Por La Vida: UUCSJ Delegation Public Statement In Solidarity with the People of Guapinól

Delegation members - Por La Vida 2018

Delegation members – Por La Vida 2018

As a human rights delegation to Honduras from November 29 to December 6, 2018 that visited the community of Guapinól in the municipality of Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, we are deeply concerned about the recent police and military occupation occuring there. We have received news as well as photo evidence that police vehicles have blocked the entrance and exit to the community in order to monitor all passage, with participation from the Ministerio Publico. Members of the community are afraid of being unlawfully detained, intimidated, and threatened. The community of Guapinól is defending their water supply from the destruction caused by the nearby mining project of Inversiones Los Pinares, which would destroy their only source of drinkable water.

This occupation comes shortly following the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonilla in the nearby community of Ceibita, where community resistance to a mine by the same company, Inversiones Los Pinares, has faced violent repression. There is a documented history of violent acts by state and private business actors against human and land rights defenders in the region of Bajo Aguán.

Our delegation is comprised of clergy members, human rights professionals, educators, and organizers, with the institutional support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-EL Salvador, and Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

During our delegation we witnessed clear and convincing evidence that there are political prisoners in Honduras, that there is rampant impunity for femicide and the murder of human rights defenders, and that migration and the recent exodus are rooted in systemic violence and loss of livelihoods. The human rights conditions of Honduras do not merit U.S. State Department accreditation, which is currently upheld, a prerequisite for military assistance.

The systemic attack on human rights defenders includes false criminal charges, which we witnessed first-hand at the hearing for Jeremías Martínez, one of at least 18 Guapinól community leaders facing outstanding warrants for their activism.

As people of faith and conscience, we call for:

  • An end to police and military occupation of communities in the Bajo Aguán, including Guipinól;
  • An immediate investigation into the murders of Gerson Leiva and Lucas Bonillo;
  • An end to U.S.military aid and arms sales to Honduras, which have regularly been used by the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez against the country’s own people;
  • And the re-introduction and passage of the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the U.S. Congress.

We continue to follow these cases closely and are in regular communication with leaders from Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, and Radio Progreso, ready to respond to new rights violations and conduct ongoing visits. As we continue to support those migrating, we equally support the social movements working to improve conditions that allow for a dignified life and justice for the people of Honduras. We invite all allies to follow the above organizations on social media to increase visibility and support.


Como delegación de derechos humanos que viajó a Honduras entre 29 de Noviembre a 6 de Diciembre 2018, que visitó a la comunidad de Guapinól en la Municipio de Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, estamos profundamente preocupados por la ocupación policial y militar que está pasando allí.  

Delegation members around a mandala

Delegation members around a mandala

Hemos recibido noticias y fotos de patrullas bloqueando la entrada y salida de la comunidad para monitorear todos que vienen y van, con participación del Ministerio Publico. Miembros de la comunidad tienen miedo de ser capturados, intimidados, y amenazados. La comunidad de Guapinól está defendiendo el río de Guapinól de la destrucción que genera la empresa minera operada por Inversiones Los Pinares, la cual destruiría su único acceso al agua potable.

La ocupación sigue el asesinato de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonilla en la comunidad de Ceibita, donde han visto represión violento en contra de la resistencia comunitaria a la minería, lo cual pertenece a la misma empresa Inversiones Los Pinares. Hay bastante documentación de los actos violentos por el estado y negocios privados colaborando en contra de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y la tierra en la región de Bajo Aguán.

Nuestra delegación está formado por profesionales religiosos (pastores y una hermana), trabajadores de derechos humanos, educadores, y activistas, con el apoyo institucional de UUSC, UU College of Social Justice, SHARE-El Salvador, y Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Durante la delegación nosotros fuimos testigos de evidencia clara y persuasivo que hay presos políticos en Honduras, que hay impunidad frecuente por el feminicidio y el asesinato de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, y que la migración y el éxodo tienen raíces en violencia sistémica y la pérdida de oportunidades económicas. Los condiciones de los derechos humanos en Honduras no merecen la acreditación del Departamento del Estado de los Estados Unidos, un requisito para ayuda militar.

El ataque sistemática en contra de las defensoras de derechos humanos incluye cargos criminales falsos, lo cual fuimos testigos directamente al corte de Jeremías Martínez, uno de 18 líderes en Guapinól enfrentando órdenes de captura por su activismo.

