The Volcanic Women – Activism from Exile

An interview with Heyling Marenco and Ximena Castilblanco, co-founders of the Volcanicas, based in Costa Rica

A women’s collective uses its online platform to tell the stories of Nicaraguan migrants, exiles and those displaced.

By Katherine Estrada Tellez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – It’s 10:00 a.m. in San Jose, Costa Rica. Ximena Castilblanco and Heyling Marenco are meeting to plan the work agenda and give a few last touches to the script for the latest episode of their podcast.

They meet at one of their homes and communicate via video with the other young women to decide what topics to cover. Once that’s defined, they go into action, with digital recorders in hand and the Zoom platform active.

These young Nicaraguan women started a collective they call “Las Volcanicas”. Like tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, they had to leave their country due to the socio-political crisis that broke out in 2018.  They were forced to flee, since they’d been involved in the protests against the Ortega-Murillo regime.

They arrived in Costa Rica, and after they managed to get settled, they decided to continue with their activism. They wanted to serve the populations that they now formed part of.

Since November 2018, the twelve women involved in the collective have worked to create presentations about the forced displacement, migration and exile of Central American and Caribbean women. Ten members of the collective live in Costa Rica; one is in Spain, and one in the United States.

In Nicaragua, they were university students and activists who took part in social movements and feminist groups. They’re communicators, sociologists, psychologists, social workers and lawyers who discovered that they shared many ideas. They decided to form a group and create a safe space for women.

They’d been through training programs for young exiled Nicaraguans, held at the University of Costa Rica. Every Thursday, before beginning their work session, they meet for an interchange of experiences they’ve had while forcibly displaced. They also discuss the obstacles they’ve been facing in the new country. In this way, they accompany each other in the pain of exile and develop shared solutions for their economic needs.

A virtual platform for women by women

The Collective was born to make women like themselves more aware of their rights. They want to target women who’ve had difficulty accessing these rights, because they’re refugees and immigrants.

For over two years, they’ve worked to create a virtual platform for migrant women, where they present different stories through podcasts, short films and discussions.

In addition to reflecting the realities that women are experiencing, they also tackle topics of mental health, sexual and reproductive health, violence, machismo, education, the economy and empowerment.

“In Costa Rica, the topic of women’s immigration seemed like something very distant. Many of us weren’t accessing health or education services. Some of us young women who were expelled couldn’t finish our careers, nor were we able to access [further] education,” says Heyling Marenco. She was referring to the students who were expelled from their Nicaraguan universities for participating in the protests against the government.

A podcast about immigration

Despite all their limitations, the Volcanicas have produced a podcast series. It’s called Furia Volcanica [“Volcanic Fury”], and they created it in collaboration with the group Managua Furiosa. It can be heard on Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Up until now, they’ve finished two seasons, a total of 17 episodes. These have served as a means of reflection and dialogue for many immigrant women and their families.

They don’t have a recording studio or sophisticated equipment, but they make up for this with the time and effort they put into portraying the lives of women like themselves. “From the beginning, the cellphone has been our principal tool,” recounts Ximena Castilblanco, cofounder of the Volcanicas.

The series Furia Volcanica won the third edition of the Digital Innovation Award, offered by the Public Freedoms branch of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. “For us, in exile, it was a great achievement,” Castilblanco recalls.

The collective has also produced two short films: “Marite” and “Gabriela”, which have received recognition and honors in Costa Rica and Central America. “We’ve learned about other situations, like the stories of the women who emigrated to Costa Rica thirty years ago. Like us, they fled the country within a similar context (..) they suffered persecution,” Marenco comments.

The goal is for The Volcanicas to be a safe space where they can connect with more women, to make their problems and denunciations known, and to offer them tools and solutions.

Their experience motivated them to take new initiatives in social activism, despite the limitations imposed by exile. These young Nicaraguans want to serve as a link between the communities of women immigrants in different places, so that they can feel support and be visible to one another. “We wish to let the women immigrants know that they’re no longer alone,” they conclude.

Read more from Nicaragua here.