Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.

ESPERA

The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”

ESPERA and COVID-19

ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images

renewable energy in NicaraguaLocated in Central America, between Honduras to the north, and Costa Rica to the south lies Nicaragua. Over the past few years, the country has taken steps to further its already growing renewable energy sector. In 2015 alone, the country was able to produce 54% of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Growth in this sector is notable and is expected to continue.

The Emergence of Renewable Energy in Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s government has turned to renewable energy for a few key reasons. One is the country’s natural abundance of renewable resources. Nicaragua experiences powerful winds and large amounts of sunlight on a regular basis. The country is also home to 19 volcanoes—a reliable source of geothermic heat.

The second reason for turning to renewable energy resources is to become energy independent. Nicaragua itself does not produce oil. As a result, Nicaragua has historically relied on imports of fossil fuel resources. While the country still imports foreign oil, the increased production of renewable energy, like geothermal energy from Nicaragua’s volcanoes, has reduced that dependency.

These two reasons have led Nicaragua to increase its consumption of renewable resources over the past few years. Much of the renewable energy that is produced in Nicaragua is sugarcane biofuel, which accounts for 33.2% of the renewable energy sector. The second most used form of renewable energy is geothermal, which comes in at 24.6%, followed by wind energy at 22.5%. The least used forms of renewable energy are solar energy at 0.5% and hydroelectric energy at 0.25%. As the percentages show, Nicaragua is using more renewable energy leading to a diversification of its energy sector. Nicaragua also has the potential to expand the amount of renewable energy produced, particularly from wind. Wind alone produces over 1,000 megawatts.

Benefits of Renewable Energy in Nicaragua

Nicaragua is an extremely poor country with high poverty rates, especially in rural areas. Fortunately, renewable energy has the potential to help the impoverished people of Nicaragua and provide a model for other impoverished nations.

People who live in poverty tend to have a harder time gaining access to electricity because of their inability to afford it. Some forms of renewable energy are becoming more affordable than fossil fuels. Take geothermal energy for example—the second largest form of renewable energy in Nicaragua. This form of energy is 80% cheaper than fossil fuels. Solar energy is on its way to becoming cheaper than fossil fuels as well. While installation of the technology needed to produce renewable energy is initially expensive, once installed, it lowers the cost and increases the accessibility of electricity for impoverished people.

Nicaragua is continuing to develop its renewable energy sector. The reward of this action will be a cleaner environment and cheaper electricity for its impoverished citizens.

– Jacob E. Lee 
Photo: Wikimedia

homelessness in El Salvador
In 2001, a major earthquake struck El Salvador leaving many helpless and on the streets. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America despite having a dense population of 6 million people. Now, homelessness in El Salvador is at an all-time high. Currently, over 40% of the population live in run-down homes with dirt for floors. This roughly translates to upwards of 2 million people living in disheveled and decrepit homes. Luckily, there are organizations working towards rebuilding El Salvador.

3 Organizations Combatting Homelessness in El Salvador

  1. Habitat for Humanity: Through two large-scale community projects, Habitat for Humanity has helped homelessness in El Salvador by building homes and making improvements to current houses. Juntos Construyendo mi Casa (Building my House Together), is a project that primarily focuses on constructing new homes for those who are currently in inadequate living situations. It also helps to improve existing homes by replacing dirt floors with tile or wooden flooring. Its second project, Construyendo Empoderamiento con Mujeres (Building Empowerment with Women), works on building new homes while also teaching women about their rights. This project teaches women to perform in jobs typical for males, thus providing career opportunities as well. Around 97,760 Salvadorans have received help through Habitat for Humanity’s programs.
  2. New Story Charity: In 2018, New Story Charity printed its first 3D house in Austin, Texas in under 24 hours. New Story partnered with the robotics construction company, ICON. Together, they began working to expand this construction to countries that need it most, such as El Salvador. Currently, a 3D house costs around $10,000, but New Story Charity’s goal is to reduce that price to $4,000. New Story is raising $1 million to be able to begin the construction of more homes. Though the introduction of 3D homes is new, New Story Charity has constructed over 850 non-3D homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Mexico and Bolivia. 3D homes in Tabasco, Mexico have already created an entire community of these low-cost homes. In the upcoming years, New Story Charity will begin bringing 3D homes to El Salvador. Through the development of 3D homes, homelessness in El Salvador could drastically reduce.
  3. La Carpa: Tim Ross and Erica Olson founded La Carpa, meaning “The Tent,” in the summer of 2018. Though being a Christian based organization, Ross welcomes any religious backgrounds. La Carpa provides food for many of the homeless in the community. It began with distributing coffee, food and water, but is now expanding to creating hospitality houses with the hopes of building a better and closer community. On average, 30 people visit La Carpa daily to receive coffee and a meal. La Carpa aims at not only provide food and housing to the most vulnerable but also friendship and a sense of belonging.

