Getting a Seat at the Table

The Monday 18th of July I had the opportunity to be in a panel named: Getting a seat at the table, young leaders share the highs and lows of leadership and accountability. This panel was a collaboration between Link Up, Athena Network and the participants where; Raoul Franzen, Mimi Melles, Jacqueline Alesi, Myo Thet Oo, Linda Mafu and myself. The propose of this session was to brings together a group of young people who are involved in such spaces, at the country or global level, including the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) of the Global Fund, the UNAIDS Programme Board Committee (PCB), and the UNAIDS Dialogue Platform for Women Living with HIV. The session explored some of the strategies employed by young people to make the most effective use of their engagement; their successes in representing different constituencies of young people; how they remain accountable to the communities they represent; and, any challenges they have encountered, and how we have overcome these.

I was asked about what barriers to young people in their diversity face to getting access to decision making spaces:

1. Language.

We use language to create realities, we can build and destroy paradigms by using different words or even creating more options that we weren’t able to describe because we don’t have the correct words to do so, or just to make a distinction. So, when we talk about language we must know that many terms are new for different people, and young people who may just start doing activism or understanding the HIV (and HIV related themes) world. This way, when we use technical language, maybe from the academia, science or UN system, we can get a bit lost, and of course of participation will be affected.

Idiom as well, is a huge gap. My first idiom and language is Spanish, and many people still believe that is English. And it’s because my English has been improving since 2012, and also because I know that if I want to have a greater impact, I would need to speak a more common idiom and language. When we go to spaces like International Aids Conference, big part of the event is in English, when it’s supposed to be “International”. Translation can be a fundamental key for many people that don’t have the resources to learn an additional idiom, and can improve their participation. However, having translation not necessarily may solve all the issue, since we know that the translation is not 100% accurate, for example in Spanish I can say “hombres que tienen sexo con otros hombres”, which means “men who have sex with other men”, but maybe the translation may say “men who sleep with other men”. It may sound something not important, but when we are talking about declarations that will get the compromise from the governments, between “sex” and “sleep”, there’s a difference.

2. Economic.

This theme can have a couple of layers. We can start by thinking about the number of young people that participate in processes like the High Level Meeting, just for using an example. In this kind of processes you will have many people living with HIV and many allies that don’t live with HIV but somehow, their work is connected with HIV. So, it’s good to ask ourselves, when we talk about participation; participation of who, where and how? We have awesome youth advocates, but how this advocates are representative enough? It’s very common that young advocates who don’t live with HIV, are in this processes because they work (with a salary) in the NGO they
represent. On other hand, is also very common that young people with HIV representing NGO and Networks, are there because they got their participation funded, but in fact, their work is volunteer with no salary at all.

So, when your activism and/or political work is funded is easier to participate, because activism is your work and job, so the time you invest is not your limited and free time, instead, the quality time. Sometimes we go to a meeting or event that may be a week long, and those days are our “vacation” days, that we took from our jobs. But if you’re out of “vacation days” from your job, that week you won’t get paid, and not being pay for a week, can mean not having enough money for paying something as basic like your rent, and the rent is something that we may not want to stop paying.

Definitely working on the HIV response with a salary can allow you to organize better your time and resources. Also, you don’t need to choose between HIV work and your job that pays your basic needs. You can even have a job in a NGO that works something related with HIV or specifically with HIV, but your position doesn’t allow you to take a week of to the High Level Meeting, for example, again. Another example can be the internet access. With better access to internet you can follow better the conversations on real time, help you to build a stronger movement outside your country, gives you more access to information and to respond to the actual communications platforms where you may find a lot of young people you can engage with. If you work in a national, local or in the very grassroots is easier with no internet access, but if you want to engage in a different level, you might need to invest in a good internet access, otherwise, is complicated to follow up. When I say invest, I mean money. You can even go to a Cyber Café, but you will need to at least buy the coffee. This still a huge barrier, I think not specifically of young people but, a lot of activism.

3. Time.

Is much related with economic issues, but in this case is related to the engagement and expertise young people may have. The longer you are engage with the HIV response, more information and experience you MAY have. Even though young people are kind of experts with social media and accessing online information, there are some skills you get with the actual participation which gives you experience. Isn’t just only about having the info, it’s about knowing how, where and when to use it, and sometimes this skills comes with experience. A young person who had the opportunity to be in many spaces, will have more skills on how to use an info, that a young person with less opportunity to be in those spaces, even with the same info.