Como personas de fé y consciencia, demandamos:

  • La parada de ocupación policial y militar en las comunidades de Bajo Aguán, incluso Guapinól;
  • Una investigación inmediata de los asesinatos de Gerson Leiva y Lucas Bonillo;
  • La parada de ayuda militar y venta de armas de los Estados Unidos a Honduras, que estan usados en contra de la gente por el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernandez;
  • Y el pasaje de la Acta Berta Cacares para Derechos Humanos en Honduras en el Congreso de los Estados Unidos.

Seguimos vigilando lo que está pasando en Guapinól y en estos casos. Estamos en comunicación con las líderes de Foro de Mujeres, Mariposas Libres, Mujeres de Aguán, Red de Mujeres Campesinas, y Radio Progreso, y estamos pendientes para condemnar nuevos violaciones. Como seguimos solidarizandonos con los migrantes, igual nos solidarizamos con los movimientos sociales de Honduras que están luchando para mejorar los condiciones para una vida digna y justicia en Honduras. Invitamos a todos aliados que siguen las páginas de facebook y los redes sociales de estas organizaciones para seguir aumentando su visibilidad.

Saving Seed

Saving Seed

Rebecca Hennessy lives in Portsmouth, NH and traveled to Nicaragua as a member of South Church in cooperation with the UUCSJ. She is a mother and a garlic farmer. She owns a small value-added food business, Backyard Garlic, coaches ultimate frisbee and likes exploring new places.


Memories of Nicaragua continue to organize in my mind and body.  Reflections on being a part of a delegation as well as an individual have increasingly become a part of my daily life. For me, this is a sure sign of a good trip. One experience in particular, I hold carefully, as though it were alive in the palm of my hand.

On day 5 of our 8-day trip we travelled to Las Diosas farm to spend the afternoon. We shared a meal with the women working there and learned more about what happens from day to day. FEM and Las Diosas’ mission of rebellious attention to reproductive processes and resources were apparent everywhere we looked – through building local, to international markets, expertise in alternative farming techniques, and visionary business practices. The farm has a plant nursery, experimental garden, testing and processing facilities for hibiscus, coffee, and honey, and infrastructure to support continued growth of women owned and operated cooperatives. Also on the farm is the ongoing study and practice of saving seed.Handful of Seeds - Nicaragua

I felt joy on this farm. In simply being there and in what I learned. And it was the practice of saving seed that is most present to me now. A seed can be deceptively simple. Profundity is a trait of simplicity, after all.  And much can be said of the word  – saving. Seed is potential, diversity. Seed is survival. And when a seed is understood for the qualities it brings to the plant, it begins to reveal the history of the soil from which it grew.  From which, and in which, it can be saved.

In this way, seed is memory and soil is history. Both record human activity – present and past. Saving seed is an act of deep affection. It is an act of profound attention to what has gone before.

Knowing how to save seed is not unlike knowing how to raise a hand in protest.  March 8 is International Women’s Day.  And March 24 is March for Our Lives. For both, I will remember what I learned from the women of FEM and on the Las Diosas farm. I will care for the seed in my hand, how it roots me, saves me, in what I believe. I will work to have a deeper understanding of the history I inherited and the history in the making – it is the soil in which I grow. Saving is conserving as well as setting free.

We often heard the word ‘organized’ on our journey. For me the word organized came to mean – knowing who you are and what you bring to the work. It meant planting your words and actions with a rebellious attention, selective care and abundant joy.

Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Today we remember the leadership of Martin Luther King in his own chapter of the struggle for racial justice. But we’re living through our own chapter of that struggle today, in which the rise of overt white supremacy and the support it receives from the White House shows us just how far we still have to go.

So I want to remember that along with King and so many others, the real hero of that movement is the simple human virtue of perseverance, lodged in the hearts, minds, and souls of thousands of people we’ve never heard of. We think of leaders like Martin Luther King in the context of pivotal moments, like the huge march on Washington in 1963. It’s only much more dimly that we can glimpse the years and years of hard work that lifted them up, the enormous, relentless labor before the little cracks started to show up in the culture and then to widen into clear and powerful lines of change.  Any real change that has ever happened in our world has come because of countless ordinary people who made their choices and took their risks not in a few electric moments but again and again, over the course of years. 