Though El Salvador faced great destruction in the past, it is working towards rebuilding. Through organizations like Habitat for Humanity, New Story Charity and La Carpa, homelessness in El Salvador is reducing and many of the displaced are moving off the streets and into homes.

– Erin Henderson 
Photo: Flickr

surf tourism and povertySurf tourism is booming across the globe. Once the sport of wandering beach bums, it now generates $10 billion a year and will make its Olympic debut at the 2021 Summer Games in Japan. Despite the surf industry’s success, a few key issues have occurred between surf tourism and poverty.

Surf Tourism and Poverty

With popularity comes overcrowding, and beaches can only hold so many surfers without creating unsafe conditions. As a result, many first-world surfers are opting to spend the extra money to travel where population density is lower. Yet, behind these exotic destinations, locals are losing their homes and living in poverty.

Countries like Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea and El Salvador are particularly experiencing the negative effects of surf tourism. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Through collaboration between governments, surf businesses, travelers and residents, surf tourism and poverty can be dealt with responsibly and bring much-needed economic stimulus to impoverished surf meccas.

Radical Changes

Nicaragua, one of Central America’s most impoverished countries, is an up and coming surfing destination. The nation sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, giving surfers an abundance of waves to choose from. However, social injustice and extreme poverty threatens Nicaragua’s budding surf tourism industry. In the past two years, a student-led uprising has been protesting against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s regime. Since then, the nation’s economy contracted by 10 percent, and foreign direct investment has fallen by 50 percent. Compared to 2017, the country’s tourism earnings have dropped 45 percent in 2020. Before the political turmoil, Nicaragua was predicted to become the next Costa Rica, but now the country is struggling to keep its head above water.

Hope lies in local Nicaraguan businesses persevering through the tough economic times. Local surfer Germán Sánchez opened a guest house in his hometown of Asseradores to cater to backpackers and surfers looking to score at a world-class beach break. The Boom Hostel is one of the few Nicaraguan-owned bed-and-breakfasts and is becoming a prime pit stop for travelers to surf, eat and lodge. This hostel provides access to amazing waves while supporting the local economy and community.

Surfing Sustainably

In Papua New Guinea, the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea (SAPNG) has created the first-ever national surf management plan. One of the main goals of SAPNG’s plan is to “further social and economic development at the grassroots level” through the associated surf clubs of the SAPNG.

The Vanimo Surf Lodge is one of the affiliated village clubs responsible for upholding the plan’s tenets. Vanimo charges visitors 20 kinas ($8.50 USD) per day to surf the village’s reefs and beach breaks. The funds go to local landowners and stakeholders in the community. According to SAPNG, indigenous groups own the beaches and reefs and are responsible for maintaining them. The Vanimo Surf Lodge has been successful in raising funds for the community. With help from local leaders and Walu-International, it raised $17,000 to deliver working toilets to the village’s 1,500 residents. Unfortunately, land disputes, local reluctance and national corruption have prevented the public restrooms from being completed.

Waves of Empowerment

California State Governor Gavin Newsom recently visited El Salvador to market surfing tourism as a way to boost the developing nation’s economy. Newsom and other industry leaders met with president-elect Nayib Bukele to discuss El Salvador’s potential for becoming a beach vacation hub, similar to California. 

The U.S federal government has invested into El Salvador’s infrastructure through the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC contributed $3 million last year to a $10.8 million project to develop a coastal area of the El Zonte region. California hopes to continue this trend of foreign aid by encouraging surf tourism development in the country.

After Newsom’s visit, President Nayib Bukele announced an initiative called “Surf City” to invest in beaches to attract more foreign interest to El Salvador. California’s tourism arm, Visit California, is considering working with El Salvador to help the country generate its economy with more tourist dollars. El Salvador is a wave-rich country ready to begin managing surf tourism and poverty. California’s guidance could help change the country’s reputation of a violent and poverty-stricken nation to a world-class surfing experience.