Experience isn’t necessarily related to age, but with opportunities and the time you spend in activism and participating. But again, if you don’t receive any remuneration, who much time can you expend to have more experience that improve your participation, and by the time you get experienced enough, you might have more than 30 years. The issue here is that, when you are confident enough about your experience and skills, and you have more than 30, the agendas and spaces don’t applies you anymore. This is why we need to engage a whole lot more with adolescents.

About time, is very important to keep in mind that the agendas must me dynamic and scrollable to follow a generation in their different development areas. For example, the UNAIDS 90-90-90 cannot look the same for young people, adolescents and adult people all the way until 2030, because now I’m 28 years old, but in 2030 I will be 42 years old. So, in 2030 I will be a different adult, than today’s adults, and if the agenda don’t respond to my generation, but only to my age, how effective can be?

During the International Aids Conference I had heard a lot about “young women need to raise their voices” and “young women must have a seat at the table”, but once I have my seat at the table, WHAT HAPPEN? Once our voices are up, WHAT WE HAVE TO SAY?

We are more than voices and seats…

WomenNow! 2016

Women Now! 2016 is the Pan African Women’s Summit on the framework of the International AIDS Conference 2016, which after sixteen years is back to Durban, South Africa. The primary goal of Women NOW! Was to bring together a broad diversity of leaders and emerging leaders who are concerned and working on women’s sexual health and development to influence the agenda at the International AIDS Conference (AIDS2016), and to impact institutional and community responses to HIV among Black Women around the world. An opportunity to assess the content and execution of the IAC for its meaningful inclusion of women’s and girls’ sexual & reproductive health and justice, especially women and girls of African descent, who bear the brunt of the HIV pandemic among women worldwide, was addressed during this three days of work and sisterhood. This summit addressed critical areas of concern for women’s human rights, through an intersectional lens, including key issues of race, economic status, gender equality, women’s empowerment, gender-based trauma and violence, and sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice.

A very good number of Sub-Saharan countries were represented, including leaders from USA, and strong young women from the Caribbean. This was one of the few spaces that I have ever been, where intersectionality between race, gender and HIV was addressed as the main issue, what allowed me to have a different perspective on HIV, and even though for many people this could be an excluding space because of race and/or gender, this was and still a pending conversation.

There’s no denying that a big number, more than the 50% to be super conservative, of women living with HIV are black. Either you’re African, African- American, Afro-Caribbean, or any other identity in the Pan-African or African descendant spectrum and context, many of us, all around the world, look kind of the same. We know that the Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest number of infections, followed by the Caribbean. If we look at the USA statistic, black women represent more than the 65% of the total number of new HIV diagnosis among heterosexual women. This is why we need to be able to study more the race issue as a health determinant. We live our blackness in different ways according to our context, but this space allowed me to see how those differences came together as one, to deliver a response that understand all our complexity and diversity.

During this Pre Conference, we were able to meet Dr. Olive Shisana, AIDS 2016 Local Co-Chair, Princess Mukelile of Zulu the Nation, Musa Njoko an HIV positive musician and a big group of women leaders living with HIV. This event was well balanced between academic and performative sessions, with a good intergenerational conversations. We have the opportunity to learn how disconnected the agendas can be from the grassroots and how to implement powerful but simple initiatives that can change the life of young women, adolescents, girls and boys sexual education. I may say, this has been one of the best places during my journey at Durban, to feel the sisterhood, embrace our diversity and connect all together to move forward as one. We always have something new to learn from one to another.

Uterus Painting

Del 29 de noviembre al 4 de diciembre 2015 tuve la oportunidad de participar de la conferencia ICASA o La Conferencia Internacional de Sida e ITS en África, y fue celebrada en Harare, Zimbabue. En esta conferencia pude realizar un corto taller en el cual las mujeres jóvenes pintaban sus úteros mientras que expresaban lo que sentían acerca de ellos. Aquí las pinturas. Un abrazo y gracias a todas las jovenes que participaron.


