Assisting at the Southern Border

Reflections of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Interfaith Welcome Coalition in San Antonio

The Western Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame is sending groups of four sisters at a time to work at the border, and the attached document describes the experiences of the first group of sisters.  Once the understanding of what is needed is better understood, we expect that this opportunity will open to Associates (though they will need to cover their own expenses).  Associates will be informed when the opportunity is opened.

Highlights from the Border – McAllen-TX     February 27, 2019 

Our first week has been a slice of this brutal border reality. When we, Rita Raboin, Mary Gillespie and Mary Alice McCabe landed at McAllen Airport a week ago, we went directly to the Humanitarian Respite center to check out the situation. A worried volunteer informed us:” There’s no bread for sandwiches and no food for supper.” We soon discovered why!  The previous day 700 refugees released from detention facilities had arrived  at the Respite Center and thus most supplies were depleted. That was Day One!

Within a day more donations arrived and so things got back on track. A week later we can tell you that each day has seen the arrival of 400 to 430 Central American refugees, exhausted and scared Moms and small children, and dads with teenagers or little ones. The corridors are filled with these patient folk waiting for a bowl of soup and tortilla, or for a chance at a shower ( 8 showers for 400!) , diapers for babies, a warm jacket for the trip north.  A sea of frightened, serious faces – just out of ICE detention. So our first gesture and mission is a warm smile, a welcoming one and a greeting: “Bienvenidos!”  “Welcome!”  Now they know they are among friends and their faces relax in a smile. 

Maryann went to the little health post “clinic” to help an Asian woman Doctor who dedicates her free days to service at the Respite Center. They gave over the counter meds for dehydration, headaches, sore throats and much more, and soon ran out of Sudafed and the Doctor pulled out her wallet and gave her personal money to Maryann to run to the drugstore for more boxes of medicine. They helped one Dad who had walked days with his 4 year old daughter who had not eaten or kept food down for 8 days. They treated her for dehydration a condition  which many of these children suffer.  Many local health care professionals help at this little clinic at the Respite Center.

Rita is working on the sandwich and kitchen brigades. Over 600-700 sandwiches a day for the families to take on their 2-3-4- day bus ride north. Rita worked alongside Jim, a 91 year old retired doctor who drives to McAllen from South Dakota annually to be part of this mission. He and his deceased wife began this work 18 years ago; since her death he continues their mission alone. 

Previous experience in San Antonio

Dear Friends, We want to open our first sharing with words of gratitude for the many ways you have expressed support for our fact finding mission in Texas. We arrived on Thursday and were welcomed with abundant hospitality by the Sisters of Divine Providence here in San Antonio. Every sister we meet expresses her joy in sharing her home with us. God is indeed very good.

Before we even arrived in San Antonio we received an email from the INTERFAITH WELCOME COALITION (IWC),with a detailed plan for introducing us to their ministry among the refugees. The IWC is formed by a variety of faith groups in San Antonio, including three religious congregations of women, which network together in service to the immigrants

Sr. Pat Connolly, Daughter of Charity, Srs Jean Durell and Mary Margaret Bright of the Incarnate Word (Tere Maya’s community) met with us early Friday morning and took us to the Mennonite House which welcomes a number of families who need shelter as they await travel north. While we were there, we learned about the variety of services available to the mothers and children. The space vibrates with hope, encouragement, hospitality and joy.

We then went to the Greyhound Bus Station and accompanied the sisters and a team of local volunteers as they prepared to welcome nearly 100 mothers and children arriving from the Dilley Detention Center. These volunteers are so very organized Everyone does a piece of the work to be sure that each mom and her family are prepared for their journey. Some volunteers meet the families as they enter the station; others sit with families individually to explain in Spanish the various stops on their trip; others make sure each family receives a backpack containing a fleece blanket, coloring book and crayons, water bottle, and another lunch and snack pack for the journey. Everything possible has been done to relieve the fears and anxieties of these courageous women traveling for the first time in a country that is not theirs.

In the middle of all this activity, a woman waiting for a bus commented to Betsy: I see all of you here helping these people to get to their buses. I am a nurse in the San Antonio hospital Emergency Room. We do what we can to help the immigrants there and I had no idea all this good work was going on in our city. I just called my husband to tell him how quickly and quietly these moms and their children had been helped to continue their journey.

Over the years, the IWC has crafted wonderful relationships with the staff at the Greyhound Bus Station. The staff has allowed them to create a space where the families can gather so the volunteers can be sure that each family has everything they need for their journey north. They have even given the IWC storage space for about 100 back packs. A sign of an even deeper commitment is the fact that the Ticket Agents will call the IWC if they have any refugees in the station at the end of the night. These men and women do all they can to collaborate with the IWC to facilitate the journey of these families.

We have come on a fact finding mission. After just one day we have discovered some facts. A sure fact is that these families are seeking refuge from very violent situations in their home countries. Another is that there are hundreds of generous people coming forward to help them. The relationship between this local Greyhound and the IWC suggests to us a viable model that could be replicated in other places. Another very important fact is there is something for everyone to do.

On Sunday afternoon, the four of us will journey to McAllen and spend the week volunteering at the Humanitarian Respite Care Center, which is coordinated by Sr. Norma Pimentel. Stay tuned for more facts.

Betsy, Ellen, Judy, MaryAlice –Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur 

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