The Road Ahead

There are challenges in management and implementation for surf tourism. Many impoverished communities are abused by outsiders coming in to exploit their natural resources. Fortunately, surf tourism has the chance to be different. The fact that surfing can attract tourist dollars to better local economies is a great benefit for impoverished nations. Surf industry leaders building trust with local residents are laying the groundwork for a socially responsible model of surf tourism. Surfing and the business that follows it can give at-risk communities a stronger sense of identity and empowerment.

Henry Schrandt


Photo: Pixabay

Sanitation in Belize
Belize has increasingly become a popular tourist attraction over the past several years. Not only is it a favorite among celebrities, but it is also a place where many non-famous people choose to purchase property. Vast natural ecosystems and welcoming locals draw visitors to the country for rest and relaxation. As the nation continues to evolve, byproducts of expansion take a toll on the preservation of natural resources, in turn creating waste and other issues that affect sanitation in Belize.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Belize

  1. Water quantity is not a problem for Belize. Water is a natural and ample resource in the country. Groundwater, as well as rivers and the sea, provide an unlimited supply. According to a publication that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) submitted, Belize’s water supply exceeds that of other Central American and Caribbean nations. Only a mere 3 percent of the population does not have access to a sustainable water source. By 2009, residents enjoyed a generous supply of improved water connections. When the Belizean government stepped in to revise its infrastructure, this led to a significant improvement compared to prior years. Since then, the government has not slowed down its policies toward the improvement of sanitation and access to drinkable water. Companies such as Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) has doubled its water supply to the residents they serve by investing within the country’s infrastructure.
  2. Small villages keep sanitation infrastructure at bay. Locals in rural areas use basic outhouse toilets in various places. Some are located in the middle of the forest while people have constructed others over the sea. Due to the high cost of organized sanitation systems, the estimated 200 small villages that exist in Belize lacked adequate systems to support a much-needed sanitation system as early as 6 years ago. Some are located either close to or in tourist destinations. Improvements have occurred since the construction of a landfill named Mile 24 in 2009. Local private collection companies send out trucks to collect waste from the homes and houses of residents in rural areas. Because of this, tourist areas and villages have fared much better by having access to toilets and supported solid waste disposal.
  3. Water and sanitation systems improvement is on a continual rise. With the involvement of the Belizean government, the gap between poor sanitation and sound infrastructures continues to narrow. The nation’s government has welcomed assistance from other companies both local and abroad in order to improve the health and lives of its citizens through safe drinking resources. The work to develop solutions for basic clean water and waste management systems has paid off. This includes bathrooms in basic housing as well as some rural areas. A near 25 percent increase of tourist visits to the country from 2017 to 2018 is a telltale sign of a demand for an improved quality of life for citizens and visitors alike.
  4. Businesses contribute greatly to this improvement. Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) is a public company that serves nearly all cities in Belize as well as about 30 percent of the country’s small villages. It serves drinkable and potable water that has received treatment through the company’s exclusive “double run” water treatment plant. The company began in 2001 and the Belizean government is a majority shareholder.
  5. Some residents prefer raw water. Some citizens in Belize do not completely trust treated water. They prefer natural raw water or source water, which is essentially rainwater in cisterns, which are commonly on rooftops in Belize. This water then receives treatment with chlorine or an in-home filtration system to make it safe for consumption.
  6. Tourists should know their water source before drinking. In the city of San Pedro as well as other tourist cities, many residents prefer water from their own familiar cisterns. Water can come from a few different sources, and the taste or safety can differ greatly. Belize advises vacationers with sensitive stomachs to stick to bottled water as some locals already do. While cistern water is safe to drink, it can often be unpleasant due to a noticeable chlorine taste.
  7. Ocean water can transform into drinking water. In Belize, BWS treats water from the sea using a reverse osmosis procedure to remove the salt from it. The majority of the water comes from the enormous amounts of rainfall the country sees each year; however, as the country continues to grow, it may increasingly tap into this water source. As a solution, the government continues to support companies like BWS in acquiring more facilities to support the growing population.
  8. Sanitation in Belize took nearly 25 years to develop. Starting in 1991 with the creation of the Solid Waste Management Authority Act, the Belizean government began to address the issue of solid waste disposal. Five years later, the Department of Environment (DOE) put an action plan in place. By 2013, the DOE created the first transfer stations for the management of solid waste products. The organization of waste disposal helped residents of smaller villages as well as some rural areas eliminate the need to transfer their own solid waste. While deep rural areas continue to struggle, local truck routes owned by private companies help residents in the far outreaches of the country.
  9. The environment is safe. The Belize Solid Waste Management Authority (BSWMA) works with the Department of Environment to ensure that sanitation in Belize receives proper management in order to protect the environment. Part of BSWMA’s mission is to incorporate feedback and cooperation from the country’s citizens. These initiatives help to continually improve upon the safe and eco-friendly collection of waste throughout the country.
  10. Some waste comes from outside. In some cases, cruise ships have utilized waste management facilities to empty their vessels of trash while coming to port. As the country continues to grow, there will likely be demands for more waste solutions that are entering the country. The largest area that is suffering is that of the rural villages. Many who live in the countryside dump their trash in rivers or the sea, undoing the lengthy progress that has occurred to materialize into sustainable systems that exist in the city.