From November 29 to December 4 2015 I had the opportunity to participate in ICASA or the International Conference on Aids and STI’s in Africa, which was held in Harare, Zimbabwe. Here, I realized a short workshop in which young women painted their uteruses while expressing how they felt about them. Here the paintings. I appreciate to all those women and young women who participate.

 

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Breaking The Silos

June 8th, during the High Level Meeting on Aids, at the United Nations Headquarters, I have the opportunity to be part of a panel. UNAIDS supported the Organizations of African First Ladies to organize a side event called “Breaking the silos: Empowered adolescent girls and young women accessing integrated services. It was done with GAVI and PEPFAR, but led by the First Ladies Organization (OAFLA).

To watch the video go here https://goo.gl/2GWDYX Between 1:15:50 – 1:21:30 for my part

So UNAIDS invite me to be part of the panel, I said yes, and got the opportunity to make a 3-4 minutes intervention. Honestly I thought it was a small and informal panel, but when I get in the room I saw a four times bigger room that I expected, and three times more people. Most of the people in the room where delegates from the countries with the most conservatives positions. I really was preparing for getting the microphone off or for the booing.

Why? Because for thinking that is was more an informal panel, I prepared my “notes” four hours before, that is very little time for me. And also I was very disappointed with the whole High Level Meeting process, and I almost discharge myself in my speech. So, in this panorama, I was extremely nervous.

However, it was a nice event, and the First Lady form Namibia and of course, Thandiwe with her poweful story and courage left us all shocked and inspired. Below you will find my ACTUAL & REAL notes or speech:

“Hermanas y hermanos. Brothers and Sisters, is a pleasure to be here with you, and I really appreciate the invitation. I’m an activist, feminist, black and Latina – Caribbean. Im from Puerto Rico and Im 28 years old. I was born with HIV, but I didn’t came to talk about that.

I want to start my intervention by making a call to every First Ladies, to use your privilege position, voices and resources to be bold and push for a better declaration and implementation in the national levels, which can end with harmful policies and practices for everyone in the HIV response. Also, to push for a comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to ensure the access for every woman, young woman, adolescents and girls, in all our diversity, including Key Populations. This services and education must be free of stigma, discrimination and religious positions. I make this call, because at this point of the game, coming here to share my experiences and stories, share our pain, without having concrete compromises and actions, is another way of tokenism. You don’t get to use our pain to do what is right.

When we talk about breaking the Silos, we must acknowledge that not everyone wants to or can do so. Acknowledging this vulnerabilities and positions is vital for a clear and stronger actions for the HIV movement and stakeholders in the HIV response. We, young women, and youth in general, have been very efficient and creative to position ourselves in key spaces, however, very often we don’t get the recognition we work for, and this generates a delay in our formation, mentoring process and the transfer of leadership.

Times has changes, and so generations, we must speak about sex, oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex, sexual pleasure and freedom. It’s outrageous that many young women living with HIV are not able to enjoy their sexual life. We need governments that provide for us, instead of control us, control our bodies, and control our autonomy. Shifting the way we do policies, activism, innovation and even funding, is essential, because every time we keep non-functional policies, strategies and practices, we lose lives.

When we talk about breaking the silos, we need to recognize the HIV response as multisector, intergenerational, global and collective. It is NOT possible to end AIDS just for one group, and we need to understand that women are also Key Population. Womens also are sex workers, transgender, women who use drugs, prisoners, women who migrate, and so much more. When we say Key Population, we are not talking about a gender, we are talking about people, women and youth who systemically are being left behind, and even here today, they still left behind.

Networking, from the grassroots to the global level, it’s what have keep us together. But when we arrive to this spaces, the dynamics that the Government and even UN system put us through, push us to make political decisions and positions that do not represent the true civil society essence, activism, feminism and values. I am afraid that every five years we have to come here just for a little bit of progress, as if we were begging for our human right. And we DO NOT beg for our rights, we demand them.

Breaking the silos is about pointing the bad stuff and to take action to make it better. Is about identifying the privilege and our own privileges, use it for everyone and to share it. Breaking the silos is about recognizing that sometimes you need to ally with people you may not want, and knowing that your allies can be wrong sometimes. Breaking the silos is about quitting being a well behave woman or political correct without apologizing. Is about being free to enjoy your sexuality without being ashamed for it. Breaking the silos is about remembering that policies and declarations written on paper, can determine people’s life.

