Several days ago, our team took a day off from the physical exertion in the field to volunteer at the Sacred Heart Respite Center in McAllen Texas. We arrived at the center sometime in the morning on a very rainy and cold day (especially for Texas), where we were greeted by our friend Sister Pam. She led us inside and gave us a sort of orientation about the history of the Respite Center, the role the center plays in the migrant crisis, and instructions on how we would be able to help out while we were there. The purpose of the center is to provide migrants who are being released into our country with food, toiletries, clothing, and the first shower that they have likely had in days. These individuals were previously being detained by Border Patrol after crossing the border and seeking asylum and this center is really the first place since arriving where they are shown any type of humanity.
Before setting us off on our volunteer work, Sister Pam conversed with a migrant and his daughter who had recently arrived at the center, asking them questions about where they were from, their family, etc. Without going into too many details, this conversation was very eye-opening on just what these individuals had to go through to get to the US, and the calmness with which they regaled this information highlighted just how typical their situation was for all of the migrants attempting to cross the border – and let me tell you, their situation was far from what anyone would consider ideal.
Surprisingly, out of our group of at least 30 volunteers, there were only a few of us who spoke any Spanish. Jorge, who traveled with our group from Indianapolis, is fluent in Spanish and so he acted as our main translator. Otherwise, Justin and I were the only others who were able to converse in Spanish. Because of this, Sister Pam enlisted us in kind of floating around to help translate for anyone who may need it, as well as to talk to some of the families as they went through the process at the center. We were also asked to walk with Sister Pam and others from the group to greet the migrants being dropped off at the bus station. While there, Sister Pam had Justin and I usher families to the waiting area, explaining to them that we would take them to the center shortly. After explaining this to one family, a young boy, who had previously been quite rambunctious playing with his friend in the station, surprised me by giving me a big hug, which I was not at all prepared for but it was extremely heartwarming and reminded me how relieved these families must be knowing they are finally on their way to their families in the US.
Back at the center, things became very chaotic very quickly, with about 30 migrants being moved through to receive their supplies, clothing, and food, as well as to allow them time to wash up and shower. Acting as a translator, I very quickly became overwhelmed by people asking me for specific clothing items, as well as by other volunteers asking me to help translate. It was a good kind of overwhelming, however. In fact, it was wonderful. I felt like I was really able to help these people and that, even though our communication was limited, I was able to connect with them on some level. These individuals were going through a very tough situation, and probably had not experienced much kindness in the past couple of weeks, so it felt good simply being able to smile and say “Hola, Bienvenidos” to all of them. Even better was being able to ask “¿Qué necesitas?” or “What do you need?” I don’t think they had heard that from many people since entering our country and it was amazing being able to help, even in a small way.
This experience at the center was much more intense and eye-opening than I could have ever imagined it would be. I heard stories from people that were heartbreaking and shocking and seeing their resilience was awe-inspiring. I am so grateful for this opportunity to have been able to be of some small help to these individuals and their families. I only hope that the amazing work that the Sacred Heart Respite Center is doing will continue on until there is no longer a need for it. If you would like to help out as well by donating items or by making a financial donation, check out their webpage here.