Most of Belize’s infrastructures are stable and use the latest technology. The growth of Belize and the growing health of its citizens are evidence of these facts. There is a definite standard in place to ensure little to no impact on the environment. Business and commerce are on an upward trend. The government plays a significant role in growing the nation’s civil framework as well as addressing issues of sanitation in Belize. Belize is a country with a unique ecology. Its popularity as a place to unwind, and perhaps stay, is growing.

– Julie Jenkins
Photo: Pixabay

Farming Methods in Central America
Many Central American countries suffer from droughts and forest fires due to hot temperatures and inconsistent rainfall. Without adequate water, agricultural workers are unable to consistently produce adequate goods each year. They are often forced to rely on crops that don’t need as much water but are less nutrient-rich, such as corn.

Planting crops during the dry season, between December and April, is extremely difficult and even the rainy season between May and July presents a challenge, given inconsistent rainfall patterns. In addition, staple crops like corn do not yield the profits of higher-value crops such as squash, beans, zucchini and watermelon, which not only increase income and quality of life in the region but also improve the diets of farmers, families and locals. Fortunately, a number of local and international organizations are implementing programs aimed at improving farming methods in Central America.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been combating unreliable, inconsistent weather patterns via a Honduras-based rainwater harvest program, aptly named Harvest. This consists of a reservoir that gathers rainfall in the winter, providing farmers with a backup water supply during dry months. Crops are watered through a low-pressure drip irrigation system, enabling farmers to plant and harvest three times a year instead of only once.

As a result, farmers have been able to grow and expand their repertoire of crops. Many other organizations have been involved in this initiative, including Development Innovation Ventures, Global Communities, SAG (Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería) and local governments.

AGRI

AGRI is a similar Honduras-based project under development that utilizes small drip irrigation systems spanning roughly 10 hectares. It works by locating surface-water sources that can be used for rainwater harvesting and uses water pipes to share water sources between various groups of farmers.

AGRI is also generating deforestation analyses using its terrain Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and other spatial analysis frameworks that analyze drainage basins and upstream areas. Its remote sensors can collect and predict weather patterns while enabling digital soil mapping and hydrologic analysis to estimate water runoff and water balance.

While AGRI hasn’t been formally introduced to Honduras, invest-H (Investment in Honduras) managers and the government are working to expedite its implementation. AGRI is supported by the U.S. initiative Feed the Future as well as Zamorano University, a Honduran university that is currently researching and refining the field validation of AGRI in preparation for its official launch.

MásRiego

MásRiego, meaning “more irrigation” in Spanish, is a Guatemala-based initiative that works to increase water supplies through drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, reduced tillage, mulch use and diverse crop rotation. The project team provides training and partnerships to Guatemalan farmers to improve farming methods while offering access to microcredit financing and irrigation equipment. As rainfall patterns become more unpredictable, new methods of farming such as conservation and rainwater harvesting must be introduced. Conservation improves moisture retention, soil structure and soil health, while also reducing weeds, manual watering and preparation time.

