TSF Comms team: Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Abril Rayas, I’m part of the team in Mexico. We work with the migrants’ screens here. I’ve been in TSF for 3 years – almost 3 years – and I have a 3 month-old baby, a dog, a cat; I’m not alone in that. Not a single mom! (laughs)
TSF Comms team: How did you come to work in the humanitarian sector, for TSF?
Abril: So, I went to a Jesuit University, so I had this type of education where there was a lot of emphasis on the injustices in the world, and how some people are born with a lot of privilege, what we can do professionally to mitigate that gap between opportunities amongst different populations.
When I graduated, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to either open a shelter for little girls, or I wanted to adopt a lot of kids… I ended up going to Sierra, here in Mexico in a reserve, and working to protect jaguars. And I loved it. I lived in the middle of nowhere, we had barely internet access, I was in charge of communications there, and I felt like my work mattered. However, the people I worked with were not very humane! And that was very unexpected to me. I thought that working for a good cause made you be very aware of how to treat your people right, and that was not the case. So I was very disappointed in that, and I ended up coming back to the city and getting the most corporate job in the world.
I was working at a consulting firm, and I worked with brands like Starbucks, Mercedes Benz, Pizza Hut… And I really enjoyed the storytelling aspect, because I worked in marketing, but I was in an internal conflict for many years because I didn’t see how we would contribute to the world getting better, it was actually the opposite – we were contributing to more consumerism, more people feeling like they weren’t enough and trying to fill that in consuming the products. And it was very effective. So, I… left.
"I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not contributing in some way. I feel like there’s something lacking."
I left right prior to COVID. Around the time I worked in corporate, I always had one foot in volunteering, because I felt like… I was managing campaigns with thousands of dollars, to try to get publicity, and going to work with migrants, which is what I did here in Guadalajara in one of the shelters, helped me keep my feet on the ground. Helped me see how there were people crossing the entire country with five dollars, and how that was possible and that was dire to them. That was the only choice they had. So, that was very helpful.
So when I decided to take that turn of events, I noticed that there was a vacancy here [at TSF], and I was kind of a perfect fit! Because it was working with migrants, which was the type of volunteerism that I had been doing, and it was communications skills and storytelling, which is what I’ve been doing in corporate.
So that’s how I ended up here. And since I’ve done that, I feel a bigger sense of an inner congruence that I had before.
TSF Comms team: When did you decide to become a humanitarian worker? Was there a moment?
Abril: I think yes, and it goes way back. I grew up in Canada – I was born in Mexico, but I grew up in Canada. And life was very simple there. There was no inequality – I mean, I was a kid, but there was no inequality, there was no machismo. And when I came back, it was a very big shock. I came back when I was 12 or 13 years old, and it was shocking to me how people could get used to these levels of poverty and go on with their lives.
It’s also a family matter: my mom has always been… she’s an educator, and when she was young, when she was around my age, she would open education centers in parts of the city that were completely unattended, where kids did not have access to education. And my dad works at the Jesuit college, so… It’s been part of my identity since I can remember. It’s not that I want – I would love to change the world, but it’s more of a ‘I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not contributing in some way. I feel like there’s something lacking.’.
TSF Comms team: Could you in a few sentences explain the context of the project you’re working on – what needs does your mission answer?
Abril: Ok, so we all work with connecting people in crisis, in Mexico and in the Latin American region. Migration is considered an ongoing crisis because we have thousands of people leaving their homes, year after year, the number of people leaving is only getting bigger. And what we do is try to give them information so that they’re not walking around in the dark. Many of them go to the shelters that are set up by different organizations along the road, from Guatemala to the US, and we place key information in those shelters so that they know what routes are safer, what their rights are, what the Mexican government and authorities can and can’t do to them, how to do the process legally, if possible, how to find work… We’re trying to give them information that they’re not necessarily going to find on social media, which is where they spend most of the time, but that can have the biggest positive impact in their lives as possible.
TSF Comms team: What does your job entail?
