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May 3, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – People who migrate from their home countries in Central America or other regions of the world do so largely out of desperation and the need for survival.
That was the message that Karla Rivas, a journalist and activist from Honduras, brought to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse Campus April 19, 2023, on the first day of an eight-city, 15-day tour of the United States. Karla spoke to the Sisters from her own experience as an award-winning journalist for Jesuit-sponsored Radio Progreso, an independent radio station in Honduras. She coordinates the radio station’s Network with Migrants in Central America, as well as the Jesuit Reflection, Research, and Communication Team (ERIC).
Also making the tour was Reynaldo Dominguez, a water defender from Guapinol, Tocoa, Honduras, whose brother Aly was assassinated on January 7, 2023, for defending the health of the country’s rivers. He spent his first full day in Detroit.
Speaking through a translator – Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP – Karla noted the difficult conditions that compel people from Central America to flee their homeland. “It’s a condition to save their own lives that pushes them out of their own country,” she said. “Seven out of 10 of our citizens are poor and do not have the basic necessities covered with what they earn.”
The lives of people in Honduras are also threatened by gangs and organized crime. In addition, activists who attempt to protect their land and water from exploitation have been targeted and killed. In many cases, Karla added, young people flee Honduras for fear of being arrested under suspicion of being involved in gangs or other crimes, she said. Under the current “state of exception” – martial law – they can be arrested and detained with no evidence of any wrong-doing.
Karla spoke of the danger that migrants from many countries face as they struggle to enter the United States through Mexico. Many must pass through the jungle of Panama – often walking “five, six, seven days without eating, without being assured of any protection or food,” and facing possible human rights violations as they cross into other countries on the way to Mexico and the United States, she said.
Because so many people pass through Mexico to get to the United States, “Mexico has become the new frontier of the United States – and Guatemala, being the next country over, has become the second in importance,” Karla said. “So, the frontier of the United States keeps getting farther and father south. In the same way, the pressure from the south of people trying to go north continues and puts a pressure on those new frontier countries.”
But Karla finished her presentation on a positive note, on the benefits of migration. “Migration really is or can be a mutually enriching experience,” she said. She spoke of the “broad gamut of possibilities which collaboration – being together, coming together, thinking together, sharing together – give us to create a new future for ourselves … I’m learning today and will be learning from other groups here [in the United States] that open us up to new possibilities of what we can create.”
Karla’s brief visit to Adrian included a tour of Adrian Rea Literacy Center, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and offering one-on-one tutoring of English as a Second Language to the majority of students; a tour of the Congregation’s Permaculture gardens; an informal lunch with the committee of Sisters who planned Karla’s visit; and the presentation.
Karla continued her tour in Detroit, beginning with a formal dinner at the University of Detroit-Mercy. The tour also included stops in Cleveland, Ohio; Omaha, Nebraska; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Atlanta.
The tour was organized to educate people in the United States about the struggles of migrants and of environmental activists in Honduras to defend their water and land from corporations and government seeking to exploit the natural resources of Earth.
The tour was sponsored and organized by the SHARE Foundation, which for more than 40 years has focused on building solidarity among the people of El Salvador, Honduras, and the United States through a model of mutual accompaniment. The SHARE Foundation also sponsors delegations of people from the United States to El Salvador and Honduras to learn about their struggles.
In December 2022, two Adrian Dominican Sisters participated in a delegation co-sponsored by the SHARE Foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
Watch Karla’s presentation below, with interpretation by Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP. (Presentation viewable at the 25 second mark; we apologize that her introduction was not recorded.)
New York, New York, March 27, 2023 – In the midst of Women’s History Month, three Dominican Sisters spoke of their efforts to empower women in rural areas around the world. They spoke on March 14, 2023, during the 67th Session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), held March 6-17, 2023.
Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, as representative of the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC) at the United Nations, facilitated the webinar.
Sister Elsa Myriam Londoña, OP, spoke of her experiences of accompanying the people in rural Ecuador, coming into relationship with families and forming them into service to the Church and the world. “This is a methodology that we use in our work: perceive the reality as it is, embrace this reality, understand, and take action at the same time,” she said.
In her ministry, she strives to form a group of Servers of the Word in each community to celebrate the sacraments, participate in pastoral care, and work together. One focus is the celebration of life at all stages and all seasons, she said. The biggest challenges Sister Elsa sees include taking care of the environment, organizing women, and training in human and social ventures.
Sister Elsa spoke of the key role of women in protecting the planet. “The woman is the one who always takes care of the land,” she said. The women follow their ancestral practices of natural medicine, promoting food security in their communities, and taking up the struggle to maintain a healthy environment, she said.
“The mission of consecrated women today begins with the understanding of our identity and the work within the Church – a lifestyle that has to be permeated by values – values that go through listening, through the relationship of care, through radicality, through tenacity to offer life,” Sister Elsa concluded. “These are the faces of the women we accompany – women working to organize themselves.”
Sister Nicole Kabore spoke of the many challenges and inequalities that women face daily in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, in West Africa. “One of the consequences of poverty is that women are treated poorly,” she explained. “She has to take care of the family. She’s responsible for feeding, healthcare, education, and all the responsibilities of the family,” including working outside the home if the family needs more money.
Because mothers and daughters are responsible for the household tasks, they rarely have the time to attend school – and priority is given to the education of boys, Sister Nicole said. Because of their lack of education, women are often treated poorly and, when they need to work, are relegated to menial work and work in the fields, she explained.
Sister Nicole also pointed to women in Burkina Faso who face particular difficulties: those who cannot have children and are blamed for this, even if they might not be the cause of infertility, and widows who have no support. A widow “loses all her privileges,” she explained. “Familial goods are confiscated by her husband’s family.” If the husband’s family tells her to marry one of his brothers and she refuses, she is often banished from the family.
A goal of the ministry in Burkina Faso is to teach women that they have rights, Sister Nicole said. “Women have the right to express themselves but this is the real challenge, especially in certain cultures,” she said. “Very few women have a voice in the nature of decisions that are made in regard to their community. We try to help them gain their voice.”
Sister Teresa, of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation, focused her talk on the Marie Poussepin Center (MPC), a boarding school for girls that her Sisters operate in the town of Guaimaca, Honduras. The MPC gives girls the opportunity for education that they ordinarily would not have in a society in which education of girls ends after sixth grade.
“Their education [at the boarding school] is in God, faith, and studies,” Sister Teresa explained. “Education is integral. We try to teach them things that would give them many resources so they can do better in life,” such as culinary and sewing skills, agriculture practices, medicinal plants, work in the environment, technology, and appreciation of their own culture.
“It’s beautiful to see what the girls know,” Sister Teresa said. “They don’t want to leave anybody in their family who can’t write. They’re helping to teach everybody, helping them to reach at least sixth grade.”
Sister Teresa said the boarding school has already come to a harvest. Many of its graduates go on to colleges and universities – some in the United States – and have chosen careers in areas such as nursing, agricultural engineering, business, psychology, and agronomy.
“The most beautiful part of this is that we work with a team of volunteers who put their talents and gifts at the service of others,” including many Dominican Volunteers, Sister Teresa said. She invited Sisters throughout the world who are looking for an opportunity to be of service to spend some months or years in service at the Marie Poussepin Center. “We would receive you with open arms,” she said.
In concluding the webinar, Sister Durstyne noted that a fourth Dominican Sister – Sister Monica from Pakistan – was unable to join the webinar because of technological issues. “We thank our sisters for their personal stories in working with women’s empowerment,” Sister Durstyne said. “Your work reminds us that no woman must be left behind. May we continue to raise the voice and the power of women through the help of one another and the power of God.”