MásRiego’s goal is to connect 9,000 rural Guatemalan households through these smarter farming methods. They also plan to use local schools to teach students about these new methods as well as inform them about agricultural job opportunities. As a result of unpredictable rainfall patterns and increased competition, farmers entering the field must be educated on the tools needed for success. MásRiego also focuses on helping women and youth grow high-value crops on smaller plots of land to increase the incomes of Guatemalan farmers and the nation as a whole. The program is supported by the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

Moving Forward

Using the latest farming methods, these organizations are helping to support Central American farmers’ incomes and improve quality of life. The diets of both the farmers and local communities are already being enriched as improved farming and irrigation methods allow for a broader variety of crops to be planted. The Harvest program has also found that more young people are choosing to remain in their countries as new and improved methods make farming a viable lifestyle.

With the technology that AGRI plans to introduce and the conservation methods that MásRiego is implementing, farming will become less of a financial and physical burden. These organizations and others like them will continue to improve farming methods in Central America, with an eye toward expanding into other arid regions in the future.

Nyssa Jordan

Photo: Flickr

8 Facts About Migrant Caravans from Central America
Over a year has passed since the migrant caravans from Central America arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. The migrant situation is complex and continues to have great effects on the economy, U.S. international affairs and the lives of thousands of people. The issue is far from resolving and continues to require attention, so here are eight facts about Central American migrant caravans.

8 Facts About Central American Migrant Caravans

  1. Central American Migrants: The first of the eight facts about Central American migrant caravans is that the migrants are mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The caravans began in Honduras and most of the migrants are Honduran but their Central American neighbors have joined them because they face similar issues of violence and poverty. These people traveled through Central America and Mexico until they reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
  2. The Largest Caravan: The biggest caravan, migrating in late 2018 and drawing international attention, started as a small grassroots social media movement in Honduras. One hundred and sixty Hondurans gathered at a bus terminal in San Pedro Sula on October 12, 2018. More and more people joined them along the route; the U.N. estimates that the group was as large as 7,000 people by the time it arrived in Tijuana.
  3. Reasons for Migration: Those who joined the caravans are migrating for a better future which they hope is waiting for them in the United States. Gang violence and persecution threatens them in their home countries; the murder rate in Honduras is 800 times higher than in the U.S. The migrants are leaving in an attempt to save their lives. In addition, there is widespread poverty in the Northern Triangle and the migrants are hoping for higher salaries and better lives for their children in the United States.
  4. Challenges on the Road: There are many hardships and health risks that the migrants face when traveling on foot, by bus or hitchhiking. The journey is arduous and results in road injuries and fatalities such as when a young Honduran man fell off a truck during the journey and passed away. Sunburn, dehydration and a continuous lack of access to clean water and sanitation are threats as well. The migrants also faced violence when crossing borders, such as when authorities used teargas. The group was dependent on local aid, such as church and civic groups or local government entities that provided food and water in the towns they passed.
  5. International Law on Asylum: International law on asylum states that anyone who enters U.S. soil or wants to enter U.S. territory to claim asylum must be able to do so and receive a chance to have a court hear their case. Because of this, the United States legally cannot ban asylum seekers according to their countries of origin or force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives are in danger. However, President Trump labeled the caravans an invasion and the U.S. responded with a zero-tolerance policy and threats to close the border. The U.S. passed the Migrant Protection Protocol in January 2019 which forces asylum seekers to wait for their court date in Mexico. Between January and December 2019 only 11 migrants out of 10,000 cases at the border received asylum, a rate of about 0.1 percent in the whole year.
  6. Changes in Caravan Numbers: There was a swell of caravans until late 2018, but patterns in migration are changing. The caravans, while safer in numbers during the journey, were not successful at gaining asylum at the border. Current migrants have been traveling in smaller groups which are harder for others to track. Those who were in original caravans are now spread out, some suffering deportation back to their original countries, others opting to stay in Mexico or waiting in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum or for their court date in the U.S. A small subset is even living in the U.S. undocumented or after gaining asylum.
  7. Doctors Without Borders: Health issues are a pressing concern for members of the migrant caravan especially as they are living in temporary camps near the border. Many migrants suffer from injuries and illnesses that they sustained through their long journey and exposure to the element along with violence they may have encountered on the way. Aside from physical issues, the migrant community is also suffering from many mental health issues including anxiety and depression, a result of the prolonged stress of their journey and precariousness of their position. Doctors Without Borders has sent an emergency team to provide aid and treatment, collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health to attend to the needs of the migrants.
  8. Border Kindness: Migrant caravan members at the border are not always able to meet basic needs. However, organizations such as Border Kindness have stepped in to provide immediate needs including shelter, food, water, clothing, medication and legal aid to a population with low resources. Its work is ongoing and pivotal in protecting and providing for the especially vulnerable including women, children and the elderly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With so much happening globally all the time, people can sometimes push important issues aside as agendas shift. These eight facts about Central American migrant caravans are a brief overview of the basic situation and the changes occurring over time. The realities of the migrant crisis at the border continue to be relevant and pressing.

