What is a caravan?
Building an alternative foreign policy
Pastors for Peace is a project of the award -winning Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO).
A Very Brief History
In 1988, a regularly scheduled passenger ferryboat in Nicaragua was brutally attacked by contra forces recruited and armed by the US government. An IFCO study delegation was on that ferry, along with 200 Nicaraguan civilians. Two were killed and 29 were wounded in the attack - including IFCO Executive Director Rev. Lucius Walker. In response to that brutal act of terrorism, IFCO formed a new project - Pastors for Peace. The aims of the project are twofold: to deliver material aid to support the victims of so-called "low intensity" war in Latin America and to initiate education and advocacy projects to campaign for a more just and moral US foreign policy in our hemisphere.
Pastors for Peace offers concerned US citizens an opportunity to demonstrate and enact an alternative foreign policy based in justice and mutual respect. More than 50 Pastors for Peace Caravans have traveled to Mexico, Central America and Cuba - delivering life-giving aid, and organizing at home for a more just policy toward our neighbors in the hemisphere.
Each caravan is an endeavor of love rooted in social justice. It's a huge project linking people, vehicles and humanitarian aid. Caravans travel on different routes throughout the US and Canada from north to south, ending up together at the Texas border with Mexico, and then moving ahead to their destination country.
Our largest caravan – to Cuba – has 14 separate routes. Often our vehicles are brightly painted school buses, but we also donate trucks, ambulances, mobile libraries, and cars.
As we travel through the US and Canada over a 1-2 week period, we make many pre-arranged stops in cities and communities. There, we talk in public outreach events about what is happening in the country we are going to and the purpose of our trip.
We also participate in press conferences and media interviews. We usually stay in the homes of local volunteers from organizations that arranged the public event – usually churches, solidarity committees or peace and justice centers. At many stops we pick up new caravanistas or aid that has already been collected and packed by the host organization.
The humanitarian aid we take is principally medical and educational supplies and equipment, but also computers, bicycles, tools, and sports and cultural equipment. Some of the vehicles we use to transport the aid are themselves donated in the destination country.
When we reach the US border we are joined by more caravanistas and we spend three days at Orientation. This is a time for packing and manifesting the aid, some preparatory learning about the country we are going to, and discussion about how to handle any obstacles that US or Mexican Customs may put in our way.
Once we successfully cross the border, we travel on to our destination country where we spend an intense 8-10 days. We visit social and community projects and meet with the local people, learning about their lives, struggles and achievements, and also about the impact of US government policy on their lives. The aid is distributed by our local religious and community partners according to their judgment of need.
We then return together to Texas. From there caravanistas make their different ways home – inspired to report back to their friends, colleagues, congregations and communities about what they have witnessed – and inspired to continue to work in solidarity with the peoples of that country.
Who can be a caravanista?
We have had caravanistas from age two to ninety two! We welcome anybody who supports our aims and methods, and who can find both the time and resources to participate. Many participants are able to obtain sponsorship from their organizations. We welcome people of all ages and abilities, of all faiths and persuasions, and regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. Most of our caravanistas come from the US, but we also have Canadians, Mexicans, and people from elsewhere in the Americas and the other continents of the world.
But a caravan is not just about the caravanistas. It’s about a network of thousands of people who may not leave their own community, but who organize the outreach events, raise money, collect and sort the aid, feed the caravanistas; and who remain ready to protest if the caravan should face any problems at the border crossing. We call the latter our Emergency Response Network.
A caravan is a challenge - in several ways - but for many it has been a life changing event
- It can be physically challenging – with long journeys in old vehicles in hot climates
- It can be a challenge to authorities, in the US or the country we are visiting, who may not approve of what we are doing
Our annual US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan is a legal challenge because the US government does not want its citizens to visit or send humanitarian aid to Cuba, and puts many legal obstacles in their way. We travel to Cuba without a US government license as a conscious act of civil disobedience and as a challenge to the US government’s cruel and immoral economic blockade of Cuba, which uses the denial of food and medicine as a political weapon. If you want to know more about our work and about upcoming caravans please contact us >