Papers are determinating people’s lives! How crazy is that!

Breaking the silos is about having love enough to act according with a mindset where nothing in the world, no genders, no religions, no ideology, no differences, are more valuable than human life.”

Silos definition: “A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others”. So, “Breaking the Silos” kind of means the integrations of multiples countries and partners for collaboration in the HIV response.

For a couple of weeks now, I have been collaborating with the campaign #WhatWomenWant. I tweet and retweet many stuff, but never posted an original message. During this days I have been reading “What Women Want” so much that I actually start thinking, what do I want? Like, what do I really want? It was hard to think about it, because sometimes you have in your mind a lot of recycled statements and slogans that you just forget about what you want for you. But this last weeks I have been so full of the “High Level Meeting”, media, university, elections, work and economic troubles, that it was impossible to think about what I really want, and this is it:

What I want is the guarantee that I will be in peace, I want mental health. I want to feel that this is not the wrong decade to be a young woman. I need to know that I will make it, that I don’t actually need to fulfil anyone’s expectative. What I want is nobody pressuring me to be the perfect young activist, with the perfect mindset, participation and statements.

What I want is to be able to watch TV, without feeling that I’m not pretty enough. I like to eat and what I don’t want, is to feel that I need to apologize for it. What I want is sexual pleasure, without feeling shame about it. I want that my doctor ask me about it, instead of ask me about the condom use first. What I want is not to be seen as a high risk person if I have sex partners instead of sentimental partners. I would like to feel the warm of the people instead my phone vibrating because most of the human contact now, is on the social media. What I want is better data and evaluation systems.

What I want is that governments take responsibility for their mistakes and inactions. What I want is that the government to stop running over workers women. What I want is a stable salary. I which that my activism, passion and creativity could pay for my rent and university. What I want is to see my friend and her children economically stable. I also which that she doesn’t see me as a bad influence to her children, because of my support of LGBTQI’s Rights, and my agnosticism.

What I want is to have less side effect caused by ARV. I would like them to taste like pistachio, then I would be 100% adherent without any doubt. But seriously, I want to stop taking medication and what I want is a cure. I don’t want to feel afraid if I’m using marihuana. What I want is to walk down the street without looking behind me to see if someone is following me. I would like to drink without feeling unsecure.

What I want is that my dad doesn’t feel pressure because he need to provide to the family. I want him to be able to express his feelings. What I want is gender perspective on my nephew and niece’s classroom so they could be whatever and however they want to be. I would like to have more tools to provide to my friends living with HIV and wants to come out. What I want is acknowledgement of my multiple identities without having to choose between one of them. I would like that no one asked question to my ex-boyfriend when I was on the newspaper talking about being HIV positive. I also would like that my dad doesn’t have to explain anything when I’m on TV.

What I want is that the word “feminism” stop being seen as a bad word for many people. What I want is that every women be able to choose if they want to be mothers or not. What  want is that countries stop being so conservatives and recongnize Key Populations and the decisions that people make. I wish someday the term “Key Populations” became useless because they are no longer vulnerable or unsafe. I which I could trust on the politicians that are willing to govern my country, and I would like to think that at least one of them can resolve many issues here.

What I want is no age restrictions for adolescents and young people when they want to access to any sexual and reproductive health services all around the world. What I want is stop being seen as a menace for others people life while having sex. What I want is that the main reason for my treatment is my quality of life instead the reduction of the transmission. What I want is more people with courage on the power positions. What I want is not being a token for the international initiatives. I don’t want any more empty agendas and declarations for decoration. I wish my voice could actually change the harmful practices and laws. What I want is less politic position with religious influence.

What I want is less transgender women being murdered in the USA and Latin America. What I want is that the state stop seen the sex workers as criminals in most of the countries. I want that most of the people treat other people who use drugs with dignity. What I want is an end to stigma. What I want is more apreciation for the activist work. I wish I could live in a world without borders. What I want is more love, more peace, more freedom.