– Treya Parikh
Photo: United Nations

10 Facts About the Migration Crisis at the Border
The migration crisis at the United States-Mexico border is a deep-rooted issue affecting many people in the United States, both documented and undocumented. The quantity of media coverage about the topic makes it hard to separate fact from fiction. To shed light on the different aspects of this matter, below are 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border.

10 Facts About the Migration Crisis at the Border

  1. Climate Change and Migration: Climate change is emerging as a root cause of the crisis at the border. Increasingly, people have left their homes in Central and South America due to the food insecurity, poverty and unlivable conditions that climate change has created in these regions. For example, in the highlands of Guatemala, climate change has forced residents out of their homes after unseasonal frost destroyed their crops. Climate change drives migration both directly and indirectly — flooding or drought may physically force residents away in the same way that the negative social impacts of climate change may impact a resident’s decision to leave.

  2. Unaccompanied Minors: Between October 2017 and September 2018, the United States Customs and Border Protection apprehended more than 396,000 people attempting to cross the border and more than 50,000 of these people were unaccompanied minors. The data for 2019 thus far shows an increase in the number of children under the age of 18 without a legal guardian or parent in the United States apprehended at the border. While still treacherous, border policy can be more lenient on individuals under the age of 18, possibly allowing a better chance at successful immigration.

  3. History of Immigration: The first instance of the United States placing restrictions on certain immigrant groups came with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The country has since continued to limit immigrants from certain countries, including most Asian countries in 1917 and Southern, Eastern and Central European countries in 1924, leading to the current attempt to limit Central and Southern American and Mexican immigrants. U.S. immigration policy prioritizes reunification of families, value to the U.S. economy, diversity and humanitarian protection of refugees.

  4. The Northern Triangle: The Northern Triangle of Central America, comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, accounts for the leading source of migrants who are fleeing Central America. More than 90 percent of these migrants will then attempt to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. Despite attempts to bring safety and stability to the Northern Triangle, the region still has high rates of crime and poverty; Honduras and El Salvador have among the highest murder rates in the world and around 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in Honduras and Guatemala.

  5. State of National Emergency: The migrant crisis at the border prompted President Trump to declare a national emergency in February 2019, despite opposition from the majority of citizens in the United States. Declaring a national emergency allows a president to potentially bypass Congress to achieve their desired policy or funding. The U.S. remains in a state of national emergency regarding the border despite attempts from Congress to end the measure.

  1. The $4.5 Billion Emergency Spending Bill: In July 2019, President Trump signed a bill designed to provide financial aid to the border, allocating  $4.5 billion to humanitarian assistance and security. The U.S. government first introduced this bill in response to criticism of the treatment of migrant children at the border, but the bill will also provide increased health and safety standards for all people seeking entry into the United States.

  2. The Southern Border Communities Coalition: Founded in 2011 as a response to the ongoing pressures facing border towns, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) is a diverse group of organizations, such as Frontera de Cristo (Agua Prieta, Mexico) and the Southwest Environmental Center (Las Cruces, NM), who have united to create a safer and more humane environment at the border. The SBCC comprises 60 organizations across Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In May 2019, the SBCC released a document entitled A New Border Vision, an outline for action to improve conditions at the border.

  3. Domestic Violence and Asylum: In spite of recent attempts to limit asylum seekers, the United States will continue to offer asylum for victims of domestic violence. In 2018, then-Attorney General Sessions threatened this right, stating that the United States would reject asylum cases founded on domestic violence. While Session’s decision increased the difficulty of securing asylum on these assertions, undocumented victims of domestic violence can still be eligible.

  4. Undocumented Immigrants and Crime: Contrary to the popular narrative connecting immigrants and violence, undocumented immigrants make the communities they join safer. A 2015 study by the Cato Institute shows that documented United States-born citizens have a much higher crime conviction rate than both undocumented and documented immigrants. Arguments against immigrants often champion the association of undocumented people to violent crime, yet the facts increasingly show this association to be invalid.

