It has been just a couple of days since the UIndy Beyond Borders team has returned from our most recent volunteer trip in South Texas. Just a couple of days, yet I have already had several conversations with friends in Indiana concerning the work that we did and explaining the true nature of the humanitarian crisis occurring at the border. And I know there will be more to come.
Though we have returned from Texas, I know that the work is not done. Every day I find myself thinking of those who are likely attempting to cross the harsh Texas desert at this very moment, and hope that the water stations that the Beyond Borders team helped set up will be enough to get them safely to their destinations. These conversations I have with friends and family back in the midwest are just one way that our work continues at home; by talking about our experiences, we are able to help spread awareness of the reality of the humanitarian crisis that is occurring at the border. Living so far removed as we are, it is difficult to fully understand what is occurring there; having now experienced just a small portion of what migrants are going through as they attempt to cross the border better equips me to be able to educate those around me back home. One of our goals has always been to spread awareness of the border crisis and to dispel any of the common misconceptions that are so easily spread by news and media. As I sit comfortably at home, I hope to continue to have these conversations with those around me to help increase awareness and educate as many people as I can.
I will also continue to think about those who aren’t able to do so – those who are still walking through the sand and brush and heat to make a better life for themselves. I can only hope that our work this past week, and our continuing work in the future, will help alleviate the crisis in some small way.
On the first day we arrived at the South Texas Human Rights Center at the same time as Eddie and Deputy Don. Eddie unlocked the center and rearranged to get enough chairs at the table in the middle of the front room and then his phone rang. “I have to get this”, he said and walked to the back room. He was gone for just a few minutes. As he walked back into the front room he said “This is the year of the widow/widower maker. Every call is from a wife with her children in the US already or a husband with his children in the US already. They came first, are waiting on their spouse to arrive and lost contact.” He explained that this woman lost contact with her husband last week and his last known location was Brooks County. Eddie’s first step was to see if he had been detained and is being held somewhere. This man had not been apprehended so Eddie had to tell her that her husband is officially missing. “She is devastated”, he said. “I could tell she was devastated and it will just get worse as it sinks in. I told her she has to get more information before we can go search for him. We need to know more about his location.” Calls like these come in daily and are just part of Eddie’s many responsibilities as the Director of the South Texas Human Rights Center.
We discovered a backpack partially buried in the sand while on one of our searches. Inside were several items that had been protected from the environment because there were wrapped in plastic bags: socks, a hat and a blanket. Brooks County Sheriffs Department Deputy Don White carefully laid the pair of new socks on a tree branch saying “These are really nice. I’m going to put them here so someone who needs them will see them.” He repeated this for the other items in the bag. Deputy White volunteers to do this once a month with the Texas National guard. In addition to his duties as a Brooks County Deputy Sheriff (which is also volunteer as the county cannot pay for a large department) and his work in security and traffic that pays the bills, Don walks the brush in Brooks county looking for people in distress, human remains and personal items that might tell the story of where to find someone who is reported missing.
These two volunteer countless hours to finding people in distress, preventing deaths and saving lives. The Beyond Borders team extends its gratitude to them for educating us on these issues and allowing us to assist them in their efforts. We have learned so much in our short time there and experienced things that will change us forever. One of the easiest way you can contribute to this crisis is to educate yourself on the truth regarding what is happening at the US-Mexico border and bring awareness to this crisis.
13, 66, 79, 160, 23. These are so much more than random numbers. We have worked tirelessly over the past week and today was no different. Our last full day in Falfurrias began bright and early for two reasons. First, we wanted to try and beat the triple digit Texas heat, but we were also so anxious to get started as we knew this would be our last chance to get as much done as we possibly could. The team was incredibly efficient with our line searches this morning and covered approximately 5 miles of the ranch with the assistance of Don, Eddie, and a third volunteer.
After a quick lunch break we serviced 34 water stations by splitting the route between two groups. Haley and myself traveled with Eddie and were lucky enough to come across a rancher who was so kind and supportive of the work conducted by the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC), and it really speaks to the character of the people of Falfurrias.
For the evening we headed to McAllen to meet up with Sister Pam who has assisted previous field seasons but whom I had never met (all the wonderful things I had heard about her are absolutely true). We visited the border wall before going to Palenque Grill for dinner and live mariachi music. It was the perfect way to end our evening.
Our time in Texas has come to an end and I am so proud of all we were able to accomplish here. Our mission was to provide humanitarian aid to those who desperately need it, including both the living and the dead. Without the support of the ranch owners, the expertise of Deputy Don, the endless work Eddie performs on a daily basis, and encouragement from people like Sister Pam, our team would not have been successful. We are so humbled and extremely grateful to have such hardworking and generous people to work along side. There is so much work that still needs to be done. It can be overwhelming when we’re standing on an acre of land among thousands that still need to be searched, but with every inch of land covered, and with every water station built and filled we are making progress. 13, 66, 79, 160, 23: five numbers that mean so much. We installed 13 new water stations. We serviced 66 additional stations resulting in a total of 79 water stations that were filled with 160 gallons of water. We covered approximately 23 miles of rough terrain under the Texas sun by foot. For us these numbers represent lives saved by available drinking water, these are areas of land that have been narrowed down for future searches, recoveries and identifications that can bring families closure on missing loved ones. These numbers are proof that every small action can have a big impact. Thank you Texas, you have forever changed me and I hope to continue this humanitarian work in the future. Until next time!