All posts by Hannah Irmer

Back in Indy

It has been so difficult to put my thoughts into words today. I am attempting to write this blog post with what feels like fog in my brain, while staring at a blank page. There is so much to say, stories to tell, experiences to share, and yet today I have barely done anything with my time. It was such a sharp transition from full physical activity all day to complete freedom to do whatever I want. It is hard not to question how I ended up in this position when so many others do not wake up with the luxury I have. Why is there so much judgment surrounding where an individual is born? Why is there a competitive drive for different groups of people to always be better than the others? Why did this hierarchy start and what purpose or benefit does it offer? Why am I able to come home and binge Netflix when the idea of safety and security is out of the question for others? I know that where and what we are born into is a choice made by God that no earthly being has any control over, but the Bible teaches us to love and serve one another. If so, why does God choose to put one person in a better position than the other? This trip has been a test of faith bringing up all the questions no one can answer. However, what I have learned and will always remember is that empathy goes such a long way. Even though we did not come into direct contact with any migrants or their families, I do feel that we as a team have touched and benefited so many lives. 

The daunting, unanswered questions will always remain, but a very critical part of this reflection process for me is to also remember my favorite parts of this trip. Don and Ray were amazing to work with. I could not imagine doing what we did everyday without them. Along with them came Socks who added an exciting twist, always when we needed a pick-me-up. She was always just happy to be there no matter what we were doing. Another memorable moment from this trip was discovering shoe tracks from possible migrants traveling through the very same brush and thickets we walked through that day. Don had said they most likely were from the previous night or early morning. I remember reflecting on the drastic differences between all the gear, snacks, and water we had versus what little we can imagine the migrants had at the time. We spent an entire day refilling water stations with Eddie, seeing the locations where migrants have also walked through. Spending our last day away from home being together as a team helped bring the trip to an end. Moments like these are what made this so special. 

black dog with white chest rolling on her back on the ground
Socks being the most fun and adorable companion
UIndy team posing in front of the Alamo
The team in front of The Alamo in San Antonio
part of the team standing on top of a bridge on the Riverwalk
Us standing on a bridge overlooking the Riverwalk

I could not be more grateful for the time we spent in Brooks County. The friendships we made, challenges we faced, and laughs we shared will be lifelong memories. Having traveled to Texas before, I had an idea of what the vegetation would be like, but what I was not expecting was the mental exhaustion. It was difficult to stay focused and engaged all day, everyday. I knew every moment would be worth it and I did not even want to blink the time away. But, it was always in the back of my mind that time was ticking and the trip would come to an end. I am extremely privileged to be able to continue my education and live in a stable home and community. I want nothing more than to share the experiences and knowledge I have learned about the migrant crisis. I am confident this will transfer over to whichever career path I choose. Because of this experience, I will strive to always encourage those around me to practice empathy no matter the situation. I have grown as a professional, a human being, and in my faith because of our trip and I could not be more thankful.

The following are some of my favorite photos from the trip we have not yet shared!

two tacos on a plate from Torchy's Tacos
The best tacos from Torchy’s Tacos
three girls and a dog riding in the back of a pickup truck
Catching a ride back to the ranch entrance on our hottest field day
girl standing with arms crossed in front of a lake
One of the best pictures of me in the field
girl holding one large and one small wild cucumber
Posing with some wild cucumbers which we thought were watermelons and actually turned out to be poisonous


the UIndy team at the end of the day leaving the airport

Our Trip Back Home

Today is our last day in Falfurrias. Our trip has come to an end. We’ve accomplished so much yet there’s still so much work that needs to be done. Of our five search and recovery days, we recovered human remains on 3 of those days. We should be proud of the work our team has done, but I can’t help but think of all the families out there still looking for closure. As I reflect on our drive north into San Antonio, these thoughts are running through my head. It feels weird to be relaxed and have a less rigid schedule, but we must return home at some point, right?     

