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Let's Talk Human Rights

A Glimpse into Our Internships with Cristosal

By Yulianna Otero-Asmar ‘21, Hannah Gibson ‘22, Lauren Higgins ‘21 and Megan Kennedy ‘22

In El Salvador, human rights violations stemming from a long history of internal conflict and US-backed military repression have led to a country filled with social, economic and political instability. Cristosal is a non-governmental organization that works to promote human rights in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Four HRC interns, Hannah Gibson, Megan Kennedy, Yulianna Otero-Asmar and Lauren Higgins, worked virtually with Cristosal in El Salvador in Spring 2021 to support Cristosal’s efforts within and outside of the country. The cohort’s experiences demonstrate the work that goes into human rights organizations’ engagement in advocacy.

Hannah Gibson: North America External Relations and Communications Team

As a member of this team, I worked alongside Anna Olson, the only North America-based Cristosal employee who focuses on outreach and connections across boundaries. I began the semester by viewing a Facebook Live event that was held to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues within Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It included live music, speeches from a variety of Cristosal employees and volunteers, and the first look of a short film about transgender violence by a well-known Salvadorian director. The purpose was to raise awareness and promote fundraising, which set the course for the rest of my internship. 

Cristosal’s LGBTQ+ Justice program is still relatively new, so being involved with it this semester has taught me a great deal of transferable skills. I was given the opportunity to reach out to 100+ donors who attended and/or donated to Cristosal’s LGBTQ+ Justice program. I emailed each of them individually and was able to have many one-on-one conversations to gain a better understanding of Cristosal’s outreach. I compiled notes from all these conversations that Cristosal’s outreach team can use for creating successful fundraising opportunities. From this, we were able to host a smaller Zoom meeting to brainstorm ideas for fundraising and outreach throughout the United States. This semester I was also able to attend a class with Cristosal’s Global School specifically on LGBTQ+ rights and human rights tools used to combat this. Hate crimes towards the LGBTQ+ community in the Northern Triangle are occurring at high rates because of a lack of legal protection, employment opportunities, and healthcare for trans individuals. Homicide rates of LGBTQ+ individuals are so high it is considered an epidemic by the World Health Organization. These people are in dire need of state response to provide protection and solutions. LGBTQ+ people experience violence throughout their lives globally, but especially within Central America due to a social construction of hate. 

I loved getting to meet so many people who were passionate about these issues and who wanted to stay involved in whatever way possible. My time at Cristosal has been incredibly rewarding, and I hope to continue to stay involved. I have learned so much about human rights issues in El Salvador and the rest of the Northern Triangle of Central America, especially within the realm of LGBTQ+ justice. 

Megan Kennedy: North America External Relations and Communications Team

When I first got the internship at Cristosal I did not know what to expect. Ten weeks later, I could not ask for a better organization to be a part of. What I first loved about Cristosal was the commitment the staff had to their work. In every aspect of the nonprofit, you could tell every employee has a passion for human rights in Latin America. This devotion was especially present during our weekly meetings. I also embraced learning from Salvadorians themselves, because it gave us a closer insight into what was happening in El Salvador at the time.  

My main task was to create social media posts for Cristosal’s new English language Instagram. I learned many tips and tricks during this part of my internship. One big idea I had was the power of candy Instagram posts. These are posts nonprofits use to show the audience a more positive side that comes with the enjoyment of human rights. Often in marketing for human rights organizations, the content is heavy and often devastating to read. Incorporating a candy post alleviates some of the heaviness while still staying true and authentic to the organization’s mission. I used these posts to highlight the amazing culture and beauty of El Salvador.

My time at Cristosal has been rewarding and challenging all at the same time. Having the amazing support of the Human Rights Center and my cohort made this internship extremely rewarding. I was able to grow as a person and learn more than I could ever imagine while contributing to an amazing nonprofit. 

Yulianna Otero-Asmar: Research and Learning Team

As a member of this team, I worked on a research project as part of a larger program that seeks to combat impunity in El Salvador during the civil war and its aftermath. The program also seeks to increase public awareness of the connection between El Salvador’s internal conflict, and present-day violence and criminality in the country. For my research, I was interested in learning how young Salvadorans ages 18-25 perceive the current political situation in the country. My question was whether they perceive an increase in authoritarianism and how they connect present violence with past violence. With support from my supervisors, I drafted the proposal for the research and conducted five interviews through video chat and audio messages with young Salvadoran grassroots and community activists and organizers committed to human rights and social justice in El Salvador. I am currently set to write an article about my insights for the organization. Through this process, I learned about NGO processes to conduct, use, and disseminate data.

Listening to young Salvadoran activists was truly eye-opening. While I learned about their concerns for the future of the social and political state of their country and their feelings of increased insecurity and uncertainty, I also heard about their hopes and their perception of younger generations' commitment to new ideals and critical thinking regarding the government. As I move forward in my studies and my activism, I will definitely take with me the insights I gained from the Salvadoran youth and the intention to support their work from my own spaces.

Lauren Higgins: Regional Human Rights Monitoring Team

As part of this team, I contributed to research on the experiences of El Salvadoran people when they migrate to the U.S. Throughout my internship, I primarily focused on translating and editing a report titled “Forced Displacement in Northern Central America”. In this process, I learned so much about how displacement impacts young people in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. I read stories about people who had to move because of a strong gang presence in their neighborhood and others about children who were forced out of their schools because of threats made by gangs. 

I also supported Cristosal by doing research on U.S policies that were impacting those immigrating to and seeking refuge in the United States. One of the policies that I looked into is Title 42, created under the Trump Administration. The intent of this policy was to protect public health during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic; however, I learned that Title 42 was being misused. Since its creation, asylum seekers have been expelled from the border without due process. This policy has continued under the Biden Administration despite statements made by the United Nations declaring it a violation of human rights law.  I also located data on the Customs and Border Patrol website, which I found was really inaccessible. After spending hours looking for data on how many refugees were being detained at the border and how many people had been let into the United States this year, I came to the shocking realization that the inaccessibility of this information could be intentional. This information was so difficult for me to find and was not even available in Spanish or other languages. It reminded me how important it is to be critical of U.S. immigration policy regardless of who is president, and the importance of non-profits like Cristosal that can make information more accessible to the public.

I look forward to keeping in contact with Cristosal as they engage in a project that will create a dialogue between the people of Minneapolis and El Salvador on the topic of police violence.

Yulianna Otero-Asmar (2021) majored in Women’s and Gender Studies and Human Rights Studies, and completed a minor in Anthropology. Her area of interest is the impact of colonial and imperial violence from a feminist lens and she hopes to pursue graduate studies and support grassroots activist efforts in the future.

Lauren Higgins (2021) majored in Human Rights Studies and minored in Communication. Her area of interest is the impact of violence against women and hopes to work with women’s organizations in the future.

Hannah Gibson (2022) is a current Human Rights Studies major with a minor in Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment. Her areas of interest include LGBTQ+ equality such as job security and adoption equity, environmental issues, food insecurity, and supporting grassroots organizations.

Megan Kennedy (2022): Megan Kennedy is a current International Studies major with a minor in Political Science, International Business, and Spanish. Her areas of interest include Latin American studies, immigration, and human rights.

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