UNESCO opens “Blue Umbrella Café” for refugee journalists
After the hot coffee and banana bread slowly disappeared from the round dining room tables of The Blue Umbrella Café (Café Sombrilla Azul – in Spanish), more than 35 refugee journalists took turns using comedy, guitars, spontaneous singing, poetry, drama and the power of words to share their experiences of torture, kidnappings, and death threats. There was pain in the room. However, their display of resilience and lyrics of hope, were as strong as the black coffee poured into the white ceramic cups.
The Blue Umbrella Café, whose name evokes hope, protection and support, is an initiative of the UNESCO Cluster Office in Costa Rica, and is geared towards helping refugee journalists overcome mental health and social challenges. Every month, refugee journalists and their families can express themselves through art and music, and share a cup of coffee while creating support networks with Costa Rican journalists in a relaxed setting. Other items on the menu include establishing new friendships and receiving group psychological support from mental health specialists such as psychologists.
The Blue Umbrella Café is a source of support and comfort for refugee journalists such as Lorenzo* who made a difficult decision to move to Costa Rica. “I never thought this would happen to me. When I started studying communication, I never thought that my life would be as fractured as it was in 2018. I never thought that I would have to leave my family… And to leave my mother (behind) is the hardest thing that has ever happened to me. I went through depression when I came to Costa Rica. I spent 3 months locked up (at home) and I was just crying. I didn’t know what to do… But with the strength that I think my mother instilled in me, I am returning to resume my career, although I have to start from zero,” he recounted.
He added that, “The Blue Umbrella Café is an important initiative because it will help to strengthen journalists so that we don’t feel alone. The most fundamental aspect of this initiative is supporting us in the emotional aspects of our lives and giving us a space where we can laugh and hug each other and share our experiences with fellow journalists.”
Other journalists including Josefina* who packed their bags and headed to the airport after receiving death threats, see The Blue Umbrella Café as a tool to help refugee journalists transform their lives and overcome painful memories. “I cannot forget it. I received a call at 2 in the morning,” she noted. The voice on the other line forcefully commented that, “I would find my son with his mouth full of flies.”
She added that the first session of the Café signified “a moment of peace for me. I was able to disconnect from all the negative thoughts and the difficult things, as I was surrounded by colleagues from different countries. The event represented a 180-degree change in my mood, as the previous week was very difficult for me personally.”
The initiative was launched on Saturday 13 November with the support of the Government of Costa Rica within the framework of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The Blue Umbrella Café is one of several initiatives of the UNESCO Cluster Office in Costa Rica focused on improving the lives of journalists in Costa Rica who were forced to flee their countries due to impunity, physical aggressions, digital attacks, and other attempts to silence them and stifle freedom of the press.
The Blue Umbrella Café is linked to UNESCO´s role as the UN Agency with a mandate to promote press freedom and freedom of expression, and its role as the UN coordinating agency for the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
*The names were changed to protect the identity of the journalists.