Learning to Unlearn: JRS Ecuador School of Citizenship 2020

«I tell you your story, and you tell me mine. I realize who you are, and you realize who I am.»

One of the lines of action of our On the Borders of Colombia 2018-2021″ programme, is that we provide support to the displaced, refugees and returnee population through the promoting of peace and development in their host communities. It is a task that we carry out through training spaces, such as the «School of Citizenship and Rights» developed by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Ecuador.

This School, which has the academic endorsement of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE) and a ten year history, provides an annual training and experiential journey aimed at the population in situations of forced migration and members of the host communities.

The objective is to develop the capacities and abilities of one another and facilitate the implementation of actions at the local level, to improve the quality of life of people in a situation of internal displacement or refuge and of the inhabitants of the communities that welcome them.

It is a formative experience with positive results every year. Through dialogue and the collective construction of knowledge, the participants recognize themselves as human beings, understand their own life processes and decide to stand together for the recognition of their rights. Because we are all migrants: we move, we walk and we change. On our journey, we learn and teach our experiences to those we meet along the way.

The School was set to begin in March 2020, unfortunately the global COVID-19 pandemic broke out. At that moment, the JRS Ecuador team, aware that in the midst of a context of such fragility it was more important than ever to be close to people, got down to work and adapted the methodology to carry it out virtually.

In this way, between March and September 2020, the «School of Citizenship 2020 – Human Mobility and exercise of Human Rights» took place with the participation of people from Quito, Guayaquil, Tulcán, Esmeraldas, Lago Agrio and Huaquillas throughout six meetings. We emphasize personal encounters, address prejudices, and work to transcend individuality in favor of collective well-being and the exercise of basic human rights. Nelsy Lizarazo, a facilitator of one of the meetings, tells us with determination “I confirmed that, in any point in our lives, dreaming is possible”.

As a final act, we held a meeting in each territory, with all the relevant security measures and precautions, in which we bestowed each participant with a plant. The plant symbolizes life, which requires care and nurturing for its proper growth. Despite that it was the first year that it was carried out in a virtual environment, all the participants were very satisfied and grateful for their experiences. In the words of Angie Mesías, participant in the line of work in Juvenile Processes:

«Living in an intercultural space includes learning from others, understanding the knowledge of others. I learned to unlearn many things.»

«To me, the School of Citizenship is… freedom, empowerment, hope, growth, learning, interculturalism, development, strength, motivation, culture, fraternity»