  5. Why People Keep Coming: This final point is perhaps the most important of these 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border. The journey to the border is long, expensive and dangerous. Frequent instances of kidnapping, rape, assault and trafficking make getting to the southwestern border of the United States treacherous and arriving at detention facilities at the border provides a slue of difficulties and dangers as well. Undocumented migrants are not undertaking this daunting task because they want to, but rather because their circumstances force them. Their home situation has become unlivable and they seek to escape to a better life in the U.S.

These 10 facts about the migration crisis at the border show that this issue creates dangerous situations that threaten both society and human lives. To fight this problem, the public must know what is truly happening in the stretch of land that connects Mexico and the United States. 

– Elizabeth Reece Baker
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Central America
In 1928, the League of Nations conducted a three-year global study of sex trafficking of women and children throughout Central America, which concluded, “Latin America is the traffic market of the world.” Currently, Central America is the third-highest source of human trafficking. These 7 facts about human trafficking in Central America will explain the factors leading to this significant problem and what people are doing to combat it.

7 Facts About Human Trafficking in Central America

  1. Dangers During Migration: It is not always an easy decision to relocate one’s entire family to a new country, but rampant poverty, extreme violence and governmental corruption throughout Central America force families and children to flee for a more prosperous life elsewhere. Risky job prospects and economic opportunity abroad may tempt migrants, but the true danger of migration lies in the 2,000-mile trek from Central America to the U.S. On this journey, migrants are in danger of human trafficking for domestic servitude, forced labor or the sex trade. A report by UNICEF states, “These families must navigate a long, uncertain journey in which they risk being preyed upon by traffickers or other criminals.” To avoid detection by authorities, migrants and refugees take dangerous routes where they do not know their whereabouts and where others can take advantage of their invisibility.
  2. The Vulnerability of Children: Children are one of the most vulnerable populations to trafficking due to their immaturity and the ease in which others can overpower them. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), children account for three in every five victims of human trafficking, backed in large part by organized crime rings. The impact of child trafficking in Central America is far-reaching, with many risk factors leaving children susceptible. For instance, criminal gangs’ main operation is illegal adoption, which they can achieve through kidnapping and involvement of government officials. Street and orphaned children are especially vulnerable to trafficking into the sex trade, while others must work under dangerous circumstances in the agricultural and mining industries. In 2014, a report from the Department of Labor found ample evidence of the use of child labor in the production of goods throughout Central America, including bricks, coffee, gold and sugarcane.
  3. The Vulnerability of Women: Along with young children, women are another vulnerable population at high risk for trafficking, especially sexual exploitation. Traffickers traffick most females for prostitution, especially near the Guatemala-Mexico border, while they use others for stripping and pornography. These women are often irregular migrants who fall through the cracks and eventually suffer further exploitation in bars and brothels to local clientele. It can occur forcefully, with smugglers kidnapping victims or coercing them into prostitution. In other cases, women may have no other means of support, and with dependents at home, traffickers may lure them into the sex trade. Once they are involved, it is not easy to leave, as brothel owners may threaten violence or exposure if they sense that a worker is tempted to leave. Traffickers may send women internally or internationally and State Department officials have estimated that 10s of thousands of Central Americans suffer trafficking internationally each year. Large numbers of these victims come from Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
  4. Central America and Trafficking: Although human trafficking is a significant problem among Central American countries, none of them comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which establishes human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes with severe penalties. Through the TVPA, the U.S. Department of State ranks countries based on tiers, focusing on the country’s governmental efforts to comply with the TVPA standards. Mexico, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador rank as Tier 2, meaning they do not meet TVPA standards but are making significant efforts to combat human trafficking. Belize ranks as Tier 3 country, signifying it does not meet TVPA standards and are not making substantial efforts to comply.
  5. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has attempted to step in in the absence of action from Central American governments. In early 2019, the DHS developed a partnership with government officials from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation, which concentrates efforts to combat human trafficking and stem the flood of irregular migration. Other initiatives are establishing, including combatting criminal organizations and gangs, addressing the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling and developing a proposal to tighten the region’s laws regarding trafficking. After a temporary halt of foreign aid being dispersed by the U.S. to the Northern Triangle countries, the White House resumed its support for the program by releasing $143 million in October 2019 to specific targeted efforts.
  6. The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act: In July 2019, the U.S. took an additional effort to address the root causes of migration by passing the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. This bill, which New York Representative Eliot L. Engel and Texas Representative Michael McCaul announced, passed unanimously through the House of Representatives. Because of the serious challenges that drive illegal migration to the U.S. and threaten the Northern Triangle’s stability, the act proposes a five-year strategy that prioritizes anti-corruption, economic growth and development and strengthening security conditions. Additionally, the bill authorizes $577 million in foreign assistance to the region for the 2020 fiscal year.
  7. The Polaris Project: Another organization working to stop human trafficking is the Polaris Project. Polaris’ work focuses on dismantling the networks that support human trafficking and sexual exploitation while boosting the international safety net. It acknowledges that its response must include a comprehensive understanding of migration, cultural context and gender norms. Not only does it engage in active efforts to combat the root causes of human trafficking, but it also recognizes the importance of supporting survivors in rebuilding their lives after the trauma they have endured. The organization operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline as well as the BeFree Textline to connect survivors with resources and support. Also, as 26 percent of the world’s trafficking victims are children, Polaris synchronizes its efforts with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking as well as the National Network for Youth to support legislative efforts that increase protections for youth. Its combative efforts to end human trafficking by partnering with government officials and law enforcement are the crucial steps that are necessary for ending this exploitation.