We did a short debrief during breakfast at the hotel. Dr. Latham explained our layout for the day. Our first task was to have breakfast and clean out our rental car. We tracked in lots of sand and dirt, so we swept that out quickly before loading up our luggage. We decided to take some time to be tourists in downtown San Antonio before heading to the airport. We first stopped at The Alamo to visit the historic site. The Alamo is known for being a symbol of US courage during the Mexican-American War of 1846. We walked around the grounds admiring the sites. We were able to see a timeline wall of the five flags of independent nations that served these grounds. Adding in a sixth flag would be the United States which is where the amusement park, Six Flags, got its name as it originated in Texas.

front view of the San Antonio Alamo
The Alamo
Large oak tree planted at the Alamo for fallen soldiers
An oak tree planted in 1965 in honor of fallen soldiers
A timeline of the ownership of the Alamo land
The timeline of the Alamo history

Once we finished touring The Alamo, we headed downstairs to the Riverwalk. The San Antonio Riverwalk is 15 miles long and flows through downtown San Antonio. It is especially lively in the summer evenings. You can walk along the river and visit shops, restaurants, live music, history, and art. It was very beautiful and filled with various activities to do. I would love to come back at some point and spend a long evening on the Riverwalk. Today, we went to lots of souvenir shops, and I was able to purchase some gifts for my family. There were so many shops filled with handmade and authentic accessories, clothing, and trinkets. We spent time walking around, taking photos, and spending some time in a relaxed environment for the first time in about a week.

walking under a bridge towards the riverwalk with plants on the wall
Heading towards the Riverwalk
view from under an arch looking over the river at a stage for live music
Entering the Riverwalk
bridge over the riverwalk
The San Antonio Riverwalk
part of the Uindy team overlooking the Riverwalk
Part of the UIndy team shopping for souvenirs

      After leaving the Riverwalk, we headed to the San Antonio airport to get ready to fly home. We made it through security with no bags being checked so doing much better than our trip down south. We got our belongings together and headed to get some lunch. We had limited options, so we got some pizza and chatted about the trip during our final debrief. Dr. Latham prepared us for some of the feelings we might have in the next couple days. She said we may be feeling anxious, restless, or even unmotivated because we had such a routine down while in Falfurrias doing so much meaningful work. Something I know I will struggle with is finding out what to do next. But, the only way I can do that is if we actually make it home. The engines were running and we taxied out to the runway until the lights flashed and the plane stopped. Our flight was delayed due to air traffic control essentially saying there’s too many planes coming into the Dallas airport, where our connecting flight was. We sat on the runway for an hour waiting for traffic to die down which sounds strange when you’re referring to the sky. The worst part was that we had just about an hour layover meaning there was the possibility of missing our flight back home. Thankfully, after sprinting off the plane and through the terminals, we made it to our gate with about 5 minutes to spare. We figured something had to go wrong at some point on the trip and of course it was on our way home. Fortunately, we boarded the plane and arrived at our final destination.

UIndy team running through the airport
Running to catch our connecting flight

I’ve been having mixed feelings about coming home. It has not quite set in yet that I am not waking up tomorrow morning to search through the brush and sand for 8 hours of the day. In fact, all I have to do tomorrow is go to the dentist. I know this transition back into my normal life will be challenging and strange, but knowing I have my whole team going through the same feelings brings me comfort. I know that having this support system is essential to returning home and I couldn’t ask for a better team.


Diving Into Day 3

Claire head first in a blue barrel while refilling water stations.
Restocking water stations

After a good night’s rest, we started day 3 at 7:30 a.m. Today was hotel waffle day, which is one of my favorite foods. We sat down for breakfast, had our vitamin C shots, and discussed more in depth our plans for the day. Our first activity was doing water stations with Eddie. We met up at the South Texas Human Rights Center. The South Texas Human Rights Center is adjacent to the Ed Rachal Memorial Library. Dr Latham explained the foundation has a focus on children, literacy and education. Across the street is the Brooks County Courthouse, which according to Dr. Latham is absolutely beautiful inside after its refurbushment, but unfortunately, we were not able to go inside today because it is closed on the weekends.