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Youth Participation at CSW60

From March 10 to 13, I was in New York, in the framework of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60). The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) “is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Commission adopts multi-year work programs to appraise progress and make further recommendations to accelerate the implementation of the Platform for Action. These recommendations take the form of negotiated agreed conclusions on a priority theme.”

So, during two weeks, feminist, civil society, UN entities staff, delegates of UN Member States and others, reunite at New York and the UN Headquarters, to converse, debate, strategize and negotiate on the progress and agreements of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and others Global Agendas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are Civil Society’s/Women’s Caucus, Youth Forum, Side Events, Meetings, Workshops and many other things happening around the CSW. Not everything happens at the UN Headquarters, actually, it’s very common that the most significant conversations and political incidence, at least for Civil Society, happens outside the UNH.

This year, besides its importance, the CSW was particular for two reasons; it had the first Youth Forum, and it is the first CSW since the SDGs. The Youth Forum was held and coordinated by UNWomen, and was divided in 14 working groups, 7 each day. Our group, young women living with HIV and SRHR, was the only one working with SRHR, which was concerning. We were also part of the drafting team and it was complicated pushing the SRHR language, even though it shouldn’t be any surprise, since UNWomen was conservative at CSW59 as well. However, thanks to the amazing work of one colleague, we got to include the SRHR language into the Youth Declaration, an official CSW document.

Download it here: 2016 YouthCSW Declaration

My biggest concern was that, when we don’t have experience, we can be easily manipulated into agreements that doesn’t really represent what we want or at least how we wanted. We can easily accept things just because we don’t know how to respond, debate or pushing forward. We engage with agendas without questioning them, and this is why we need more training and tools so we can empower ourselves and promote our leadership. We can found ourselves in situations where we feel with low representation, that’s when, as young feminist, we create our own alternate spaces, declarations and networks, daringly.

Here you can download the Young Feminist Statement. Young Feminist Statement CSW60

This is a great place to learn about multiple agendas and how they interact with each other, how the negotiations with the UN Members States works, gives you a more global and inclusive perspective, and how sometimes just a word can change the whole context. However, this can be a very complex to effectively participate if it’s your first time, and there are some others challenges that can make the participation complicated, below those that I have experienced.

Idiom & Language: in most of the spaces the dialogue is in English, so following the whole full conversation can be difficult, not only for those who don’t speak English but also for those who are translating. Besides the idiom, the language per se, can be complicated because a single word contains an ideology, meaning and construct, depending on the context. So, because understanding and following both, idiom and language, can be confusing, you should find a good buddy that you can ask and definitely take some notes.

Age & Experience: it’s very common that young women and adolescents have less experience than more adult women. When the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was stablish in 1995, many of us where at elementary school learning to write and read. This means that when we, young women, join the conversation, there were already other women and feminist before us that already have made path and fought for many of the rights and spaces that now we have and we deeply appreciate. On other side, not every single issue that affected women 20 years ago, affect these generations in the same ways, and some, aren’t exactly priorities for our generation now. The challenges of this intergenerational differences is how to creatively use them as strengths and opportunities, not barriers. This can continue by ensuring, promoting and protecting more of the healthy dialogue, where no one feel oppressed by the movement.

Access to Internet & Information: even though access to internet may sound superficial compare to a number of issues that have higher priority, when we’re engage with this agendas and events, accessing internet can make a big difference in our participation, strategies and networking. And isn’t only about having accessibility, but having a device, computer, laptop, phone, etc. where we can work on. Accessing internet, sadly, can define the level of participation because it can give you the information you need, send it or build it, besides the use of the media and social networks to make political incidence. The lack knowledge is a direct effect of the lack of information, and this is why we need to create training spaces for young activist working with this without any financial remuneration.

Dealing with this challenges is not an easy thing, because there is too much going on in just two weeks. Often we fail in taking care and protecting us not only mentally, but fiscally. Sometimes you can forget when to eat, when to take your medication and staying warm. Sometimes we forget to let know our loves one that we’re ok, we forget to support our colleagues and asking “hey, how are doing?”, “Did you understand?”, “Did you eat?” or “hey! You should have some sleep!” Besides, we can be very judgmental and we rush to respond without thinking or for making decisions, that we forget that were equals but we have different perspective and levels of knowledge; sometimes we lose our goal. Sisterhood is a great medicine for this cases, knowing that most of us want the same thing, and that doesn’t matter which are our agendas and regions, we can all collaborate, work collectively without invalidating each other’s and that we can only be stronger together.

