By Katherine Mancera, HIP’s Director of Communications
In Mexico, in partnership with the Oak Foundation, HIP supports a group of 17 incredible nonprofits that work on gender equality issues. This is the first of a series of interviews with the amazing women and men who are fighting domestic violence and human trafficking, advocating for sex workers, sheltering victims of abuse, and unionizing domestic workers. These women and men daily confront horrific violence and inequality, and yet they speak of hope and perseverance. I hope their stories inspire you as much as they do me.
This interview is with El Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres (The Integral Center for Women’s Care, or CIAM), a Cancun-based organization that supports women and children who have been victims of violence. I spoke with Paola, a bright young woman with brown curls who is their Executive Director; and Fernanda, their Fundraising Officer, initially the more reserved of the two, whose eyes started glowing as she described why she has been so moved by her work at CIAM.
(Note: I did this interview in Spanish, so the transcript isn’t word for word. Instead, I tried to capture the essence of the conversation.)
What’s your organization’s elevator pitch?
Paola: We educate people about peace to prevent violence, through several great programs.
In one, we work with young girls and boys in places where they’re living in violent situations. Through our programs, they learn about gender equality, conflict resolution, and peace. We have workshops where kids play games, act in plays, paint murals, watch movies, and debate. We also have mobile programs in the parks in areas of high violence, where children tend to be alone because their parents are at work. These programs help give the kids activities, so they don’t get involved in gangs.
We also work with youth on a campaign called “yo no estoy en venta” (“I’m not for sale”), in which they become leaders and advocates against human trafficking. They design a campaign using their own strategies.
We also offer a certification course in education for peace, so other institutions—schools, hotels, etc.— can learn how to help victims of violence.
Why did you decide to work for gender equality?
Paola: I’ve been interested in women’s issues forever, and have always considered myself an activist. I’m from a city where there’s a lot of machismo. I’m the first in my family to get a degree. I have three brothers and at home there was always a difference in what boys and girls “should” do. I always questioned why things were that way.
At university I learned about feminist theory. After school I went to live in Cancun and went to work for CIAM—I told them I would do anything there, because I believed in the mission. I’ve been there for six years now, and I’m still there because I truly believe in our strategy and impact—I see that what we do matters.
Fernanda: Before CIAM, I worked for several years on social issues. It really interested me on a personal level that CIAM works on this issue of violence—how you can change the culture of violence and the ugliness that violence creates.
I think I’ve always been a feminist, but at first I had the wrong idea of what feminism is. I thought it was mostly about women being angry. But through all the work I’ve done at CIAM related to the rights of women, I’ve really started to see the inequality in our society. It’s been through my work that I’ve really become a feminist.
Tell me about a moment at work when you saw a positive change.
Paola: An 18-year-old woman came to our shelter. She had been a victim of human trafficking—since childhood, she had lived in an orphanage where she was exploited for labor and sex. Because she had lived through that violent situation, she was also very violent.
During the seven months she lived in the shelter, I saw a huge change in her. At first she was very reluctant to talk in therapy, but by the end she participated and spoke about something she had recovered—hope. Something had happened to her, but it didn’t define her. She felt hope for the future because she now knew she had options.
CIAM is 15 years old, and many people have worked for the organization. It hasn’t just transformed the lives of the people we serve, but it’s also a kind of university for the people who work there. It requires that you do personal work—you need to look for change within yourself.
Fernanda: Everyone who works at CIAM also has to take the same classes as our clients. At first I didn’t notice, but I’ve seen that I’ve changed. I used to be very impulsive, and now I can control my emotions, and hold myself back.
You start realizing that you’ve also suffered violence and reproduced it. It’s hard work, but it empowers you.
What message do you want to share with the public about your work?
Paola: It’s fundamental for everyone to participate in social issues. It’s monstrous when you start thinking about all the problems there are, and it’s easy to feel so small. But through activism you can create enormous change. You have to participate in your community, and you can do it in different ways—giving your time, money, and skills. Choose something that moves you. There’s no such thing as a small deed.
Oh, and give us money!
Seriously, though, I would invite people to get to know what CIAM does. In Mexico, nonprofits are in a different phase—we’re much more professional than we were 20 years ago. Our work includes planning, innovation, creativity. Right now we’re still convincing the public that we’re highly professional, and that what we do is worthwhile.
With our new young leaders, we’re seeing that organizations are coming together. We know that we can accomplish more together than apart.
Check back on HIP’s blog soon for the next installment in this series, an interview with Centro Fray Julián de Garcés Derechos Humanos y Desarrollo Local (The Fray Julián de Garcés Center for Human Rights and Local Development, or Fray Julián), an organization that promotes human rights and gender equality in Tlaxcala.