King once said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” This is a call to imagine our justice efforts in a different way. Instead of envisioning a linear path — in which a campaign or protest or movement will lead to a specific outcome on a predictable timeframe — we need to see our effort as part of a web of relationship. It goes on as long as we live, punctuated with high and low points but never truly over. It’s made up of a kind of solidarity that stays open and observant to all the large and small ways we make a difference. And what it asks of us, above all, is perseverance.

~ Kathleen McTigue

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Melissa Rodney was a summer 2017 intern with Rural & Migrant Ministry and is a graduate of American University (Class of 2017). If you are interested in interning with UUCSJ, fill out out 2018 Internship Interest Form.


This summer I had the wonderful privilege to sit down and say, “If I could run a summer program for youth on issues pertaining to social justice, what would that look like?” I don’t think I have ever held a position with so much freedom and creativity and I enjoyed every minute of planning (well-maybe not very minute . . . . I am human) and I certainly enjoyed every minute of being with the students as a counselor and seeing how they reacted to my lesson plans and activities.

Youth Art Project

Youth Art Project

My summer internship was with Rural &  Migrant Ministry in Lyons, New York. Rural & Migrant Ministry is a non profit organization that supports members of the rural farm worker community through advocacy of fair and just labor rights in New York State. They also provide educational services and host a variety of youth empowerment programs throughout the year. The youth empowerment programs at RMM are truly unique. They are designed to challenge a child’s perceptions about the communities they grow up in, to teach students to identify injustices within their community and to come up with solutions they can argue for as youth passionate about improving their community. With this wise doctrine by RMM, I  sought to create a program that would be well rounded offering stories of people addressing injustices from all around the world that could be used as examples for actions the students could take in their own community. For example, in the summer program, our older age group looked at graffiti art and murals used to protest the World Cup held in Rio in 2014 and they learned how the art  in essence captured the frustrations of  Brazilian citizens over the reality of where the wealth was being invested for the world’s most famous game. Our younger age group debated challenging the school system and created quite a few compelling arguments about the importance of teachers having an adequate salary, the importance of having a good education and even the importance of homework. These were just a few topics discussed during the lesson portion of the program

Youth Making Art Project

Youth making art project

While these lessons were incredibly important to me, I also knew that I wanted to give the students a well rounded “camp” experience. Summer camps are not affordable for every child and we wanted to offer a program that students could participate in for free and they could still get that camp experience that is full of fun activities. Some of the more camp like activities included sport challenges, workshops with local artists, daily trivia questionnaires, a designated lesson time called “Reflections”, field trips to the Women’s Rights National Convention and Sodus Bay, a scavenger hunt and even a  talent show!

UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).

 

 

UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!

 

During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).

 

Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.

 

We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.

 

We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.

 

Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!

 

Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.

 

Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.

Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships

Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships

Jan Taddeo (writer) and JenJoy Royal (photographer) travelled with UUCSJ to Nicaragua in February 2017 for our Beyond Fair Trade: Building Just Relationships immersion journey. We partner with Equal Exchange for this journey to explore the power of fair trade to improve the lives of producers and help consumers live their values. To learn more about this journey or to register for our upcoming February 2018 journey visit www.uucsj.org/fairtrade 


It’s been eight months since I journeyed to Nicaragua with the UU College of Social Justice. Every morning when I drink my coffee I am reminded of the many complexities associated with this journey. Nicaragua is a beautiful country, with a very complex historical relationship with the United States. The people we engaged with during our journey were warm and welcoming, and their lives are complex. The Equal Exchange coffee I drink each morning takes an intricate journey to arrive at my breakfast table.

The preparation for our journey to Nicaragua included several weeks of reading, learning, and reflecting about the history of the country, and the history of U.S. involvement in Central America. Not knowing this history prior to making the commitment, I was overwhelmed with the stories of our entanglement, interference, military involvement, and economic influence. I wasn’t quite sure how we would be received by the people. On one hand, Nicaraguans have many reasons to be wary, distrustful, and fearful of Americans. On the other hand, many U.S. citizens came to Nicaragua to support the people in their struggle. However, I need not have been concerned, we were met with great hospitality and trust.

