Today was not a field day; instead, today was spent volunteering at the Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. The Respite Center is a place where people seeking asylum can visit and obtain a shower, food, and clean clothes prior to hopping a bus that will take them to the place they will stay until their court hearing. The Respite Center was started by a nun at a local catholic church that observed migrants waiting at a bus station typically without food and wearing the same clothes they had been traveling in.
This is where the Respite Center comes into the picture. At the bus station, volunteers are waiting to take the migrants that are dropped off, back to the Respite Center to await their departure. Arriving at the Respite Center, migrants are greeted with a round of applause and a joyous greeting of ‘Bien Venitos’! This welcoming is a small part of trying to make these people feel human again, to feel ‘welcomed’. After arriving at the center, migrants are checked in and given clean clothes, a shower, tooth brush, and food. After this is completed, migrants are helped with making phone calls and are given a place to stay and relax.
Prior to arriving at the Center, our group was given a brief introduction as to how the Center functions and what to expect. After arriving at the center, I was incredibly grateful for the introduction, but I am not entirely sure if anything could have really prepared me for what I actually saw and experienced. Upon arriving at the center, we met with Sister Pam and we were taken into a large room where different areas are divided up to form an assembly line type process. Our group sat down and we were given a quick tour by Sister Pam of the different sections and where we would be able to assist. Afterwards, we were very fortunate to have two people who wanted to tell us their story. Sister Pam was able to interpret the stories for us and needless to say, it was incredibly emotional to hear first hand the incredibly tough journey they had to endure.
My task was ‘shower duty’ meaning I assisted with making sure there were clean towels and the showers were stocked with shampoo and soap. Once the migrants arrived at the center, my task quickly changed. I had walked back from the showers into the main room for a reason I cannot remember, when a woman and her two children approached me. She clearly needed assistance with helping to find clothes for herself and her children. Everything seemed to happen so fast; the next thing I know, I’m holding her 8month old son and going through racks of clothing ‘guesstimating’ sizes for the woman and her 5-6 year old daughter and son. I should also mention that there was a huge language barrier between us, so we communicated through hand motions and lots of head nodding/smiles.
On the surface, it appeared that I spent the entire time holding an adorable baby boy and watched an especially well behaved little girl. What I actually did was so much more; for once, this woman was able to relax knowing her children were safe. They were warm, had clean clothes, full bellies, and were safe. I am still amazed at how accepting the baby boy was; I will always remember cuddling him until he fell asleep, exhausted from his long journey. I will never forget helping this woman whom I don’t even know her name. All I know is that she traveled with her son and daughter all the way from Honduras. Just thinking about this experience makes me very emotional. I cannot fathom what this woman had to go through up until we met and I will never know. This unknown woman is one of the strongest women I have ever met and her driving force is wanting a better life for her and her children. This experience, this trip has changed my perspective on everything and moving forward, it makes me want to advocate for these people and volunteer my time as much possible. This was a life changing moment and I am forever grateful to have experienced it.