Coalition member organizations to mentor and provide guidance for young professionals like myself. More importantly, the documentaries and videos being produced through the Storytelling Program allow for information and lessons learned from a transforming field to be more accessible to different audiences. Whether the viewers are young professionals or seasoned veterans, being able to hear the experiences of chief executives is valuable regardless of the level of experience or position a person holds in an organization.
A clip from Mr. Madrigal-Borloz’s interview as well as other “Leading Thoughts” videos can be found on the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Story Wall.