All posts by lathamke

Stay Tuned…

We met at the airport at 4:30am to begin our trip. It was a long day with a few fun diversions along the way. We are busy preparing for an early start in the morning. Today is the coolest day of our trip with a high of 97 degrees. Stay tuned for more about our travel day tomorrow.

Blue Skies & palm trees


Texas brush

Seek to do good but do no harm

Do No Harm is a central ethical value in anthropology and in philanthropy. However, it can be difficult to predict every challenge one may encounter when working as an anthropologist in philanthropic or humanitarian contexts. Anthropologists must continually reevaluate their work to ensure that it does not harm the communities in which they work. While anthropologists, like my team, never intend harm, we must always be mindful of the unintentional consequences of our work. Exploring the topic of “Philanthropic Harm” provides some important points for us to consider as we work in these volunteer humanitarian crisis situations. As I depart for my 13th trip to the Texas Borderlands spanning the past decade, these are some of the questions I ask myself:

Are we diverting resources? We are visiting a mass disaster situation that our colleagues are faced with year-round. Are we disrupting the normal patterns in a way that diverts time, energy and resources to us and away from the main goal of saving lives? Are we truly participating in actions that are best for the community or wasting the time and resources of our community partners with each trip?

Systematic Line Search

Are we reinforcing the status quo? A common critique of humanitarian and philanthropic work is that institutional philanthropy supports causes that serve the elite. Are visiting and volunteer forensic scientists perpetuating dominant power relationships? Are the motivations meant to serve them and their institutions rather than the communities they claim to serve?

Can we even predict the unintended consequences of our actions? There are many reasons why good intentions can go wrong, and the probability of this occurring increases with the increasing complexity of the situation. Knowing the politically charged and sensitive nature of this work, we must always try to predict how our actions potentially have unintended outcomes.  

Cleaning barrels for redistribution

Are we being culturally insensitive with our actions? A common critique of humanitarian work is that the volunteers impose their own sense of values on the community instead of being sensitive to the particular situation in which they are working. Am I fully preparing my students to step away from their own preconceived biases and perspectives in order to better serve this community?

These are just a few of the questions I ask myself each time we prepare for a trip to the Texas Borderlands. At what point have we peaked in our contributions? Because after that it is only about us and what we are getting from these experiences. Critically reflecting on our experiences and paying careful attention to our environment and actions allows us to begin to assess some of these questions. At this time, we are eager to begin our trip early tomorrow morning. We will continue to update the blog daily while we are there. Thank you for your support and for following our journey!



Ways to Support the Groups You are Reading About hat Volunteer to Search for and Rescue Missing Migrants

This work takes a toll: it is not only physically and mentally exhausting but equipment does not last long in this environment. All these individuals and groups consist of volunteers who dedicate their own time and resources to searching for those in distress, locating and recovering the dead and/or providing life saving essentials like water. Brooks County faced near record breaking numbers of deaths and rescues this past year, with 119 bodies recovered from remote ranchlands in 2021. That number represents the number of recorded deaths, meaning those bodies were located and recovered. There are likely many more. That’s why search efforts are so important. Each rescue and jug of water lowers the death count. It’s important yet difficult work that these groups do year round. You’ve read a little about them in our blog and we’d like to provide you with some more information on these organizations and information on how to support their efforts.

Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery
“Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery searches remote areas of ranches primarily in Brooks County Texas. The harsh weather, soft sand, featureless terrain, and thick brush make the traverse difficult at best. This is where we operate” The group consists of experts in search and rescue, tracking and medical aide. You can support their team by donating here.

They taught us so much about searching the brush. These are skills that we not only used here in Texas but will take back with us to use when we do searches in the Midwest. The knowledge on this team is so vast and we appreciate everything they shared with us. We also enjoyed getting to know everyone and hear their personal stories of what motivates them to do this tough work. It was clear that everyone was very passionate about performing rescues and saving lives.

Members of Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery: Jason, Leo & Don

South Texas Human Rights Center
“The South Texas Human Rights Center is a community based organization in Falfurrias, TX dedicated to the promotion, protection, defense and exercise of human rights and dignity in South Texas. Our mission is to end death and suffering on the Texas/Mexico border through community initiatives.” You can support their team by donating here.

The impact of the South Texas Human Rights Center is far reaching. Not only are they passionate about saving lives by providing water to migrants in need and searching for and identifying those who have perished in the Texas Borderlands but they also participate in large scale awareness campaigns and policy change. Eddie’s passion for human rights is infectious and the team learned a lot from him. Most importantly they learned that education, awareness and action can be just as profound as the physical work in Brooks County to work towards change.

Eddie Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center working with Beyond Borders team members Izzy & Tanya

South Texas Mounted Search and Rescue
“South Texas SAR is a 501c3 non-profit that consist of Veterans and Supporters with certified mounted search and rescue horses and detection canines.  Though we are based in South Texas our mission is to look for people lost or missing nationally and internationally (K9) with law enforcement, forensics and Search and Rescue organizations.” You can support their team by donating here.

Melissa taught us a lot about how to properly train search dogs. Her experience with canine handling began with her time in the military and her knowledge and ability is clear from the moment you meet her. She never laughed at our questions or got tired of answering them. Not only is she skilled but she is passionate about her work here in the Texas borderlands and in missing persons cases across the US. We enjoyed getting to know her and see her dogs in action.

Members of South Texas Mounted Search and Rescue: Melissa & Oakley

Beyond Borders
The University of Indianapolis Beyond Borders team is a humanitarian forensic science team that volunteers their skills to counties in need due to lack of resources or mass disaster situations. The team is directed by board certified forensic anthropologist, Dr. Krista Latham who has 20 years of forensic experience in the US and internationally. Team members consist of University of Indianapolis students who have been formally trained in forensic techniques in laboratory and field settings. You can support this team by donating here.

Members of the Jan 2022 Beyond Borders Team

Thank you so much for following our recent journey. This will be the last post until we start to get ready for our May mission to the Texas Borderlands.