All posts by brandth

New Perspectives

A person in PPE kneeling on the ground with buckets, plungers, and a plastic tub
Processing Personal Effects

Words cannot describe how immensely grateful I am to have had the opportunity to go to Texas this year.  I met so many wonderful people at Texas State University, Missing in Harris County Day, and Falfurrias that I will never forget.  The experiences I’ve had on this trip have helped me gain new perspectives and have greatly increased my knowledge on this human rights issue.

Two team members going over paperwork in a lab
Skeletal Analysis

At Texas State University, I was exposed to other aspects of  the human identification process.  In addition to conducting skeletal analyses, I learned a lot about forensic odontology with Dr. Fancher, processing human remains, washing the clothes of the deceased, and taking photographs of the clothes.  All of these experiences have broadened my understanding of the human identification process, and I am very thankful that so many people were willing to share their methodologies with me in addition to improving my skeletal analysis skills.

Missing in Harris County Day was my first experience directly working with the families of the missing.  While I contributed mostly by compiling data from intake forms and documents, I was still able to interact with those who are directly affected by this humanitarian endeavor.  I hope that our work will positively impact them by finding their missing family members.

In Falfurrias I was really excited to be able to help and work with people who are in the thick of this issue.  It’s hard for me to imagine constantly working on border crosser issues and border crosser deaths after such a short immersion.  But the individuals we met there are incredibly passionate and inspiring.  Helping Sister Pam make T-shirt bags for the families at the Respite Center and Eddie with the water stations were just a few small ways in which we could help, but I’m grateful we got the opportunity to do so.

Three people around a blue barrel with a red cross flag flying in the sky
Water Stations

Before going to Texas, I had heard so many stories and tried to understand the complexities of the issues surrounding migrant death.  By being in Texas, I realized how much more complex the issues really are and how many people there are working on all kinds of facets of this matter.  Leaving Texas, I still feel like I can’t fully understand the difficulties faced there in such a short amount of time, but I do have a greater appreciation for what everyone I have met is doing to help resolve this issue.

Two girls wearing coon hats
At the Alamo

I am also very thankful to have gotten to work with this team.  We not only achieved the goal of 15 cases in a week, but exceeded it by completing 17 skeletal analyses.  This group of people are hardworking, dedicated, and passionate about helping in any way they can, and they all truly inspire me every day.  We had a lot of fun moments in addition to the work we did, including visiting the Alamo, creating the blog videos, hanging out at the hotel pool, and all the inside jokes that were made along the way.  I’m happy I got to work alongside this team, and I hope to be able to continue helping in the future.


Day 7

The first part of our journey today began with a four-hour drive to Falfurrias (with the bad weather it actually took closer to five).  While I’ve heard about how hot and dry this part of the state can be, it was instead overcast and rainy most of our drive south.  Once we arrived to our hotel, we stopped for lunch at an unlikely place for tacos, a gas station.  While I was nervous at first, the tacos were actually delicious and the tortillas there were hand made, exceeding my gas station expectations.

After lunch we made our way to Sister Pam’s apartment.  It was wonderful to get to see her again and catch-up on what she’s been up to.  After working at the South Texas Human Rights Center for a year and a half, she’s now been focusing on helping at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Another way in which she’s been helping with this humanitarian endeavor is by creating bags made out of T-shirts.  Before we left Indianapolis, our program had donated over 20 shirts for this project.  Today we were able to help Sister Pam make the bags while chatting about what was new with each of us.  These bags are created by tying the ends of the shirts together and cutting off the sleeves and neckline to create the handles of the bag.  The purpose of these bags is for families to be able to store clothes, personal items, food, and water as they continue on their path after their time at the respite center.  While they’re usually given plastic bags, these bags made from T-shirts are much sturdier and hold more items.  I was happy to be able to help make the journey for these individuals a little easier by making a few bags.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to create more bags and donate them in the future.

Once we finished making the T-shirt bags, we watched a documentary that was made 2 years ago called, The Real Death Valley.  It’s a really great documentary highlighting some of the issues surrounding this humanitarian crisis and shows some of the excavations that the team from UIndy has participated in.  After discussing the film for a bit, we said our good byes and headed to Stickland’s for dinner.  We had some delicious Southern and Mexican food, as well as some tasty pie.  While most our day consisted of traveling, it was really rewarding being able to create bags that will be helpful to migrants on their journey, as well as re-connect with Sister Pam.  Hopefully, the rain ceases by tomorrow and doesn’t inhibit our next adventure to map the cemeteries tomorrow.


Helping at Missing in Harris County Day

Helen: Today our team participated in Missing in Harris County day.  This was a really exciting opportunity for me as I’m used to being objective and distant from the families I want to help.  We arrived early this morning to help set-up for the event, and then began to prepare for our respective duties.  Originally Amanda and I were designated as greeters, but since there were so many volunteers, we ended up helping those who were conducting interviews for intake.  My computer became the central hub for all intake and consent forms, photos, and documents from the event today.  Once an interview was completed, I would receive their intake forms and any other documents that needed to be scanned.  Amanda would then scan the documents and I would create a folder with the missing individual’s name to hold all of the items.

Beyond Borders Team Members greeting individuals at Missing in Harris County Day
Amanda and I greeting families as they enter

While families were going through the welcome orientation and first starting their interviews, I worried that I wasn’t contributing enough to the event, as I had nothing to do but wait.  However, after an hour or two, I was constantly uploading scanned documents, saving files, and trying to keep it all organized without time for a break.  At the end of the day, I combined all of the individual’s folders into one and handed them off to Ryan Strand.  At first I was nervous I wasn’t helping enough, but by the end of the day I felt like I had made the interviewer’s jobs much easier by being a central location for them to bring their forms, so that they could better attend to their families.  Having the opportunity to work with these families reminded me of why I’m so passionate about helping these people find their loved ones.  I am really thankful that we got to help today, and I hope that the information gained from this event will help find and identify more missing individuals.

Beyond Borders Team Members working the Missing in Harris County Day intake table
Our work station

Amanda: My role at Missing in Harris County Day was assisting Helen in organizing the intake files. I handled documents, pictures, and consent forms that needed to be scanned and added to the intake files. I stayed mostly in my one little area of the room scanning papers, but everywhere else around me was an explosion of noise and movement. There were families talking to the intake volunteers, different organization representatives were walking around and helping out, documents were changing hands, and kids were running around. It was slow in the beginning, but then it picked up and it was non-stop work. I didn’t have an important job, but I was glad that I could be useful in some way.

The best and most rewarding part of my day was the kids. Several of the families that came in to report their missing family members brought their children with them. Kids are magic, they can take a tense and emotional moment and make you smile and laugh. There were two little kids, a brother and a sister, that got bored during the intake process and came over to see what I was doing. At the time, my work was slowing down and I decided to help keep them occupied. I taught them how to use the scanner, which they found endlessly entertaining. They were adorable and full of energy. We had a lot of fun and they made so many people in the room smile. I guess this was another job I did. Keeping kids occupied, so that their other family members could do the intake without having to worry about keeping an eye on them. I’m glad I got a chance to participate in this event. Hopefully, the information collected today will help reunite families with their missing loved ones.

Helen and Amanda