Category Archives: Environment

Talking about the weather, terrain, flora, fauna, etc…

Day 1: Off to a Good Start!

When a new team gets together each year for a Beyond Borders humanitarian trip, there is always a little bit of mystery! For instance:

  • What will the weather be like, or rather, how might mother nature surprise us today?
  • Will our team be cohesive and work efficiently together?
  • What unanticipated challenges will we face?

We do our best to prepare a schedule during our time here, but it is crucial that we remain flexible for a quick change of plans at any moment. This is my third field season, so I know how much the dynamics can vary. However, I knew we were off to a great start because everyone faced the unknown with positive attitudes and enthusiasm.

Sammi, Tanya, and Sidney replenishing a water station.
Sammi, Tanya, and Sidney replenishing a water station.

Today was our first workday in the field, so we got up early and ate a hearty hotel breakfast, packed lunches and field gear, and headed off to meet Eddie Canales at the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC). Of the many great things that this organization has developed and contributed since its founding, one of the most important aspects is constructing, repairing, and replenishing water stations in the South Texas borderlands. There is a massive checkpoint in Falfurrias, which is a major reason why Beyond Borders has returned to this town over the years to perform search and recoveries, exhumations, and volunteer services. However, I did not realize that there are smaller checkpoints located on many side roads that circumvent the main checkpoint until we ended up driving through one today. No matter what, there is no choice for migrants but to walk through acres of brushland with indistinguishable landmarks which can be fatal without adequate hydration.dsc_0025

Throughout the day, we serviced 60 miles and 3 counties worth of water stations, set up 5 brand-new stations, and distributed 88 gallons of fresh water into the bright-blue barrels. Most of them were completely empty and needed 6 new water jugs, which is amazing because it indicates they are being used. It was also incredible to see that random citizens had added individual water bottles, electrolyte solutions, and even an Arizona Iced Tea into the empty barrels to contribute to saving lives. It is highly encouraging to see that other community members perform these acts of kindness regardless of politically-charge circumstances.

In addition, it  was difficult to decide where exactly to place these water stations. Fortunately, Eddie has hawk-like vision and was able to spot clothing and debris left behind in shaded areas near the roads, which indicated migrant activity. This often instigated the placement of a new station, which we couldn’t have done without him knowing the terrain and signs.

Eddie holding an empty migrant's water bottle, painted black.
Eddie holding an empty migrant’s water bottle, painted black.

The extreme wildlife lived up to our expectations, as well. Fire ants, wolf-spiders, thorn bushes, mice, spider webs and nests, sticker burrs, bees, sand, heat, you name it! We experienced quite a lot today and will be diving in even deeper tomorrow. img_1746However, today we were pretty unstoppable (except for lunch, which was the most mouthwatering Mexican food I’ve had in a long time). You’d think we inhaled our food like a vacuum because not a single person left a scrap of food on their plate. Just trust me when I tell you we savored every second of it.

I am beyond proud of the way our team worked together today. We had all hands on deck and Tanya was an incredible addition to the team. She was attentive and enthusiastic and asked lots of questions. It reminded me of my first trip, and how new everything was to me. Tanya and Alba are fluent in Spanish, so they exercised their skills by writing messages on the insides of the barrel lids so migrants in distress can contact for help. It was great to see specific people utilize their strengths, but we all worked together and had a go at every job. Today was only my second time filling water stations in the last three years, so I gathered so much from this experience. Eddie is an animated storyteller with incredible passion for this work, so it was incredible to hear his anecdotes between work times. I wish you all could meet him.

I cannot wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow! If its anything like today it will be tough, but nothing we can’t handle with proper preparation and resources.

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Day 1 Group Photo

Sammi

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Volviendo

While it has been about 8 months since my last trip, not a day has gone by that I don’t think about everything I learned and the people I met. No matter how cliche it may sound, it was an experience that has and will impact my life forever and I’m so beyond grateful that I get to do it all again.

As our country’s political climate remains so tense, I’m fortunate enough to have an outlet and be given the opportunity to volunteer my time with organizations such as the South Texas Human Rights Center and Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery. I get to learn from the people who spend every day working at the border and experience first hand the amount of dedication they have. I also get to come back home and share my experiences with my community as well as have open conversations about the border crisis which is a privilege itself. 

Searching in the brush (May 2019)
Searching in the brush (May 2019)

Although our mission for this trip is the same as the last time, I know to expect the unexpected. I feel a little more prepared since I have some experience with the search and recovery efforts, but I know this trip will be different. With the cooler season in Texas, our work days will be much longer and that is the main challenge I believe I will need to overcome this trip. 

My goal for the time being until we depart for Falfurrias (it is Christmas as I write this) is to try and stay active to help with my stamina. In May, our days were cut short by the high temperatures and humidity, but they were still some of the hardest and most energy consuming days I have experienced. I know that no matter the weather or how long we spend searching, I will be exhausted at the end of each day. But, I want to make sure that my body can keep up with the passion and dedication I have for the team and our mission. 

Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station
Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station (May 2019)

I’m no longer that concerned about the landscape or creepy crawlies; we had our fair share of spiders, scorpions, ticks, chiggers and of mesquite thorns and sticker burrs. But, as for the weather, I don’t know what awaits us. While we expect it to be cooler, we still carry the same risks of dehydration and over exhaustion as we did in the summer, but it will be less obvious. However, I know that our team will take care of each other and, regardless of what we encounter, I know that we’ll get through it.

Apart from the amazing opportunity I have been given, there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to this trip. I can’t wait to see and spend time with some of the people I had the pleasure to meet and I am excited to interact with new people in the community. I’m excited for our trips to HEB and eating the delicious food that never disappoints in Fal. 

I’m just counting down the days.

Alba

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“The life of a migrant is sad”

The second half of our trip focused on search and recovery operations on local ranches. We were working with Eddie Canales, Arianna & Selina of the South Texas Human Rights Center and  Deputy White of the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department. The first day of searching we were joined by a few students from Texas State University. They were able to spend about three hours with us with the goal of collecting data on search coverage using GPS tracking systems. It was a nice opportunity for the UIndy students to interact with their peers in another program and to learn different approaches and techniques for ground searches. The second and third days we focused on a smaller ranch near where Byron’s cousin went missing. Our work became more personal as we searched with him and learned more of his story. He told us about his journey to political asylum in the US, the sadness of not being able to see his family and the pain of loosing his cousin. He summed it up in one simple yet heartbreaking sentence “The life of a migrant is sad.”  The pain, the fear, the heartbreak, that does not just go away once you enter the US. It is just transformed into something different yet just as burdensome and heavy.

There were many impactful moments and learning opportunities for the team during this second half of our mission. I asked them each to relay something they learned:

The last few days of our trip have been really impactful for me. Spending time for 3 days straight doing search and recovery on ranches only gave me a glimpse of what it’s like for migrants on a daily basis. But, being around Byron and hearing his story really put my experience into perspective. The three days we spent searching were tough, so to hear that Byron spent two and a half months in conditions similar to and even worse than what we experienced was just heartbreaking. And he went through all of that at the age I am now. There’s no way I could ever be able to handle going through an experience like Byron’s at 24 years old. — Alba

Alba
Alba

As we walked through the brush there were many pathways heading into the trees. As we followed these pathways in search of evidence or humanity, I realized we were walking the paths of migrants. Paths that were not clear, but instead filled with obstacles throughout the brush. It’s difficult to describe how walking these paths made me feel, but I can say I gained a new perspective and general awe of the migrants and their ambition. — Holley

Holley & Deputy White
Holley & Deputy White
While conducting our search and recovery operations, one thing I noticed was how easy it is to get turned around in the brush. Our team was equipped with compasses and safety whistles but I highly doubt migrants would have the same resources. For me, this highlights just how unforgiving the environments migrants find themselves in can be and therefore how reliant migrants are on coyotes. — Megan
Megan
Megan

During our time searching, it really hit me how harsh this environment truly is. There is sand, thorns, stickerburs, animals, tall grass, and more that migrants have to maneuver through, often without any idea of where they are heading. I would imagine this would be even more difficult in the dark, considering just how hard it is in the daylight. It’s incredible that anyone makes it through safely. — Sidney

Sidney
Sidney

~KEL

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