Category Archives: Environment

Talking about the weather, terrain, flora, fauna, etc…

Day 3: Sticker Burrs

Here we are at the end of day 2 (in the field) and I have been stuck by more sticker burrs than I can keep track of. It is a love/hate relationship, me and sticker burs; I hate them and they seem to love me. These sticker burrs are also different than the burr you would find in Indiana; in Texas, they are small, sphere shaped with tiny knives that stick to everything. In my original post, I thought scorpions were going to be my kryptonite but no, it is the dreaded Texas sticker burr.

Reflecting back on today, I am astonished at the amount progress that has been accomplished  within our group as well as the Texas State group. It was an early morning for everyone; arriving at the cemetery at 7am, our groups immediately got down to work. There were three groups working on three different areas of the cemetery and although we were all doing the same excavation work, at the same cemetery, with the same goals; we all faced different challenges.

One of the challenges our group faced was figuring out how to excavate an area that is comprised mostly of sand causing the walls of the burial to be completely unstable. This was an excellent example of teamwork and why having an open line of communication is important in field work. We were able to bounce ideas off each other and develop a not-so-standard solution on how to move forward with the excavation resulting in the recovery of two of the three burials.

Another challenge our group faced was being the center of attention to a large group of media personnel who were at the site in order to bring awareness to this humanitarian issue. It was not until I was able to step back after my excavation rotation that I realized how many people were actually filming us. dsc_0297In the moment, it may appear troublesome having so many people crowding such a small area but it is a small price to pay for all of the positive attention it is bringing to the crisis here in South Texas.

dsc_0213After each burial excavation is completed, the remains are taken into a private tent area where all the remains and personal belongings are inventoried. Once the inventory is completed, the remains and personal belongings are prepared to be sent to Texas State University for analysis. What we are currently doing in South Texas really is a small first step, in the longer more complicated process that takes place after the remains arrive  back at Texas State University.

Today was a pleasant mixture of exhaustion and img_3009excitement as we were able to take that first step in the long process of getting these individuals identified and repatriated. At the end of the day, we are all in high spirits….. exhausted.. but in high spirits as we sit around the table wrapping up day 2 by completing our evening tasks of blogging, mapping, note taking, and logging photos. Its hard to think that this is only day 2 and that we only have 7 days left. I am excited to see what the next week may bring us since we have plans for visiting the Humanitarian Respite Center and traveling to the border. It has certainly been an eye opening experience thus far and I imagine that after volunteering at the Human Rights Center and visiting the various places that it will only become richer. Until next time…




Day 9: How to Build a Water Station

One of the many ways that the South Texas Human Rights Center contributes positively to this humanitarian crisis is by constructing and refilling water stations to help prevent migrant deaths.  Every year, countless people die while crossing the harsh desert scrub land of Brooks County.  The water stations prevent more deaths by providing a waystation of relief in an otherwise unforgiving environment.  Building and replenishing the water stations is full-time endeavor that requires the aid of multiple volunteers.  Please check out this short video that demonstrates how much work goes into the creation of one of these stations.

To check out the South Texas Human Rights Center, please click here.

Justin and Helen


Day 8

Cemetery Mapping
Cemetery Mapping

For our second day in Falfurrias, we surveyed cemeteries with Dr. Spradley and Dr. Gocha from Texas State University and Eddie Canalas from the South Texas Human Rights Center. The cemetery survey project was created to locate all the cemeteries in south Texas that have graves with unidentified migrant remains. Cemeteries in several counties have already been surveyed and mapped and more will be added to this list. The goal is to eventually excavate the remains in these cemeteries, so that they can be analyzed, identified, and then returned to their loved ones.

Dr. Spradley with the GPS device
Dr. Spradley with the GPS device

Today we assisted in surveying a total of 3 different cemeteries. Dr. Spradley used GPS to create maps of each cemetery and plot each unknown grave. This was also our first full day actually working outside. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was also really hot and humid. We were sweating after the first few minutes of being outside, but we survived a whole day of this so we should be okay for helping with the water stations tomorrow.

As we were surveying, I noticed how beautiful the Texas wildlife was. There were lots of colorful birds and flowers. In some areas, it felt like we were in a jungle and not in Texas at all. Palm trees weaved with tall branching trees and created canopies for us to drive under. We looked out the windows of our truck in wonder. I captured some of this beauty on a short video for you all to enjoy!

Driving in Texas

Thanks for reading and watching! Tomorrow should be another busy, but exciting day.