Abril: So I started as a support to the person that was designing content for the screens. So we did… You know, how to make these huge Word documents more attractive, in a format that migrants can actually read and listen to. That was what I’ve been doing for the past year and half, but this year I’m moving more towards… I love making systems. I’m very nerdy, and I love creating systems that people use. So Armando, my superior, noticed that, and he put me in a role where I’m making sure that the project is on schedule. There was a slight visibility issue, because people on the ground were working on one thing, and the mission required other things. And that wasn’t a problem, because people on the ground were working on things we needed, but there was no way to really unite them, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m working on monitoring and project evaluation.
I have hope that the day-to-day work that we’re doing is eventually going to contribute to a change.
TSF Comms team: What do you love about your job?
Abril: Making systems. I love the fact that we have so much to do, and it can be very overwhelming, and through the right methodology, we can get it all done. Like, efficiency is something I find very sexy (laughs). Making systems, it’s project management. It depends on platforms – right now, we’re on a pilot project using Monday, but we also use Google Drive, Excel… It’s just a lot of brainstorming, a lot of sessions within the group, to make sure that what people are working on is in line with what we want for that month, for that week, for that day, so we don’t get lost in giving priority to things that aren’t really necessary at that moment.
TSF Comms team: What is the biggest challenge you face?
Abril: There’s two. One is ideological, and one is in the day-to-day. In the day-to-day, trying to get people to buy into using my systems is hard, because everyone has their own system. So I have to do a lot of convincing there, and I have to make sure that they work, because you can’t change someone’s habits if the alternative you’re proposing isn’t going to help.
And that applies as well to the content we’re exposing the migrants to. I mean, we can have the most accurate format, but if it’s not attractive to them, they’re not going to listen. So it goes both within the team and also with the beneficiaries that we’re working with.
Ideologically, I feel sometimes a little bit of despair, because… we’re doing the best we can to help a crisis, but the bigger players in this context still don’t want to help them out. So they’re pretty stuck. Right now – a bit of local context – the US was admitting a different type of procedure for migrants to cross the border. They’re making it harder every day, and that makes me feel despair, because I know the situation they’re in, and they’re trying to avoid it, they’re trying to look somewhere else.
TSF Comms team: This must be hard. So, do you go on the field? (Abril: Yes.) And do people share their experiences with you? (Abril nods.) That must be difficult.
Abril: Yes. It’s also, though, the most gratifying part of the project. Because it’s very easy to get lost in the office, being just one more office member and going to work. But when you go in the field and you talk to the people that are using the tool that you’re working on, and you see the impact. I mean, I’ve had teenaged mothers letting us know that they decided to apply for asylum with their 9 month-old kid after watching the content on the screens. That’s what makes it worthwhile.
TSF Comms team: So far, what has been the most memorable experience in your humanitarian career?
Abril: There’s many. I think the recent trip that I did to the North of Mexico to see the conditions in which people are migrating, it made me realize how desperate the situation is, and it was also hope-giving to me, because they were talking about the content that they were seeing. But it’s… it’s an ugly sight. It’s an ugly sight to see so many people sleeping outside of a shelter because there’s no more room for them, and then the shelter volunteers being like “We’d love to have you in, but you just don’t fit”. It’s a tough scene to watch. But it’s also super human.
TSF Comms team: What motivates you to keep going as a humanitarian worker?
Abril: I have hope that the day to day work that we’re doing is eventually going to contribute to a change, in the bigger scope of things. I hope that the more people hear the message that no human being is illegal, the more they’re going to understand it and make it their own. Right now we’re living in a context that says the contrary. It says that if you’re “illegal”, usually in the United States, you’re not allowed in. But we’re all part of the same Mother Earth! And we’re just – we’re lucky enough or unlucky enough to be born somewhere. So… I hope that changes within my lifetime.
"When you go in the field and you talk to the people that are using the tool that you’re working on, and you see the impact (...), that’s what makes it worthwhile."