The Ed Rachal Memorial Library
The Ed Rachal Memorial Library
Brooks County Courthouse and park
The Brooks County Courthouse

Eddie had loaded up his truck the day before with all our supplies for our water station route. We needed milk crates, gallon jugs of water, rope, metal stakes, and sharpies. After a quick stop at the hardware store and gas station, we headed out on our route. Fortunately, for part of our route I was able to ride in the truck with Eddie and chat with him. He explained a lot of his methodologies and reasons as to why he does what he does. He uses gallon jugs because they are easiest to carry and the local HEB orders them specifically for him to purchase. He started using blue barrels to store the water jugs because they stand out within the brush and the color symbolizes water. Part of our job today was to repair or reattach the lids with new rope. This was a team effort job, but we also had individual jobs as we continued to work and get into a groove. Clair and I split times riding with Eddie so whoever was with him was in charge of carrying the milk crates full of water jugs to the water station. Once our minivan pulled up behind the truck, everyone else would get out and start their jobs. Chastidy was in charge of writing the GPS coordinates of the water station on the inside lid along with the phone number of the South Texas Human Rights Center and 911. This allows anyone who arrives at the water station to know who to call if they want to ask for help. The remaining two of us would grab any empty jugs from the water station to place back in the truck to throw away. Once we figured out our jobs, it was really easy to work quickly and efficiently. A few of the water stations needed repairs so we had to place a new stake in the ground and tie the container to the stake.

Eddie (male) speaking with the UIndy team about water stations and supplies.
Eddie speaking with the UIndy team about our water station route and supplies.
Team unloading the truck filled with water station supplies.
The UIndy team and Eddie unloading the supplies from the back of the truck.
blue barrel in front of a fence line and brush
A water station in front of a fence where a makeshift path can be seen in the background.

Recently, there has been more support from the community. At the first water station we reached, we opened it to see a case of water bottles placed inside. Eddie said it was very heartening to see support from the community and that hopefully others are starting to see the impact they can have on Brooks County. Eddie also explained how some ranch owners are willing to allow him to place water stations on their property. On a large and heavily trafficked ranch, Eddie has been able to place 30 water stations around the property with the permission of the owner.

We ran out of water after about 5 hours of work and took a short break for lunch. After our turkey sandwiches and little debbie snacks, Dr. Latham drove us to the Sacred Heart Cemetery to visit the sites they have excavated in previous trips. She gave us a brief history of the work they’ve done and had a chance to appreciate all they’ve accomplished. Sacred Heart is a beautiful cemetery where all of the family members are responsible for the upkeep of their loved one’s grave. They were all well kept with very little weeds and so many bright, colorful flowers. It is also tradition to place the loved ones’ favorite drink or snacks by their headstone. Many of them have lights so they are lit in the evenings and decorations for holidays. It was very clear to me that the deceased were deeply loved and missed by their family members.

UIndy team walking through the cemetery
Dr. Latham giving us a tour of Sacred Heart Cemetery.

After visiting Sacred Heart, we drove to the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine. It was a small little church where the walls were covered in little notes, prayers, and pictures. Don Pedrito was a community leader and folk healer, or curandero, in the 20th century. He traveled on healing missions throughout the Texas-Mexico borderlands visiting and healing sick people. Don Pedrito brought together aspects of Catholicism and traditional Spanish medicine that are still honored today. People even brought their crutches or walkers in hopes that Don Pedrito will help heal their ailments. It was overwhelming to see the pain and heartache the community places on these boards in hopes that their prayers will be answered.

Don Pedrito Shrine with alters, crosses, and flowers.
The Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine
Don Pedrito headstone covered in decorations and flowers.
The Don Pedrito headstone
large table filled with lit candles as a prayer offering for Don Pedrito
The prayer and candle offering table at the Don Pedrito Shrine

We ended our day with a quick dinner at Dairy Queen and then later met up with Don and Ray. Don was able to purchase an infra-red drone with some grant money. He taught us how to fly it and what he uses it for. The drone picks up infra-red signals which are heat signatures from living plants, animals, and people. Don uses the drone to look for potential decomposition sites. With the help of the drone, Don is able to send out teams to do searches and recoveries for those in distress.

infra-red scan of a dog and people holding up 3 fingers
An infra-red Day 3 picture of our group taken from the drone

Overall, this was a less physically exhausting day and more mentally and emotionally challenging. Understanding how the migrants are traveling, the conditions they suffer through, and learning more about Spanish culture and traditions has helped our team grow and learn to think deeper and differently about the migrant crisis. Our Day 3 was filled with so much learning and respect for the Brooks County community. I am looking forward to the next few days!