By Vittor Vilela Cogorno (They/Them)

My journey at the Latin American Rights Service (LAWRS) began in March 2021. A year had passed since the pandemic first hit and returning to the past seemed so far away. I felt the need to connect with my communities more than ever and find new ways of working collaboratively and symbiotically. I specifically wanted to connect with the Latin American diaspora here in London and provide support and resources to my community in that time of drastic change. I wanted to put my time into volunteering for an organisation that specifically protected the rights of migrants, children, women and LGBTQ+ people.


Having been raised in the UK (in a small town just outside of London), I quickly learnt that speaking in Spanish was something private and irrelevant, something that should only be reserved for when I’m around my family at home. Apart from my family, there weren’t many people of Latin American descent at my schools. Looking back now, I can see how isolated I felt at the time and how I didn’t feel a part of any type of community. My experience growing up as someone within the Peruvian diaspora was filled with questions of ‘what if’-s. What if my family hadn’t moved to the UK? What would that version of me be like? What If I don’t actively engage with the Spanish language and my Peruvian roots outside of my family? Does that make me less Peruvian, less Latin American? Over the pandemic, I began to question these things again, but this time with a different perspective: How can I help my community?  How can I use my experience to help better the lives of others? How can I put my Spanish-speaking ability to use? Shortly after this, I began volunteering for LAWRS.


At LAWRS, my role is to answer calls from Latin American womxn seeking support with issues such as Immigration, Welfare and Benefits, Housing, Debt and Employment rights. Being a migrant in the UK that does not understand or speak English can be a very stressful and emotionally defeating experience. Everyone wants to be understood and seen, and everyone deserves the right to voice their needs and seek protection. What I really value at LAWRS is being able to give womxn the time and space to speak in their native language about sensitive things that they might not have been able to express with professionals in the past. Working at LAWRS has improved my Spanish immensely and allowed me to personally connect and relate with migrant womxn here in London. 


When I first started volunteering for the LAWRS helpline, I was honestly terrified. Not only had I never worked within the charity sector, but I would be providing information and advice in Spanish! I must confess at the beginning. I was definitely too hard on myself, and I felt the need to prove to others that I could do this job seamlessly without fail. Little did I know that I had to fail and make mistakes to learn more about myself and my work. I had to step out of my comfort zone and trust the process of trial and error for my skills to develop. And yes, I did cry a couple of times, and yes, change can be very scary, but I am so grateful for the support and words of encouragement I received from my colleagues at LAWRS; without them, my experience wouldn’t have been the same. 


When I began working at LAWRS, things were still very restrictive in terms of social distancing and physical meetings. One year into volunteering, in March 2022, LAWRS hosted an intimate meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day at their community space and office in Old Street. It was a real honour to finally meet my teammates in person and be able to thank each other for the work that we do. Meeting womxn, I had worked with directly on the helpline was an experience I will never forget. It was really affirming to hear how LAWRS had helped them change their lives, and it served as a reminder of the importance of solidarity in our fight for equal rights. Throughout the day, we came together to dance, eat and enjoy the company of one another. It was a memorable day filled with laughter, joy and love, a space where I felt appreciated and seen by those around me. LAWRS has created a beautiful, trusting, intimate community that I am honoured to be a part of for this, I would like to thank all those who have supported me on my journey, and I want to thank the thousands of women who put their trust in us every single day.