The crisis unfolding on the US-Mexico border is not new. It is the result of a decades-long neglect of an oppressed and impoverished community. This community is composed of “migrants,” whose circumstances have caused them to migrate north from southern Mexico and Central America, and of “deportees,” who have been returned south by deportation from the United States. Millions of people fit one or the other of these profiles, and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, fit both. The community of migrants and deportees is bound together not by common location, but rather by common experience (forced migration), by the interlocking relationships of millions of extended family trees, and by modern communications technologies like Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Migrants from the south today are commonly fleeing criminal violence, political corruption and persecution, unproductive fields due to climate change, and severely limited opportunities for advancement via work or education. At present there are over 10,000 migrants on the list maintained by Mexican authorities, waiting in Tijuana for an initial asylum hearing with US officials. These people – many entire families, many single women with children and many unaccompanied minor children – do not immediately have access to traditional work opportunities in Mexico.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of deportees from the United States have arrived in Tijuana, many having never before set foot in the city. Many have chosen to remain so that they would be within driving distance of their families in the southwest United States. This population includes many single men, but also single women, and women with children, almost all members of “mixed-status” and “binational” extended families.
There is opportunity in Tijuana. The city is known for full employment, with job offerings abundant. As these new arrivals join the peripheral neighborhoods of the city, they need a pathway to become participants in establishing community – safe places where they can work and their children can go to school and/or be connected to their families living on the US side. They need support services to deal with the trauma they have experienced as well as case management to secure the paperwork that is needed to establish permanent residence and work eligibility in Mexico. They need support to secure a livelihood and way forward. Via has worked in Baja California communities for over 40 years, developing with the residents a model of community development that supports people to be their own best resource, engaged with others to make a good life.
In 2020 Via International launched an initiative to engage with the Tijuana-based expression of this large, transnational community. We called this initiative VIA MIGRANTE. Our goal is to take the lessons learned from our decades of experience in sustainable community development, and transport the lessons learned into the context of this new population. We knew this community was different from those we had served before, because it was a floating, often unstable, population that could not be organized in any single colonia or barrio. Even still, we knew that the proven principles of sustainable community development could be of service to this unique population.
Via International supports long term community development initiatives to establish safe, strong and self-sustaining communities. Through a process of self-determination, participants self-select to be involved in different levels of programming and may access those individual components that are most meaningful to their individual process. Every effort is made to promote self-reliance while providing opportunities for full community participation.
PHASE I: HEALTH AND FOOD SECURITY
During stays in the shelters and/or once housing is secured, participants determined to stay in Tijuana will be afforded the opportunity to participate in a program that Via has hosted in Tijuana for decades: Family Health & Food Security. This integrated community development program builds on basic human needs: the need for adequate nutrition and the need to build community. This inclusive process engages community members in activities that have social, economic and environmental impact in their lives, and includes methods of participatory evaluation that demonstrate these impacts to the participants themselves.
PHASE II: MICROCREDIT
Graduates of the Family Health & Food Security program are invited to form a “solidarity group,” in which participants agree to take collective responsibility for a micro-loan supporting entrepreneurial initiatives designed by each individual. Payments are made weekly. Each participant also contributes every week to a savings pool, the amount is determined by the group and at the end of a cycle the savings can be gifted to a member by lots or held for an annual savings pool determination by the group. Learn more about Via’s Microcredit program.
- at a community center for deportees called Madres y Familias Deportadas en Acción
- at a migrant shelter called Casa de Luz, based in Playas de Tijuana
- at another shelter called Juventud 2000, based in central Tijuana
At each of these locations there are teams of people who have taken leadership in providing basic but nutritious meals to the most vulnerable members of their own communities. In different ways at each location, we have connected these teams of leaders to support from Via staff based in Tijuana, and from “promotoras” affiliated with our sister organization, Los Niños de Baja California.
Guaranteeing the right to food!
As a consequence of the current health contingency, there is an immediate need for basic support , To support the proper nutrition of vulnerable families, Via’s promotoras are delivering weekly DESPENSAS, or food packages. As of March, 2021, more than 500 despensas have been distributed to migrant shelters and deported community centers under the guidelines established by the health authorities to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
A typical Via despensa!
NUTRIECOLOGY Classes both virtually and in-person are been giving to Migrant Communities and Deported Mothers. Providing valuable information that the participants will pass along to their families
Participants are offered basic knowledge of nutrition, preparation of nutritious and inexpensive dishes and it also promotes the acquisition of ecological habits aimed at the conservation and care of the environment, as well as community participation and interaction.
A virtual workshop in “nutri-ecología”!
Via’s methodology of popular education ensures a simple, comfortable and friendly platform for learning that does not require a high level of technical knowledge. The easy to follow instructions provided by Via’s promotoras make it possible to provide a great deal of information!
- A great promoter who explains very well the cooking procedures and especially the nutrition that helps us in our health and in our budget for our families. A new recipe that I learned was very healthy and delicious. - Griselda Reyes
- What I liked about the class is the preparation and knowing what seasonings the soy needs to taste good. The sauce was spot on! and the explanation of macro and micro nutrients was very informative. - Isabel Hernandez
- It was a class where we went over information about macronutrients and where to found them. We also saw the Healthy Eating Plate information. It has been a great class and made us aware of how to eat healthy - Karen Juarez
- Today we saw and learned about vitamins and proteins, macro and micronutrients and where to found them, there was also an activity to reinforce the subject. - Rebeca Padilla
- Today I learned how to make delicious chickpea quesadillas. Thank you Teacher for your knowlendge! -Rebeca Venegas
Basic support services for arrivals are provided by the network of shelters, strung along the border fence in central Tijuana. Most of these shelters provide the basic humanitarian services of lodging and food, but little more. Via International is collaborating with these and other organizations to establish safe community for newly arrived migrants and deportees. Our Via Migrante initiative will provide a way forward for people who determine to stay in Tijuana and, like so many before them, become a part of the border community.
Via’s Community Development initiative supports leaders promoting sustainable community development in the California/Baja California border region. Our responsive and inclusive approach supports a wide range of programs, always and everywhere designed by local leaders who are best positioned to know the needs of their communities.
Via supports local engagement as a participatory process in which individuals identify community needs and organize themselves to take the actions necessary to improve quality of life. It is not a linear process but a “caracol de desarrollo” or spiral of development that advances and retreats both individually and collectively. Slow and inclusive, integrated community development values patience, persistence and respect, and helps build paths to self-reliance in under-resourced communities.
We are proud to collaborate with a host of dynamic local partners oriented to a long-term commitment to addressing complex socioeconomic challenges and working toward community level solutions.