Jan Taddeo Picking Coffee Cherries

Jan Taddeo Picking Coffee Cherries

The greatest example of the trust placed in us showed up in our first meeting with the leadership of the farming cooperative in Quibuto. After engaging in an enthusiastic game of “All My Friends and Neighbors” (todos mis amigos y vecinos) to break the ice, the coop leaders gave a presentation about their needs and concerns as farmers. Their presentation included details of their costs, from planting the seeds to harvesting and processing the crops. This was followed by a breakdown of how much money they receive from the larger coop that buys the crops from the small farmers, how much that coop receives from Equal Exchange, and then their understanding of how much Equal Exchange makes on a pound of coffee. They explained  the challenges they face in obtaining deeds for the land so they can plant more coffee, and the hardships of weather, blight, and infestations that can wipe out crops that take three years to mature.

Representatives in attendance from Equal Exchange were able to engage in a deep conversation about all of the forces that impact the creation and distribution of coffee. It was a difficult and fascinating conversation to hear, even when everyone was speaking the same language. We were able to ask questions which led to more conversation and it was an honor to be invited in and trusted. We learned that even though this is a fair-trade relationship between Equal Exchange and this small farming cooperative, it is still a difficult life, in part because coffee is a complex crop.

The group hard at working harvesting coffee

The group hard at working harvesting coffee

I never thought too much about what a coffee plant looks like, how it grows, or how we get coffee from it. On this journey we followed the trail from coffee seed to coffee bean to coffee tasting. We drove by fields of coffee bushes devastated by rust. We saw seedlings that were just a few months old and learned that they will not produce fruit for three years. We climbed the side of the mountainous landscape to reach the coffee bushes living under the shade of giant eucalyptus trees (did you know coffee grew on bushes?). We were taught how to tell when the coffee cherries are ripe and had the opportunity to harvest them. It’s much harder than it looks!

Back at one of the homes in the village, we helped unload giant bags of coffee cherries, dumped them into a bin that was attached to a depulper, and ran the cherries through it. We assisted in washing the naked beans, gently swishing them in the trough with a large paddle to allow the good beans to float to the top and the unripe beans and debris to sink to the bottom. Then we took buckets of beans up to the large drying racks in the front yard. There the farmers would carefully sort through the beans, separating the top quality beans from the lower quality beans. The best beans are the ones that move forward to the next level of processing at the larger coop, which then ships the beans all over the world. In touring that facility on our way out of the village, we also got to visit the tasting room! Yum!

Coffee Sorting

Coffee sorting

The coffee we drink that comes from Nicaragua, and from many other countries, has a complicated history with the land, and a complex life from seedling to the cup of steaming coffee on the breakfast table. The people who grow the coffee work harder than I ever imagined, and they lead humble lives compared to mine.

We stayed three days in Quibuto, living with the families, getting to know their children, grieving with them when the sudden death of young man shocked the community, and being entertained by them at a big community party on our last evening together. We discussed a wide range of topics with the people we stayed with, depending on our language skills. Some heard their stories from the revolution, or enjoyed deep theological conversations. Not knowing Spanish, I got to know my family through dancing with them to the rock music their 17-year-old nephew put on the radio. I brought color pencils and paper, and the children and teens drew beautiful pictures for me. I managed to learn that my host’s niece is attending nursing school at the university. Being a vegan, I was a bit of a mystery to them, yet they accommodated me with great generosity … the best rice and beans I’ve ever had. I promised my family that I will return again, next time fluent in Spanish. This is a promise I intend to keep.

There is so much more to share about this journey … this was really just one small part of our experience. We visited many places, met incredible people, and heard profoundly inspiring stories of resilience, perseverance, and the power of love to overcome great challenges. This was not a service journey … this was a cultural learning experience that challenged me, and transformed me. I look forward to returning.


 

UUCSJ COVID-19 Update

As news of the  COVID-19 virus unfolds, we at the College of Social Justice are assessing next steps. While we are all in a state of uncertainty, we are acting with caution for the well-being of our participants, partners, staff, and most vulnerable community members.

With the guidance of the UUA, UUSC, and recommendations from the CDC, and in communication with our friends and partners, we have decided to postpone all CSJ in person programing (youth visits, journeys, etc) through May 2020. Those participants have been notified and we are grateful for the understanding, love, and support we have received in response.

These are the only programs that have been postponed for now, but things may change as we receive more information. We are also thinking of creative ways to bring more of our programming online and would love to hear ideas from you!

 We are all in community together and we are grateful for the ways in which you choose to show up, bear witness, and take action for the communities and partners we serve. Please be safe and if there is anything that we can do to be supportive of you, don’t hesitate to reach out.