For Magdiel Galeano Gómez and his husband Jeffrey*, both refugees from Nicaragua living in Costa Rica, the idea for their business, Jeff Creative, first began to solidify as they collected beautiful shells and rocks during a walk on the beach.
From there, the plan to use upcycled materials to create artisanal home decorations took shape. With encouragement from one of their university professors, they began to sell their products. But while they were passionate about the business, they were also struggling.
“If we had money for the house, we didn’t have money for food,” said Galeano Gómez. Both were still in university, and all the money they made from the business was being reinvested in purchasing the parts that they couldn’t upcycle, such as wiring for lamps.
That’s when HIAS Costa Rica entered the picture. When a staff member reached out to see if the couple would want to participate in an employability program, Galeano Gómez responded that they had actually already started a business.
HIAS supported the couple with cash assistance as they finished university and built their business, while also providing them with education on how to run a business through the organization’s graduation model.
“HIAS entered at the exact moment that was just perfect for us,” explained Galeano Gómez. “They were giving us that push that we needed, and then we really got sharp and we registered the brand, thanks to this training with HIAS.”
The journey to this point has not been easy for Galeano Gómez, who came out to his family at age 16 “just so that [he] could be at ease.” At the same time, he began to be involved in political activism; in his eyes, his identity and political activism are intrinsically linked.
“I’m a political activist, but I am also an activist for the LGBTIQ+ community,” he said. “It’s not only that I need to be able to go and vote, but that I can also be elected, because I have the capability and the capacities. In Nicaragua, the LGBTIQ+ community is seen as a joke… and it should not be like that.”
“At HIAS, we advocate for refugees and provide them with tools, resources, and a supportive environment, but in the end our clients themselves build the lives they want, with love and freedom,” said Galo Quizanga, HIAS’ director of economic inclusion. “The economic inclusion of refugees boosts economies, generates jobs, creates resilience, prevents gender-based violence, and provides the opportunity to start a new life in safety and dignity.”
Outside of the business, Galeano Gómez continues his work as a political activist, focusing his attention on LGBTQ and migrant issues and leading a group called Diverse Voices. Recently, the group’s advocacy paid off in a big way: Costa Rica’s penal code was modified to formalize hate crimes against a number of groups, including LGBTQ people and migrants. He contributed language specifically protecting migrants to the bill, inspired by a vicious attack that left his friend, a fellow LGBTQ Nicaraguan migrant, in a coma and ultimately caused him to lose one of his legs. Not only was the language accepted, but he was invited to the signing of the bill into law.
In Costa Rica, Galeano Gómez feels safe. He has the freedom not only to pursue opportunities in business and politics and to express himself, but to give back to the community with his advocacy and environmental efforts. He feels that the future is limitless.
“It’s important to get training, to educate ourselves to break paradigms and break away from the forms of discrimination that exist,” he said during a recent interview. “We can achieve unexpected changes that not only help us, but that will help an entire nation.”