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Helping LGBTIQ Refugees Sculpt Better Lives

Updated: May 4, 2022

Just after sunrise, three ORAM team members piled into Executive Director Steve Roth’s car and headed off for work – not to an office building, but rather to San Ysidro, California, one of the busiest gateways along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Steve, joined by Program Manager Anja Limon and Communications and Development Coordinator Katie Miller, crossed the border by foot to Tijuana, Mexico, where they met up with ORAM Mexico Program Officer Alexandra Rodriguez.

Around noon, the team arrived at El Jardín de las Mariposas (“Garden of Butterflies”), an LGBTIQ refugee shelter that ORAM partners with. They were met by over 50 residents and clients of the shelter, as well as a spread of homemade tacos and agua de Jamaica – hibiscus tea. Dozens of rainbow-colored paper butterflies hung above the rows of picnic tables in the courtyard where they ate, flapping in the breeze.

After lunch, Alexandra led shelter residents in a workshop focused on boosting their self-esteem. Participants created a double-sided collage made of paper and magazine clippings – on one side, residents pasted images that represented their conception of how others view them, and on the other, images that symbolized how they would like to be viewed. After sharing their collages with the group, residents were asked to write each other anonymous messages of encouragement.

The workshop was a huge success! Residents of “El Jardín” confided powerful, personal stories about their

experiences as LGBTIQ refugees. Many shared that arriving at El Jardín marked a major turning point in their lives, and that receiving support from ORAM helped improve their lives and better prepare them for their journeys.

On Friday, Anja, Katie, and Alexandra orchestrated a ceramics class for residents of El Jardín at a local pottery studio called Lustre. The class was taught by renowned Artist and Professor – and Resident Artist of ORAM’s parent organization, Alight – Ron Rael, who earned fame for creating and installing see-saws along the U.S.-Mexico border during the peak of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda (

Residents of El Jardín and staff members of ORAM were mesmerized as Ron demonstrated how to make ceramics using 3D Potter, the first 3D printer of its kind in Baja California, Mexico.

El Jardín residents’ abundance of natural talent was immediately evident to Ron and ORAM staff members. At the end of the ceramics lesson, residents expressed their gratitude for support from El Jardín and ORAM, as well as the healing effects and symbolic significance of creating beautiful artwork out of cold, wet clay – much like their own personal growth.

"It helps me in many ways, like when I’m depressed, to develop a new skill and to relieve the stress," says El Jardín resident Altagracia (pictured left).

ORAM’s trip to Tijuana served as a reminder to the organization’s staff and supporters of the resilience and bravery of the LGBTIQ refugee community, as well as the necessity of economic empowerment “livelihoods” programs. By giving members of the LGBTIQ refugee population the tools to establish personal and economic stability for themselves – like training in ceramics-making – ORAM empowers them to lift themselves up.

ORAM is excited to continue working with the residents of El Jardín to help them develop a business plan to produce and sell the beautiful pottery that they sculpt so that they can sculpt better livelihoods, too. More on that to come.

If you would like to support ORAM's work with the LGBTIQ refugees at El Jardín, make a donation today!

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1 Comment

Hanna Ovr
Hanna Ovr
Aug 26, 2022

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