It all began in a Visitation history classroom. During Global Patterns I, Marianna Bonilla '21 thought about her passion for photography - how much a photograph can make an impact. When asked at the end of the class what they could do to make a difference in the world, Marianna had her answer - photos. She photographed children at a soccer camp in Colombia, where her family is from, that summer.
The next year, in Honors European History, Marianna interviewed Reza, a National Geographic photographer of migrants and refugees, for a class project. "That interview changed how I viewed photography," she said. Working with a priest, she photographed Venezuelan refugees in Villa Caracas, a temporary, poverty-stricken settlement in Colombia. When she photographed the children, despite the challenges they face every day, they smiled. "You could see the bravery and hope in their eyes," wrote Marianna in a blog post.
Th experience gave Marianna a cause. She fundraised at Esprit with classmate Sara Manzano-Davila for Villa Caracas, selling bracelets while Sara sold artwork. Then Covid-19 hit, and she wanted to do more.
"I've always been interested in migration," Marianna said. She spoke with the janitorial staff after school, with the children at Villa Caracas, with families at VAMOS tutoring. "Their stories are going unheard." The organization "Voices of Migrants" came from that - a platform that would allow her and her classmates to share the stories of migrants and educate others, elevating the cause and effecting change.
"Voices of Migrants" interviews immigrants and hosts webinars to share their stories. Their letter writing campaign allows for a pen-pal relationship with a child in Colombia, so you can hear their stories. The team - comprised of seniors Marianna, Sara, Rose Schosinski, Annie Paxton, Carolina Permuy, and Carolina Zubler - write blog posts to educate on immigration issues, voice opinions, and share their own stories.
They've been able to connect over social media with other organizations, often led by young women in high school as well, to focus on the intersection of their platforms. They hosted a webinar this year on climate change and how that has impacted refugees and migrants - how that's a reason people immigrate from their countries, explained Annie.
Their work impressed Don Steinberg of the Mobilizing Men as Partners for Women, Peace and Security organization, who recently awarded "Voices of Migrants" a $5,000 award to expand the platform (the 2020 “Distinguished Partner for Women, Peace and Security Award”). Marianna shared they plan to donate half of the award to Villa Caracas and use the remaining funds to focus on the global letter-writing campaign and providing supplies to migrants. She is also thinking of opening an online shop to help raise funds, featuring photography, bracelets, and art for purchase.
They also have applied for another small grant to help the team develop a part of the site to be a resources for migrants and partner with other organizations to provide mentors, online tutoring, and other important information.
"For me [Voices of Migrants has] been a real learning experience and one I'm grateful to have," said Annie. "What the refugee project did for me is open my eyes, but then I was able to see the side of an issue that isn't covered in a textbook. It made it more concrete for me."