Partner Centered Planning

Partner Centered Planning

“I plan my calendar a year out.”

This is what I often hear from people considering a CSJ program. “I plan my calendar a year out, so I need to know when the dates are sooner.” From co-workers in my office I hear: “Ministers, especially, need to plan their year in advance if they’re going to be able to travel.”

So why can’t we always have program dates advertised earlier?

Last year the CSJ had an intense, deeply moving delegation to Honduras. The delegation consisted of a mix of people of different ages, races, from different countries, and in different levels of engagement of activism work. When we arrived in Honduras, our partners took the lead. They intentionally created the itinerary to use our presence to bring national and international attention to strategic aspects of their work. We arrived at a meeting in the countryside so the women could use our presence to aid in their safety as they spoke with the men about the danger they face within human rights organizing as women in male-dominated spaces. We attended (and spoke at) press conferences, we attended meetings with politicians, and we participated in organizing and healing workshops with the greater community.

For us to be partnered centered, we have to actively de-center our needs. We at the CSJ would love to offer this opportunity again and representatives of Foro de Mujeres Por la Vida have said that they want to do this delegation again. We know that they are open and eager to collaborate when a date feels right to them. We have to be patient and wait as they navigate the constant stress and trauma they hold as they defend human rights within the context of a dictatorship. Amidst all of that, it does not help them to have a US-based institution badgering them about dates for the next delegation.

Partnered-centered programming is hard, and we do not do it perfectly. It is an imperfect balancing act of our partners’ needs and our needs. It is the desire for an authentic relationship where we know that our partners feel free to say yes/no to us without breaking relationship. And it means that we have to be aware of our structural power and work harder to make sure that our partners’ needs come first.

We are excited to offer dates proposed by our Partners for our next delegation.  Our upcoming journey to Honduras is scheduled for March 5-11, 2020. Learn more about the trip here.

-Gina, Senior Associate for Curriculum and Immersion Learning Programs

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.

The Nuns I Always Wanted To Meet

The Nuns I Always Wanted To Meet

“Do I call them ‘Sister?’” My co-worker and I were settling our things into our assigned room at the convent. The air was hot and muggy, something I felt acutely as I was still in that heightened state of awareness that you feel your first moments in a new land. I had technically been to Honduras before, but everything felt new. “I dunno,” my colleague answered (she had been raised Catholic as well). “It’s kinda weird one way or the other.”

Two UUSC colleagues and I were in Honduras to be part of an accompaniment trip to support our partners/human rights activists returning to Honduras (written about much more clearly here). I had never been a part of an accompaniment trip before and felt out of my element for so many reasons: I do not consider myself a human rights expert; I am not an expert on Central American history nor international relations; I had never been a part of interfaith circles before; I knew this trip was going to be emotionally intense in ways that I was not prepared for. My background is in experiential education and I am perhaps too comfortable in the role of the facilitator–I get to (too often) lead and direct group emotional processes to a carefully thought out pedagogical question and thus open up a space for cognitive “awakening.” Sweet. But when faced with the personal stories of state-sanctioned torture and terror, what in the hell do you do with that? When faced with the deepest stories of both human hate and resilience, where can you emotively go?

Gina and the interfaith accompaniment delegation she traveled with in Honduras.

Our group was comprised of various human rights activists of various faiths. In particular, there were four nuns that I found myself keenly interested in. Would they be like the nuns of my catholic school childhood? Would they be like the nuns from the pueblo that I lived in during Peace Corps who, try as I might, I couldn’t make friends with (I remember angrily muttering to myself, ‘Doesn’t your religion compel you to be friendly?!’)”

I was standoffish during the delegation’s first morning worship. I am pretty open minded, but I didn’t know if this would be a journey back to the robot-like “praying” of 2nd grade. To my delight, instead of an authoritative dictatorship over my spiritual process (whoa, catholic school, leave your mark much?), Sister Mary Ellen lead us in bodywork. We did Tai-Chi. “Holy shit,” I thought, “this lady is really good at creating a mind-body connection.” Moreover, I could feel that this integrated fully with her deep understanding of her own Catholicism. And it wasn’t just her. When Sister Rosa Maria spoke about her work in Honduras, I could palpably feel both her toughness and love. (“I wouldn’t mess with her,” Jose, our delegation leader would say.) I felt the presence Sister Ann could bring sitting next to someone who was deeply grieving and afraid, I felt the strength that Sister Kathleen emoted as she lead a group of us (after hearing some of the hardest stories I had ever heard) to hold hands. She guided us to reconnect to spirit. She knit something back together. She held us together in community.

This isn’t saying that I’m returning to Catholicism. I’m not. But I know when I am in the presence of something good, I know when I am in the presence of people who have faced themselves and done their own work. Honduras was hard in a way that I don’t know how to write openly about, because I am afraid that I won’t do it justice–I don’t know where I end and it begins. I feel guilt that it was hard; I felt deep emotions during the journey, and then I got to leave. I feel embarrassed about how unequipped I was to hold it all. I feel anxiety about not knowing about how to move forward. I find myself reexamining my life choices up to now and asking myself, “With all that I know that is unjust in this world, have I done enough?”

But then I breathe and I remember. I think Sister Mary Ellen would say to let my emotions come. They are each a friend and have something to teach me. I think Sister Rosa Maria has her doubts and fears, too. I bet Sister Anne had to learn how to be present amidst pain. I’m sure Sister Kathleen doesn’t always feel strong.

After sitting and listening to a group of men tell their stories of being beaten, imprisoned, terrorized, and caged, we all stood in a circle. Sister Kathleen lead us in what I think was the most powerful prayer I have ever heard. We went around the circle and simply stated a word that gave us hope (or courage or something like that, to be honest I don’t remember the details). And then she lead the group in a song that most people knew the words to and people sang together. After crying, and still afraid, they sang.

We then had our own moment as a delegation to stand in a circle and be. I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to hold this, I don’t know how to hold this.” We gave time so that those of us who wanted to speak could speak. The responses varied from rage to sorrow to silence to everything in between. And as I stood there, I finally realized: I don’t need to know how to hold this. I cannot hold this as one person. We have to hold it together.

During one of our worships we had a chance for silent reflection. I think there was a prompt–I forget what that prompt was. But one of the sisters, at the end of the time, pointer to herself and said, “My body.” She then pointed to the group of us sitting in a circle and said, “My body.” And then she pointed to the greater environment and said, “My body.” I am so grateful to have finally met the nuns that I always wanted to meet. They were not able to give answers or make the horror of the world go away. But by the simple example of their presence and their persistence, they gave me a bit more strength to have faith in what could be, they helped me feel what true community might feel like, and they helped me to stay present in something I didn’t want to stay present in.

My body.

My sisters.


Gina Collignon is responsible for planning, developing, and supporting the UU College of Social Justice’s experiential learning programs. As the Senior Associate for Immersion Learning Programs, Collignon designs travel programs that connect participants to activists and change-makers in new environments so that participants can leave inspired to join related social justice campaigns in their home communities.