I’m living the 9:00-5:00 life, except I work 10:00-6:00. Sorry for the slightly misleading title.

From leaving my house in the morning to returning home in the evenings my day usually ends up being about 11 hours. Piecing things together, 2 of those 11 hours are spent thinking and sweating in the metro. One hour is spent walking around before work. That magically number 8 is left. I don’t know who decided to standardize the 8 hour work day but here I am in Mexico City very much melding to the norm. I know from hearing experiences of friends, going through the discernment process, and the orientation process that YAGMs often look less structured, less business oriented, less… 9:00-5:00. Yet YAGMs are living in very urban settings with very traditional looking jobs. We exist. Sometimes it’s just a little harder to see how we fit into this whole global mission by accompaniment ideology. Anyway, I digress.

I arrive in my decently casual attire and greet those already in the office with cheek kisses and Buenos días, cómo estás?  Maybe some tea or coffee, a quick decision of a Spotify playlist and ya, estoy lista. Such starts the day at ProDESC, I’m just one of team beginning to tackle the impressive amount of work in their respective areas.

ProDESC, we translate as Project of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, is a human rights organization based in DF and working for the human rights of Mexico (not Latin America in general, the focus stays on Mexico). Sounds pretty straight forward, but if you’re like me you actually couldn’t give a solid definition of what human rights are.

I’m just beginning to grasp what is meant by human rights given my experience as US American was infused with issues of civil and social rights instead. Very different contexts. The human rights, namely the DESC (Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights) are ProDESC’s bread and butter. What distinguishes ProDESC from other human rights orgs is the focus on the defense of these rights, rather than promoting them, for example. By providing free legal and organizational assistance to communities facing severe violations of their human rights, ProDESC accompanies these communities and helps enforce legality against corrupt powers in order to bring about justice. I know it’s wordy and lofty.  Here are some more concrete facts that may help paint a better picture:

  • ProDESC’s team is comprised of 18 bad-ass, brilliant, inspiring, grounded, and determined people. From lawyers to administrative assistants, ProDESC’s team works with a focused goal and carries with them immense, diverse experiences. Simply to be learning from them is an honor.
    • E.g. our executive director, Alejandra Ancheita, last year received the Martin Ennals Award, in international prize which is the equivalent of the Nobel for human rights defenders. Have the time for a very informative video? Check her out. She also a warm person, an incredible writer, and an inspiring feminist.
  • The focus is on accompaniment. ProDESC does not go and do all the work for the communities. The purpose is give new knowledge and logistical and/or legal tools so that the communities are empowered to enforce their own rights to their land, territory, labor conditions, etc. These are exemplified in cases we accompany against Canadian mining companies, Spanish wind energy companies, and the iffy US H2 visa program.
  • The team visits the communities regularly, press conferences are held, Alejandra speaks at many events (local, national and international)… it’s an active little place for being small.
  • The English site has been neglected, but it does have decent information on it if you’re curious. prodesc.org.mx/en. Or if you read Spanish, www.prodesc.org.mx.

Later in the year I’ll continue to post about ProDESC and the floundering condition of Mexico’s human rights.

Here’s some facts about me at ProDESC:

  • I’m a communications volunteer. So on any given day I could be working on newsletters, updating the websites (hoping for more time to do this soon), translating documents, writing new presses, working with our social media, etc.
  • I’m learning a whole bunch of legal jargon. In Spanish and therefore English, since I translate a lot.
  • I participate in long meetings—like four hours long. During these I face the daunting task of 1) trying to understand/keep up with the Spanish, which is exhausting, 2) relate what they’re saying to my particular communications area, and 3) stay awake.
    • My understanding has been improving, I’m happy to report.
  • I’m learning how to translate quickly. I’m less than proud of my speaking skills but my comprehension of technical documents is sky rocketing and that’s something to hold onto.
    • I’m living success by success (with a whole lot of “failures” in the mix). You gotta hold on to anything you can some days, for example: “today I squeezed onto the metro in the smallest space. I believe it was a feat of physics,” or “today I was told I didn’t have an accent when I said está bien!”
  • I’m the youngest person by at least 5 years and know the least amount of Spanish but they still embrace me, are patient with me, take the time to teach/explain things to me, and laugh with me.
    • A lot of people at work know, or at least understand, English. I speak in English with two people here and there but the large majority of every workday is totally in Spanish.

My YAGM year is providing me with definite professional experience. Working in a small Mexican NGO that has an impressive methodology and track record is giving me insight into how to bring about systemic change. It may be different than I anticipated but it is proving to be so valuable, inspiring, and educational.

Here’s to my first year of human rights work!