Útero en Construcción

Durante el Taller de UterusMapping de agosto 15, no tuve la oportunidad de pintar, y esta semana estoy en la toma de una importante decisión. En este contexto, me di a la tarea de hacer mi pintura…

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Del lado izquierdo se encuentra el azul con un poco de anaranjado. Ahí están las expectativas, las cosas que se esperan de mí y con las que debo cumplir que, de alguna manera han sido socialmente impuestas. En adición la energía, vida y positividad que debo ponerle y que a su vez me roba.

En el otro lado está el verde con el rojo. Esto representa la pasión por la libertad que siempre busco y obtengo a medias, con la esperanza de que en un futuro inmediato pueda aventurarme a tomar mayores riesgos con amor e intensidad.

Las trompas tienen los colores de la luz, la verdad y hacen camino para que mi útero y ovarios se encuentren.

Mi útero y ovarios en diferentes tonalidades de violeta, simboliza el proceso de crecimiento y el descubrimiento de propósitos diversos. Es el nacimiento de una nueva etapa de conexión, arte y transmutación. Ellos contienen en su interior pasión, amor y riesgos que crecen cada vez, desde el interior hacia afuera y con espirales que aceptan y reafirman los cambios a los que cada vez me voy adaptando.

Todo el tiempo nos estamos rediseñando porque lo único constante es el cambio. Con temor viene, pero el temor no es sinónimo de negatividad, sino de algo desconocido, algo nuevo, un riesgo. Lanzarme o no, cumplir o no. ¿A quién cumplirle? Si muero a fin de año, que me hubiese gustado estar haciendo. ¿Me arriesgo?

Estoy en construcción, aprendiendo que las cuentas, me las rindo a mí. La gente espera muchas cosas de una; haz esto, prepara aquello, no hiciste eso, no dijiste tal cosa, no estuviste allí, no contestarte esto otro. En fin, todo mundo quiere decirte como debes vivir, cuáles deben ser tus prioridades, con que comprometerte, como debes cumplir, como tienes que militar, que pensar, con que estar de acuerdo o no y un montón de cosas más.

Por eso digo que mis ovarios están en construcción. Buscando y reafirmando mi autonomía fuera y dentro de los “ISMOs” e “ISTAs”. Dándome el permiso para no estar de acuerdo y tener libre pensamiento y acción. Sin sentirme culpable si no estoy. Sin disculparme por decir NO. Decidiendo yo, pensando yo, haciendo yo.

Crisálida

crisalida-logoDesde la Comisión de Mujeres de la Red de Jóvenes Positivxs de Latinoamérica & el Caribe, lanzo la iniciativa “Crisálida”. Esta iniciativa plantea transformar la manera en la que compartimos las historias de las mujeres que vivimos con VIH. Historias cuyas protagonistas, rara vez tenemos la oportunidad de escuchar. El propósito de Crisálida es crear un espacio en el cual aquellas mujeres que desean ser visibles o ser escuchadas, pero que aún no se sienten lo suficientemente empoderadas, sean verdaderamente autoras e intérpretes de sus propias historias, de manera que las personas escuchen con nuestras propias voces.

Desde agosto 17 a septiembre 7 de 2015 estaré recopilando grabaciones de voz cortas (30 segundos a 2:30 minutos) vía WhatsApp, en la que se compartirán diversas experiencias y vivencias de mujeres jóvenes viviendo con VIH. Estas grabaciones se publicaran en nuestra página, en Septiembre 21, Día Internacional de la Paz. Puedes grabar tu audio en el idioma que mejor te parezca.

Con esto se crearan cuatro (4)  series de temas: Salud Sexual & Reproductiva, Estigma y Discrimen, Terapia Antirretroviral y Tema Libre. Puedes grabar un audio de cada uno, ya que durante el resto del año se continuare con la recopilación y publicaciones.

Si estás interesada  escribe a lorangelis@gmail.com o vía WhatsApp al +1-787-213-2114.