Eleanor Douglas was born in Winnipeg, a cold and small town in western Canada. At 21, she decided to undertake a trip by land in search of the mysteries of Latin America. Without much money and by hitching ride after ride, she arrived in Panama by land and then in Colombia by boat.
Eleanor never imagined that this stop would bring a definitive change in her life: instead of a few months, she stayed in Bogotá for more than 40 years. She started as an English teacher, and when her stay in Colombia was supposed to be over, she realized she had given her soul to this country. She fell in love with the ambiance of revolution and collective power of the students in the 70s, lived as her own the struggles for justice of the Colombian people, and joined those who had decided they would change the world.
In those movements, she discovered her passion for the defense of human rights and especially for women's rights, as well as her ability to build deep links with powerful women in several countries of the region, to fight against patriarchy and contribute to peace.
She worked for the rights of all, and traveled to many countries to bring the voices of the South to spaces where they had no place before. These experiences led her to become part of the UAF-WHR Board of Directors, based in the United States. And one day, sharing a cup of coffee and conspiring to change the world with her friends and colleagues at UAF, the idea to bring this unique financing model to Latin America, the continent where Eleanor had her heart, was born. She had always encouraged discussions around having Urgent Action Funds that were closer to regional contexts.
In 2009, the Urgent Action Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean, UAF-LAC was established in Bogotá, Colombia, after the process of regionalization of UAF-Africa in 2003. UAF-LAC was the first Fund in the Region providing Rapid Response Grants and building, together with women defenders, reflections and practices around CARE. As Eleanor tells us, this was not easy at the beginning. It was a small operating team in charge of establishing all the legal bases and banking infrastructure. However, the political will of these women and Eleanor’s leadership made the UAF-LAC a reality.
The first Board of Directors also reflected Eleanor’s traveling and revolutionary spirit. From its creation, women from several countries and different shores of thought and experiences were summoned. As Board members all of them, young, black, lesbian, urban and rural, indigenous and mestizo Latin Americans also supported the proposal of a Fund that spoke about care and helped to root these reflections in our continent. For example, our own terms were used to refer to the exhaustion of activists and their strategies of collective care, using language as a political tool. Calls for "Sustainable Activism" began circulating in several countries in the Region, and power practices were reviewed in each meeting that the UAF-LAC convened.
Eleanor also put this into practice for herself. For instance, from the moment she became the Director of the Fund she made it clear to the Board and team that she would only there for three years while the foundations were consolidated. In 2012 she closed this period and happily passed the torch to an Ecuadorian feminist leader. But that’s another story…
At 75, Eleanor, or "La Mona," as some people know her, continues to talk about hope with the same warm smile. From any place she is at, this Canadian woman with a Colombian heart is still making daily revolutions in favor of women’s human rights. Today we honor her life, her seed, her journey and reflections, because they made possible this Fund that is now 10 years old.
Thank you, Mara Parra, for the illustration!