Nica-Costa Rican Awarded for Work with Migrants & Refugees

Vicenta Gonzalez

Vicenta Gonzalez, the first Nicaraguan to receive the award, has become an example to follow in Upala as a leader among migrants and refugees.

By Katherine Estrada Tellez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The work of Vicenta Gonzalez, a 74-year-old Nicaraguan resident of Upala, Costa Rica, will be recognized with the Nansen Refugee Regional Award for the Americas, a prestigious award given by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to individuals and groups for their service and work with refugees. For the first time this honor is in Costa Rica and Gonzalez and is the first Nicaraguan to receive it.

“The award is a recognition of the exceptional work on behalf of refugees, refugee applicants and for her historic work in the protection and empowerment of women in the northern zone of Costa Rica, regardless of their nationality or immigration status,” UNHCR states in a press release.

Since 2017, the Nansen Program has also recognized a regional winner from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa, who are selected among hundreds of nominees, the statement elaborated.

Gonzalez, a nationalized Costa Rican, is a native of Rivas, Nicaragua, and emigrated to Costa Rica more than fifty years ago. Since then, she settled in the community of Villa Hermosa in the canton of Upala, a cross-border community located in the north of Costa Rica’s Alajuela province, which borders with Nicaragua.

Her service to local communities, refugee seekers and refugees in northern Costa Rica has transcended for its scope over time, particularly after 2018, when in the wake of Nicaragua’s sociopolitical crisis, more than 200,000 people left the country seeking refuge in Costa Rica, and many of them migrated illegally passing through border cantons, such as Upala.

Gonzalez, as a community leader, has help newly arrived refugee applicants to integrate themselves, providing them with food or the guidance that they need. As a women’s rights defender, she has also helped women fleeing from domestic violence to find a livelihood and seek independence.

In 2015, Gonzalez founded AMECUP (Women’s Association of the Communities of Upala), made up of Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans working in cacao production with the well-known brand Cacaotica.

“Women here often suffer violence because they do not even have enough money to go to the center (of the city) to get a small bag of milk, so I wanted to create a space where women would come and earn one day’s work and bring sustenance to their homes, without depending on anyone but themselves,” Gonzales told Confidencial last March, when she was one of the protagonists of the report The Women of Cacaotica: “I dreamed one day to have a cacao project.”

Gonzalez will be awarded this October 10th in Geneva, Switzerland, along with other regional winners such as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who won the global prize of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR said that during her stay in Geneva, “Doña Vicenta,” as she is known in the community, will have the opportunity to meet with people with great influence at the diplomatic and business level, which will allow her to strengthen her project and provide greater projection to her work at the national, regional, and international level.

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