In Leon, a department in northwest Nicaragua, we visited the Centro Mary Barreda. Here they do amazing work supporting and protecting girls and women survivors of sexual violence and that have contracted HIV, as well as running educational prevention programmes in schools for children and teachers.
Nearly two years ago Amnesty International visited the centre to listen to the girls talk about their experiences, in particular what they experienced when they sought assistance, refuge and protection from the state.
We visited Mary Barreda to thank the girls for their amazing bravery in sharing their stories with us, and to demonstrate just how powerful their words have been. They have moved people in governments and international institutions as well as ordinary people all over the world to take action and demand justice and end sexual violence.
It was wonderful to be able to report back to the girls and the staff in the centre on all the action taken, and to hear how they feel about the expressions of solidarity, support and accompaniment, that their words have provoked.
Survivors kept telling us how “reconfortante”, heart-warming, encouraging, or in a way, strength-giving it was that so many people who had not even met them, heard their words and believed them.
A particular highlight was sharing the pictures of the amazing events in the UK, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, and many other countries, where boys, girls, men and women have been designing their own butterflies to send to girls and women in Nicaragua, along with the butterflies from Amnesty's campaign of course, which are now decorating one of the rooms at the centre where group sessions with the girls and women take place. The huge banner that was created by activists from AI Norway at a jazz festival went down (up!) amazingly well.
The girls told us that a butterfly for them symbolised happiness, freedom and transformation.
We all designed our own butterflies and some of the girls and women made butterflies with their own personal messages for the presidential candidates, which we will be delivering later on in the week.
The girls are demanding that the candidates listen to their voices, break the silence around sexual violence and make strong commitments to protect women and girls' rights to live free of violence and fear.