Encounters of hope: a path to social inclusion for migrants and refugees
In 2009, I was sitting on a bench in a migrant shelter in Mexico talking with a Honduran transgender woman. She reflected on her migration prospects, her doubts, fears and hopes. As the conversation progressed, I felt how I shared her own uncertainties, worries and fears, that deep down we had the same questions about how to move forward in our lives regardless of our nationality. We were just two women talking about our longings.
From that moment on, every conversation with migrant women has become a space to share, to grow, to find possible answers to our own uncertainties, finding empathy simply for being women.
I grew to understand that attentive listening is a powerful tool for understanding our needs and those of others. It is a starting point to help others to help themselves. If I listen, I can better understand how to help others. If I listen, I can act to promote and ensure inclusion. And, if I include, I am choosing to build peace through my actions.
“The only thing we want is to be included, I would not be here (in Mexico) if it were not for the fact that in my country I can no longer live […] we come to work, we want a place to live in peace.” As an advocate for the human rights of migrants and refugees, I have heard this phrase in all its forms. What would happen if we sat at the table to listen to each other and leave our nationalities at the door? What would happen if we took steps towards social inclusion without fear? Fear of the other is probably what paralyzes peace actions.
But how do we work on social inclusion in xenophobic, racist, and exclusionary host communities? Years later, life gave me the opportunity to work on this issue. Collaborative work between civil society, local governments, host communities and migrants, especially in Mexico City, resulted in the advancement of the Interculturality Law. Social programs and cultural actions focused on including and supporting migrants and refugees to access some of their rights. But this has not been enough as they continue to struggle every day to be recognized, to be included. The lack of a public policy focused on social inclusion is a debt we hold with migrants and refugees in Mexico.
Dreaming of working in the construction of social inclusion actions has led me to live one of the best experiences of my life – being a Rotary Peace Fellow with the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. Class 33 has been a gift of listening, understanding other contexts, listening to other accents, cultural encounters, learning about peace-building tools, and knowing that there are people working to make communities more just and supportive. This space gives me hope that building societies of solidarity is possible.
Irazú Gómez – México
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 33