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April 2012: Building Dignity in San José, Costa Rica

posted Apr 30, 2012, 4:38 PM by Henrik Mitsch   [ updated Jan 27, 2013, 8:50 AM ]
2012 is off to a good start for Building Dignity! With programming moving full speed ahead in Lima, we have begun to reach out to like-minded non-profit organizations, build new partnerships, and expand our impact. Upon completing her graduate degree in August 2011, Building Dignity Director Emily Hedin moved to San José, Costa Rica for a year with the goal of expanding her skill set and leadership abilities before returning to Lima, Peru to resume her full-time work at the Center. In San José, she is networking with successful nonprofits, learning from their experiences, and improving Building Dignity programming by implementing our curriculum in new communities. Since February 2012, Emily has partnered with the local "Boy with a Ball" Foundation ( to organize youth leadership workshops for young women in the community of Triangulo de la Solidaridad.

Newsletter April 2012 Picture 1
Like La Encantada (Lima), the community of Triangulo de la Solidaridad faces daunting challenges. In this neighborhood, about 1,500 squatters—the vast majority of them undocumented immigrants from Nicaragua—live on 3 acres of land. Families in communities such as Triangulo de la Solidaridad occupy unstable homes with dirt floors, and 50% of households lack access to treated water. Most families make less than $200 a month, and the average individual drops out of school between the 3rd and 6th grade.

With the help of the Boy with a Ball Foundation, which has worked in Triangulo de la Solidaridad since 2004, Building Dignity is implementing its Youth Leadership curriculum with a dynamic group of 15 young women. Each week, the girls gather in the Foundation’s community center for an afternoon of activities that cultivate teamwork, self-esteem, self-expression, and leadership.

Newsletter April 2012 Picture 2We began in February with an engaging reflection on human rights in the area. The girls "measured the human rights temperature" of their community and identified where and how the protection of human rights could be improved. During the month of March, we celebrated women’s rights and the rich history of women leaders in Latin America and around the world. We also examined how women are portrayed in the media and discussed how we’d like to see that image changed. We are now focusing on service and leadership, as the girls work to design a community service project in Triangulo de la Solidaridad.

According to workshop participants, the project provides a space where they can "integrate, share, and learn new things." The workshops are "good, because it is something we can identify with as girls."

Back in Lima, leadership workshops continue to help young women find their voice and contribute to positive social change. Claudia, a member of the Lima-based “Voices of Youth” program writes:

I participate in leadership workshops at the Center for Development with Dignity, and there I feel strong and capable because [the Center] is connected to my community. Before, the neighbors were not so organized or concerned. Now, through meetings with young people and neighbors, the Center has made it possible for us to develop the will and desire to move forward as a community and as individuals. I believe that I have found a very special place for me and my community.

The young women of Triangulo de la Solidaridad and La Encantada have exchanged letters and souvenirs from their communities, offering one another encouragement and support on their journey. For us at Building Dignity, it is a privilege to watch their natural leadership grow.

Building Dignity would like to thank and acknowledge the University of Minnesota’s Center for Human Rights. The human rights curriculum “This is my Home” inspired several activities that we incorporate into our own work.