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Meeting our Mission: Gracia’s Response to the Migration Crisis

“I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States/Mexico border:
Do not come. Do not come.”

Vice President Kamala Harris- during a press conference while on her first official visit to Guatemala.

And it’s almost surprising this needs to be said when 9 out of 10 Guatemalan migrants are turned away from the border. For women hoping to escape the violence in Guatemala, the United States offers little hope. In June of 2018, the US Justice Department ruled that domestic violence is “private”, i.e., between two people as opposed to governmental persecution. This ruling effectively closes off any claim of domestic violence as an avenue for asylum.

El Corredor Seco or The Dry Corridor of Central America

El Corredor Seco or The Dry Corridor runs through the center of Guatemala. It begins in northern Panama, travels up the western edge of Nicaragua, across Honduras, through Guatemala, and extends just over the southern border of Mexico. Most migrants fleeing Central America come from this area. Their reasons for leaving are well-known: lack of economic opportunity, environmental challenges, and chronic violence. The unrelenting, 10-year drought in the Dry Corridor has obliterated agricultural production and jobs. Without options, women look for work in the informal sector where conditions are brutal, and they are woefully underpaid. The resultant chronic poverty fuels gender-based violence, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Yes, the Biden administration has proposed a $4 billion plan to stimulate economic opportunity and job creation in the Dry Corridor. It’s designed to create root level economic development – a different tactic than those of past administrations – more proactive than reactive. The premise is simple: keep people in their homes by addressing their foundational needs; create jobs that are unaffected by environmental challenges and earn income. Earning income is especially important for women as it gives them greater voice at home and in society. This plan is a comprehensive approach.

2020: Elida in Jalapa, Guatemala

It’s one that will likely be effective and one that will definitely take time.

And until then?
“Do not come.”

Really? Stay and wait it out in the Dry Corridor in the midst of its 10 year drought, hoping to find work in an area dependent on agricultural sector employment? Where opportunity is inconsistent, at best?

“Do not come.”
Stay in Guatemala, in a country that the World Health Organization ranks 7th
in the world for femicide and violence against women? Where less than 6% of female homicides result in convictions?(NYT, 2019) Hang on despite daily threats against your safety?

It isn’t that simple.

At Gracia-we are all-too-familiar with these statistics – we have seen them first-hand. For the past six years, Gracia has worked in Jalapa, Guatemala, located in the Dry Corridor. To help young women navigate this crisis, we lead an economic development program there: the Gracia Entrepreneur Training Program or GET.

2020: Elida employed in the Milagros Workroom

And our program is successful.

Since 2016, the GET program has provided employment for 11 young women in Jalapa (to total 44 income-earning years). Our Apprentices have received more than 13K hours of technical skills training. And we have established the first, and only, recurring revenue stream to help fund the Casa Hogar, a home for 110 abused and abandoned girls/young women in Jalapa.

How?

Gracia created opportunity:
Revenues from our social enterprise, Milagros, provide salaried, living wage income and benefits for young women in Gracia’s program. Las Mujeres* now understand the value of consistent work. 80% have remained employed since their hiring. And because they are paid a living wage, they have been able to save their income, and in times of need, help their families – a ripple effect we’re proud of.

Gracia provides jobs that are unaffected by environmental challenges:
Milagros jewelry products do not depend upon agricultural production; this means salaries and employment are not impacted by the ongoing drought in the Dry Corridor. Despite environmental challenges and weaker sales during the pandemic, Milagros revenues are continuing to provide salaries for Las Mujeres while covering overhead production costs in Jalapa. In an area with70% joblessness, we are proud to have young women fully employed with a complete benefit package.

Gracia teaches girls and young women to identify and protect themselves against violence:
Guatemala has one of the highest rates of deadly violence against women in the world; poor women are are 2x more likely to experience repetitive physical violence than women with average income. (Dupuy, p22) A component of the GET program is Las Mujeres Fuertes Cohort. “Cohort” meetings are confidential and help develop essential skills, self-efficacy, leadership, and agency. The curriculum includes decision-making, goal setting, women’s health,and conflict resolution. These skills, coupled with the ability to earn a living wage, can disrupt the cycle of multi-generational poverty by giving Las Mujeres the skill sets they need to create positive, productive futures for themselves. (Tarallo, p. 44) Chronic poverty accelerates domestic violence. Without income, a battered woman is bound to her abuser. A dependably employed woman has options. Stable employment and income provide food security, housing, childcare, adequate transportation.

Gracia is proud of the GET program’s impact on young women in the Dry Corridor. It is our hope that broadly-based, alternative economic development will reach the greater population there soon.

2020: Elida, a true Mujer Fuerte

No one should need to flee the only home they know.
*Gracia refers to the oldest group of young women in our program as “Las Mujeres Fuertes” or “Strong Women”.

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