MY TRIP TO THE BORDER

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Silvia Muñoz is in charge of our Department of Social Action and is our contact with Jesuits with Migrant for Central America, México and the U.S. This is her description of a trip with a group of sisters from the Congregation of St. Joseph that invited her ito join them serving for two weeks in one of the shelters of Annunciation House.

On March 21 I boarded a plane on my way to El Paso, TX. I was going with a group of sisters from the Congregation of St. Joseph that invited me to join them serving for two weeks in one of the shelters of Annunciation House. I was going blindly, didn’t know a soul or for that matter, wasn’t really sure what was expected of me. All I knew was the work would be hard and I could be asked to do anything. I am now back home but my mind and my heart are still back in El Paso, in Casa Oscar Romero shelter, where my companion, Sr. Mary Catherine Sack, CSJ and me, were assigned. Our first day there, March 21, was supposed to be only for orientation but was really a baptism by fire. We had just arrived and given a short tour of the facility when a bus from ICE, with over 30 migrants, arrived and we had to get to work right away. The process at the shelter is as follows: after a brief welcome to the shelter we offer them a warm meal followed by the “Intake”, where we welcome each individual family and write down the information from all members of the family. We then call their sponsor in the USA letting them know their relatives are safe and asking them to buy tickets, by bus or plane, to join them. We let the migrants speak with their sponsors for a few minutes. After the Intake, we gave each migrant a set of clean sheets, towels and a bag with toiletries, followed by a visit to el Ropero where they pick a set of clean clothes and new underwear for each member of the family. We assign a bed in one of the dormitories; there are 2 for women and 2 for men, and on they go to shower and rest. Days go by very fast and within 72 hours of arriving at Romero, the majority of the refugees are on the way to their final destination wherever their relatives or friends live. In the 16 days I spent working at Casa Oscar Romero I think I did all possible jobs; Intake, calling families to check on the airline or bus tickets, prepared hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their final journey (those traveling long distances by bus, need 3 days of food for the trip), prepared the bags for the journey with sandwiches, water, and snacks, worked organizing clothes in El Ropero (have to admit this was the job I really didn’t like), cleaned bathrooms, helped with the laundry, folded bed sheets, gave out medicine and cured wounds when no doctor was in the shelter, prepared baggies with toiletries, organized the diaper room, and lastly, the job that affected me emotionally the most, took them to the airport or bus terminal for their final trip. These people, especially those traveling by plane, have never seen an airport and are petrified. We have to explain to them the security process, the ticket itself with the information they need, how to make a connecting flight, all very normal for us but extremely intimidating for a person who speaks no English, has no money, no phone, and is hardly able to read Spanish. Some airlines, sometimes allowed me to get a pass to help the migrants through Security and take them to their gate, but then they didn’t want me to leave and hugged me tightly. I left the airport in tears every time. In the shelter, the migrants always offered to help, they did laundry, cooked the meals, helped cleaning bathrooms and floors, whatever you asked them to help with, they would gladly do. My greatest joy was to see the children, who arrived tired, dirty, hugging their parent’s neck or leg, running around the shelter the following day, playing with other children and laughing. Their stories I will carry with me forever. I know some people believe it’s abusive to come with small children, traveling so many miles to reach this country, but if you listen like I did to the stories of what they are fleeing from, you will think differently. They leave their country with their children precisely because they want to save them from certain death, extreme poverty, or horrible abuse of power. I still see the face of a 59 year old lady who was traveling with her 15 year old son and 10 year old granddaughter, who was separated from her at the border because, according to ICE, she couldn’t prove she was the girl’s grandmother. Her teary eyes are seared in my mind. I am now back home, but like I said before, my heart is back in El Paso. Friends tell me how proud they are of me and I personally feel I have done nothing special, that I need to do more. I have never seen a greater group of volunteers than what I witnessed at Annunciation House or Casa Oscar Romero mostly American born and raise, who speak fluent Spanish and just want to help. People like our manager Lindy, a young woman who is volunteering for 6 months and working 16 hours a day, or Mike also young who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and is serving there between treatments, or Sisters like Pat, Maura, Myra, Julianne, Mary Catherine and many more from different congregations, some in their 80, who worked as hard as any of the younger folks, or the married couple Diana and Mark, our 24 hour on call nurse, Laura and Teresa, willing to do whatever was needed or Reynaldo, the Jesuit novice from Puerto Rico, serving 4 months at the shelter, or Ruth and her sister Pam, a Physician Assistant who spent hours treating patients at our clinic. I have to mention also the many volunteers from the local community, who came on their free time to help out. Or the cashier at the thrift shop where we bought a lot of children clothes who asked me to go get $20 more worth of clothes and she would pay for it! Annunciation House depends on donations to make all these shelters run. They do not get any money from the government, just from individuals who contribute out of their own generosity, no matter their faith or national origin. You can get more information on how to become a volunteer or donate by checking their web site, https://annunciationhouse.org/

