The Foundation website now includes important updates on its work over the past year. We have posted a recent message from the Chair and President, which includes information on changes made to the Foundation’s Board, its commitment to the Divest Invest Philanthropy initiative, and its recently completed strategic plan. The plan, which will be implemented in 2016 – 2018, reaffirms the Foundation’s mission and values, as well as its continued support of human rights and environmental conservation efforts as its core work. Central to the strategic plan is Overbrook’s strengthened commitment to its relationships with grantees and to the broader movements it supports. Partnerships with many current grantees will continue, and new initiatives will be carried out incrementally and assessed along the way. To read more about the Foundation’s renewed mission, please see its full strategic review.
The Foundation is pleased to announce its February 2016 grants to the following organizations.
The Human Rights Program awarded grants to 11 organizations:
The Environment Program awarded grants to 8 organizations:
Congratulations to these groups on their many achievements!
Last Thursday, indigenous activist and 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Cáceres was co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and an inspiring community leader to the region’s Lenca people. She led campaigns on a variety of environmental, indigenous, and women’s issues, including a decade-long fight against a proposal to dam the Gualcarque River, an important water resource considered sacred by the Lenca People.
The Honduran police initially reported the case as an attempted burglary, but the victim’s friends and peers are certain the murder was linked to Cáceres’ work as an activist. The tragedy occurred less than a week after she received death threats in relation to her efforts against the Gualcarque River damming project. The handling of the case has been emblematic of an escalating situation in the country with the most killings of environmental defenders in the world. The murder, and the long preceding history of impunity towards crime against activists in Honduras, has led to protests throughout the country and solidarity from around the world. Activists are calling for a thorough investigation of this murder and that those responsible are held accountable.
While Overbrook did not work directly with Ms. Cáceres, we are committed to supporting human rights defenders at risk due to their advocacy and we honor her leadership and activism. Many of our grantees were partners in her efforts to defend human and environmental rights, and the loss is felt deeply throughout the community. To learn more about Berta’s work and developments on her case, please see coverage by Overbrook grantees, or visit the website of her organization.
Pronatura Noroeste AC, an Overbrook grantee since 2008, received some well-deserved coverage last week when its conservation work was featured in the online version of National Geographic Magazine. The article highlighted a recent trip to Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California Sur by renowned marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue, an initiative working to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas to protect 20% of the world’s oceans by 2020.
While in Cabo Pulmo, Dr. Earle and her team visited the Pronatura Noroeste team and learned about their recent work building a new park nature center, which will help educate visitors on the area’s ecological value. The region holds the only coral reef system in the Sea of Cortes, and has become one of the most successful conservation sites in the Gulf of California, in large part due to Pronatura Noroeste’s work fending off destructive development proposals and fostering community conservation efforts. The new nature center will increase awareness of the park’s unique ecosystems and of the ongoing threats they face, helping to ensure the region’s continued conservation. The center is funded in part by the Foundation, and is due to open to the public later this year.
This month, the Obama administration began an aggressive immigration operation targeting Central American asylum seekers for detainment and deportation. On the first weekend of the New Year, at a time when many were spending time with their loved ones for the holidays, at least 121 individuals primarily from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina were taken into custody during a series of raids that immigration advocates are condemning as cruel and unconstitutional. Advocacy groups have received numerous reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials breaking down doors, deceiving immigrants into letting them enter homes without warrants, and detaining children as young as four years old.
Most of the victims of these raids have been families, often women and children, and many have recent or pending asylum claims. “Our interviews revealed that these families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA Project, said in a press statement. “It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America.” Despite President Obama’s executive action on DAPA, which provides deferred action status for some undocumented immigrants and will be considered at the Supreme Court later this year, the Obama administration continues to deport the greatest number of immigrants of any president in history. Immigrant rights advocates, including several Overbrook grantees, are challenging him to stop separating families, to do better for all immigrants and to halt this round of raids.
Repatriated families who were seeking refuge from violence may face an even greater risk to their lives than when they left, as the situation in Central America has been steadily deteriorating since 2014. These families may return to gang threats, gender violence, and other forms of persecution. For immigrant families in cities that have not been targeted by ICE raids, the fear of being next is palpable. Cities and neighborhoods with large Latino communities across the country are reporting decreased school and work attendance as immigrants try to remain indoors. Legal organizations and allied officials are encouraging immigrants continue go about daily activities, but to know their rights as these raids continue.
The days are numbered for those tiny plastic beads in soaps, body washes, toothpastes, and other household products. At the end of December, President Obama signed into law the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which bans the plastic microspheres widely used as exfoliating agents starting in July 2017. The bill is great news for waterways and oceans, as well as for human health. Studies have shown that the beads are washed down household drains, pass through sewage treatment plants, and make their ways into lakes, rivers, and oceans in enormous quantities (an estimated 11 billion microbeads are released into American waterways each day). There, they absorb toxins such as pesticides and move into the food web after being consumed by fish and other marine organisms. The result is an accumulation of toxins in wildlife and fish populations, and a danger to humans when affected seafood is eaten.
The bill sailed through the House and the Senate last month with an ease that seemed unusual for environmental legislation, in part because there was little opposition from the cosmetics companies responsible for most microbeads production. The industry had been under fire from environmental activists for years over the hazards of microbeads, and most major companies were already on board to begin phasing them out. Overbrook grantee The Story of Stuff Project was one of a handful of organizations that were instrumental to placing pressure on the cosmetics industry and pushing this bill through Congress.
Following the US bill and a similar law in the Netherlands, a rapidly growing online petition was launched to enact a microbeads ban in the UK. The hope is that more countries will follow these leads and make microbeads and their environmental effects a thing of the past.