USCRI Chooses to Challenge: Statement on International Women’s Day

By USCRI March 8, 2021

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” Every day, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) unwaveringly commits to challenging gender inequality in all of the work we do with refugees, immigrants and other vulnerable people worldwide.

For this year, however, we would like to recognize the indomitable courage of the girls and young women we serve in our shelter for unaccompanied children (UC) located in Florida. Rinconcito del Sol, “a little corner of sunshine”, provides a short-term temporary home for up to 141 girls from 13-17 who have shown up at our southern border. The girls have travelled alone from the countries known as the Northern Triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—in a perilous and terrifying journey to escape the crushing poverty, relentless violence, and unending insecurity they have experienced all of their young lives.

At Rinconcito del Sol, we hear their stories. Their painful truths are expressed sometimes in words and other times in the powerfully moving art they produce in the classes we provide as  part of their educational curriculum. Sometimes their fury is expressed on the playing fields during their sports classes—the violent kick of the soccer ball or the ferocious pounding of the volleyball. Our staff have seen enough girls to be able to detect the nuanced ways in which they externalize the trauma they have suffered in their home countries, on their journey to the U.S. and in their arrival at the border.

What we also see is the remarkable courage and incredible resilience of these girls and young women. They arrive unaccompanied at our border and, despite their trauma, have the same hopes and dreams of girls and young women everywhere. They want an education. They want to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, hairdressers, chefs and actors. They want to help their families and live lives of purpose and meaning. Most of all, they want to stop being afraid. They want to stop being afraid of not having enough to eat, of being physically harmed, and of being a prisoner of an outdated gender role that denies them opportunities.

Our approach to caring for the girls is to acknowledge the pain they have suffered, treat the symptoms of that pain, and build on the strength and resilience they carry with them on their journey to a new life.

At Rinconcito del Sol, USCRI has created an environment that begins the process of empowerment for the girls and young women who have endured untold hardships to reimagine their lives in the U.S. From the infrastructure we have built that reflects a home-like atmosphere to the classes and extracurricular activities of any school-age child, we provide a first sense of normalcy for the girls and young women. Our staff works to find innovative ways to give them back a piece of their childhood such as bringing in dogs for the girls to play with and enjoy like children everywhere.

Our physical and mental health care focuses on building strong bodies and strong minds that will help them face the challenges of their new lives ahead. We have put together a little store for the girls to “purchase” items using coupons for good grades and other achievements. The shelter offers art and sewing classes, another way in which the girls can express themselves productively. And in one hallway, there is a tree with the names and photos of accomplished women, from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Congresswoman Lois Frankel, who visited the shelter last year, calling it “worthy of America.”

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, we at USCRI will raise our hand and re-commit ourselves to challenging gender inequality through our work at Rinconcito del Sol and everywhere girls and women are reimagining their lives.

* Artwork created by one of the girls staying at USCRI’s Rinconcito del Sol as part of their art therapy program.

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