After an emotional first day at the border, our group found strength to face another day of heartache, holding the stories of the people we would encounter, seeking a shred of hope we could to hold onto and share.
After some breakfast tacos - a must when in Texas - we came back to Matamoros.
|Clergy and leaders + breakfast tacos = future regret ... but delicious in the moment!|
We found some of the people we had come across in the previous day to deliver some supplies that were requested and generously provided by members of our delegation and those who generously supported us back home (more on this later).
We found a families in need of diapers, and we met a new family from Nicaragua, a father and daughter, who were fleeing because the child was nearly abducted to be trafficked - we were told that there was already a buyer for the daughter. They didn't have a tent to sleep in, and so we figured out a way to get one to them, thanks to some amazing on-the-ground volunteers.
Now, before I share stories of hope and inspiration, I feel the need to share a caveat: it is human nature to want to find the good and make any intolerable situation better in our minds and hearts. The risk in doing so is that we can allow ourselves to become complacent in paying attention to the cries of those around us and taking the action that we might otherwise be compelled to take. So, let me say this: these amazing, heroic stories are not solving the humanitarian crisis we witnessed here - but they are keeping people alive. Please, do not let these stories pacify your hearts, let them restore some faith in humanity and what is possible to change ONLY if we keep caring with all our hearts.
1) So, we were able to help the family from Nicaragua because we ran into Brendon and Gabby, two warriors of action in a place that nobody knows what actions to take.
1a) Gabby, who had a baby three weeks ago, but felt she couldn't abandon the people she is helping, came across to update the center she is opening in a few weeks to provide all sorts of assistance to the people living at the border. She is rehabbing an abandoned orthodontics shop to open a center for supply distribution, medical attention, legal aid and job training. Gabby is a person who sees a need and doesn't wait for others to figure it out, she gets it done.
Three days before her baby was born, she created a shower area with platforms and pop-up tents, ways of getting clean water in buckets so people don't have to bathe in the river anymore. She said the urgency to create the shower area came from 2 stories: when a decapitated body floated by people bathing in the river and when a child got swept up in the river and survived, but scared everyone who heard about it.
Gabby showed us showers that had been put up that some people were using, but because it was in a low area, the water would pool up in the area and it smelled terrible and went back to bathing in the river. Instead, she found pop-up shower tents, got some funding for them and an ongoing supply of water, and she trained a young man from Honduras, M, living in the asylum camp to run the showers. He hired three others, and she pays them to put the showers up and down three days a week. As they are working towards installing a water filtration system so they can use water from the river, they are training M to use the system, and wherever he ends up, M will leave this liminal place with new skills that might help him wherever he ends up. Knowing someone like Gabby is here gives me hope that conditions will improve ever-so-slightly. She said, as someone who was once homeless, she could understand what people really needed, and she seems to be a whiz at getting grants to support her work. We need more Gabbys in this world!
2) Tucker, Sergio and Team Brownsville -
Brendon Tucker is an incredible young man who would be totally embarrassed to see any of this (if you're reading it, Brendon, I apologize if this is how you feel, but please read on, and you'll know why I needed to share your story, too). He has jumped in whole-heartedly to dedicate his life for the time being to keeping people alive down here. Constantly quoting Dr. King, Rev William Barber III, and other leaders who have fought or are fighting for the civil and human rights of those who are most vulnerable. He left his work with the poor people's campaign to be present here. He believes in being in the background and doing grunt work, but it was awe-inspiring, watching him run around interacting with people, seeking people put with his list of items, medicines, etc that individuals needed. But without phones, it can be hard to track people down. Yet, he managed to find all but one person today. He shared with us the fact that many people send supplies, but if they have to transport a truckload of goods over the border, they have to pay hundreds of dollars in tarifs/taxes that is not in the budget.... instead, he told me he'd put together a list of items that we could order to the Walmart in Matamoros, and he'd pick them up to distribute.
He wants to change this so desperately, systematically. But he knows that if people like him are not on the ground, every day, people will not survive. And he stopped his searching to help us procure the tent from his supply stash. We promised to send him another tent to replace that one (and probably a few more, as well). Knowing Tucker is there, leading with his heart, gives me hope that there is someone watching out for people over here. As he said, if more 20-somethings want to come out here and live out of their cars while helping people, it would be good for them.
He's helping Gabby with her work and he also has helped Sergio coordinate Team Brownsville, a group that started over a year ago and has fed the migrant camp twice a day each and every day. What started as a few pots of food on Brendan's stove each day has ballooned into cooking for 1000. They have coordinated volunteers coming from all over the country, days at a time, to come and help cook and feed all of the people in need.
https://www.teambrownsville.org/ for more info about the AMAZING work they are doing.
|A train of cars led by volunteers from Team Brownsville leaving the bus station to cross the border and feed 1000+ people.|
3) Generosity from back home:
I learned that in the two day period from when we sent a congregational email about this trip to the time I arrived at Brownsville to pick up some supplies before crossing the border, over 50 families/individuals mostly from Or Shalom contributed to raising over $3,000 towards aid for human beings at the border. Thank you, thank you for caring, for doing something, and for bolstering me in knowing I have not been alone in witnessing all that I've seen here.
4) These incredible leaders I traveled with... the other faith leaders, the folks from PASO, Mano-a-Mano - it had been amazing to see people putting faith into action, walking with empathy and pathos. It seems like we are all in shock, if I had to name the group dynamic. We have been broken, but not in a defeated kind of a way, broken from what we had been, so that there is room in each of us to care more and strive more and differently than we may have in the past.
|We ended our time in Matamoros with a small interfaith prayer.|