Guest blog by Arjos Vendrig, International Project Officer COC Nederland

Meeting the LGBT community in person is really inspiring. I travelled to Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and saw their pride, warmth, and boldness.

Responsible staff at the partner organisations of the Bridging the Gaps alliance visit the in-country work once or twice a year. But what is actually happening during these country visits and what is the added value of implementing them? In this diary I flag some of the things I encountered during my last visit to Central America. During the trip, I visited three Bridging the Gaps partners and investigated a potential ally in the lobby work.

Sunday 27th of October: Increased visibility of LGBT in Panama

In Panama, we visit the organisation AHMNP (Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá). The organisation is active since ten years, and has been organising the annual LGBT Pride Parade for nine years. In our conversation we hear many examples of their voice and rights being neglected mostly in an inexplicit way. The last couple of years, they perceive a change for the better though. AHMNP relates this to the enlarged participation in the annual Pride Parade, from a few hundred to over 1,500 participants. Because of increased visibility, it is harder to ignore the rights of the LGBT community.

Monday 28th October: Filming in Costa Rica

Today, we do the filming of a short movie related to the work of our partner CIPAC in Costa Rica, which is hard to catch in only three minutes. However, it is wonderful to see the community members daring to express what they encounter in Costa Rica’s health system.

Tuesday 29th of October: Real-life contact with CIPAC

Today is a day of meetings with CIPAC, to discuss the planning for 2014 and prepare the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) training planned for early 2014. Skype and email are wonderful tools to communicate with our partner eight hours to the west… But real contact time makes communication so much smoother and faster!

Wednesday 30st October: Outreach worker Manuel

Today, I join in the birthday celebration of outreach worker Manuel. He is a wonderful warm personality and in the streets he manages an instant feeling of trust among the LGBT community. Whether he meets friends in the park or male and transgender sex workers in the streets, he always knows how to level. No wonder all staff likes to toast on his birthday, and it is great to witness their warmth for one other. Clearly, good internal relations form an essential base for successful external work!

Thursday 31st October: Working in the red zones of San Salvador

Last night, we travelled on to El Salvador to meet with ESMULES (Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad). Wendy prepared an inspirational presentation in which all people present took the floor. They have so much pride in their work. ESMULES works in the – for outsiders risky – red zones of San Salvador. Here, one should balance preparing communities for sexual diversity and showing respect for the interests of the ruling group, the gangs.

Friday 1st November: Contacting my colleagues in Amsterdam

Long call at 6 am with colleagues in the Netherlands. I am happy to compromise my morning sleep to get some things done in direct contact with co-workers in Amsterdam. It is a good way to avoid another 24 hours delay given the time difference.

Saturday 2nd of November: Checking in-country support in Nicaragua

On to Nicaragua. Here, we meet an organisation we like to invite over for the UPR training course for Central America in early 2014. It is essential to check if organisations have enough in-country support of LGBT communities, and since we did not have a formal partnership in Nicaragua, I take the opportunity to discuss this live.

Two days later I fly home full of impressions of this packed field visit. The ten hour flight is a good opportunity to digest all impressions and write my mission report.

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