MI VIAJE A LA FRONTERA

Silvia Muñõz es nuestra directora de Acción Social y es nuestro contacto con la red de Jesuitas con Migrantes para Centro América, México y Estados Unidos.. Iba a reunirse con un grupo de religiosas de la Congregation of St Joseph que la habían invitado a ir con ellas a servir por dos semanas en uno de los albergues de Annunciation House.

El pasado 21 de Marzo, subí al avión con destino a El Paso, Texas. Iba a reunirme con un grupo de religiosas de la Congregation of St Joseph que me habían invitado a ir con ellas a servir por dos semanas en uno de los albergues de Annunciation House. Iba sin conocer a nadie y sin saber que esperar, solo sabía que el trabajo sería agotador y podría abarcar desde hacer llamadas por teléfono hasta limpiar baños. Nos comprometíamos a los que nos asignaran y al orario que nos asignaran. Ya de vuelta en Miami, aún no he “aterrizado” - mi mente y mi corazón se han quedado en El Paso, en el albergue Casa Oscar Romero a la que fuimos asignadas mi compañera de viaje, Sister Mary Catherine Sack, CSJ, y yo. Nuestro primer día, el mismo 21 de Marzo, se suponía fuera mas bien para “orientación” pero fue realmente un bautismo de fuego. Acabadas de llegar y después de un recorrido por el albergue, llegó un autobús de ICE con mas de 30 migrantes, había que ponerse a trabajar rápidamente. El proceso es el siguiente: después de una pequeña bienvenida al albergue, se les ofrece una comida caliente, seguida de un recibimiento personal a cada familia, dándoles la bienvenida, tomando la información (Intake) de cada miembro de la familia, y llamando al familiar que los está reclamando aquí en los EEUU. Se les deja hablar con su familiar por unos minutos. Después se les da ropa de cama, toallas y una bolsa con jabón, pasta dental, cepillo de dientes y champú. Luego pasan al Ropero donde escogen una muda de ropa limpia y ropa interior para que se puedan duchar y poner ropa limpia. Después se les asigna una cama. En Romero tenemos dos dormitorios de mujeres y dos de hombres. Los días se van rápido, los familiares ya establecidos en este país, compran los boletos de autobús o avión para su destino final. La gran mayoría se va del albergue en menos de 72 horas después de haber llegado. En los 16 días que pasé trabajando en Casa Oscar Romero, creo que hice de todo: hice el “intake”; llamé a las familias a ver si ya habían comprado los boletos; preparé cientos de sándwiches de mantequilla de maní y jalea que es lo que se les da para el camino (muchos de ellos viajan en autobús desde El Paso hasta lugares bien lejos como NY, y hay que darles comida para 3 días de viaje); preparé las bolsas de comida para el viaje; trabajé en el Ropero (tengo que reconocer que es el trabajo que menos me gustó); limpié baños; ayudé en la lavandería; doblé ropa de cama; prepare las bolsas con jabón, pasta, etc.; organicé el closet de los pañales; dispensé medicina y curé heridas cuando no había ningún médico o enfermera en el albergue; y por ultimo, el trabajo que mas me afectaba emocionalmente, los llevaba al aeropuerto o la terminal de autobuses y, si lograba que me lo autorizaran, los ayudaba a pasar por Seguridad y llegar a su puerta de salida. La cara de miedo de estas personas, (muchos de ellos ni siquiera saben leer español, y por supuesto nada de inglés) cuando uno los deja en su puerta de salida, sin teléfono, sin dinero, solo con una bolsa de comida, me partía el alma. Me abrazaban y no querían dejarme ir. Los mismos migrantes están muy dispuestos a ayudar, sacan basura, cocinan, lavan la ropa de cama y ayudan en lo que se les pida. La alegría mas grande es ver a los pequeños, que llegaban con miedo agarrados a las piernas del padre o de la madre, correr al dia siguiente por todo el albergue jugando con lo que encuentren.    
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