The issue of human trafficking throughout Central America is a complex and nuanced one. A combination of political, cultural and socioeconomic factors contribute to a sense of desperation in Central America, forcing individuals to seek alternatives elsewhere. This environment creates a space in which traffickers can take advantage of the vulnerable. It is important that Central American countries work with one another as well as with international supports to combat human trafficking and promote a sense of safety and security within the region.

– Rachel Baum
Photo: Flickr

how to help people fleeing violence in central america
Central America is currently facing a growing and uncontrollable issue of violence and corruption. Many innocent civilians, in search of more stable living conditions, have decided to attempt to escape the devastating violence of the region. However, considering the various situations in nations like Venezuela and Colombia worsening, a large number of migrants are journeying toward the safety of the United States. In recent years, violence has run rampant in Central America and, specifically, the Northern Triangle (the region comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Drug cartels and gangs have taken over, perpetuating corruption and violence that has crippled the region’s economy and political stability. The situation seems bleak, but here is how to help people fleeing violence in Central America.

Violence in the Northern Triangle

First, it is crucial to understand the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. Specifically, two well-known gangs are to blame for much of the violence and conflict in the region. MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown to control most of the crime and extortion rackets in Central America. These criminal organizations heavily involve themselves in drug trafficking as well, increasing the prevalence of violence and death in the region. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that focuses on the analysis of crime and threats to national and citizen security and safety, 47.4 percent of homicides in Guatemala in 2015 related to gangs or organized crime. On top of that, 49 percent of other homicides had unknown motives and perpetrators between 2012 and 2015.

The third country comprising the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, has also fallen victim to this festering cycle of violence and crime. Since 2015, gang violence alone has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people in El Salvador, and to this day, innocent civilians are still trying to flee this volatility and corruption.

How Organizations are Helping

That said, there is still hope for the desperate refugees who have been displaced from the region. Organizations like The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International have developed programs by which people can donate money and garner support for the humanitarian crisis in Central America. UNHCR and Amnesty International have done extensive work to analyze migrations from the Northern Triangle, chronicling why and how people are fleeing from the region. The organizations have also called upon various nations and leaders, such as the United States, to provide more aid to this desperate region through financial appeals processes and garnering support from the general public.

How Anyone Can Help

Those looking for how to help people fleeing violence in Central America can do so by emailing and calling their local representatives in Congress in support of the rejection of any proposed cuts to foreign assistance going to the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. It is as easy as sending an email or making a quick phone call, but the impact of these small gestures can have tremendous effects on policymakers, as they all must consider the ideas and sentiments of their constituents.

By reaching out to policymakers and creating more awareness regarding this growing issue, foreign aid will eventually reach the Northern Triangle. Though the proliferation of political instability and gang violence in the region makes for a bleak situation, foreign aid facilitated by active public engagement can have a positive impact on the people fleeing violence in Central America.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr