Tag Archives: teamwork

The Tourist Returns…

Less than a week already! I am so thankful to have been chosen to be on this team once again. In my last blog post, I wrote about leaving Texas feeling like I was leaving with unfinished business, and I have thought about that since that day. The work done by the UIndy Beyond Borders Team is something I am so grateful to be a part of, and I am very ready to get back to work.

My last pretrip post was more about packing and food and very superficial things, simply because I didn’t have the experience or knowledge to even want to speak on what the next week would entail. Now, I am honestly worried about much different things. Of course, I still worry about packing the right elements for this trip. Texas heat in May is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been a part of many band camps in the Louisiana heat, and I am still worried about the heat. I’ve been trying to recall any advice from old coaches of how to keep cool, how to best stay hydrated, and how to fight off the swarms of mosquitos. I have not forgotten the hazards of hidden cacti and everything being sharp, but my biggest worry is rooted in the emotional perils that come with this work.

Texas ranch land

In January, we mostly encountered evidence of people passing through the areas we were searching, whether that was as recent as the night before or as long ago as us finding fully rusted cans as the evidence. We do this work to try and bring closure to the families who may have lost someone on this dangerous journey. After the trip in January, I feel as though I am so much closer to this cause than ever before. It’s very easy when working to compartmentalize the emotional and harder parts of the job, but I know this trip will impact me harder than ever before. Being more knowledgeable of the humanitarian crisis occurring at the US-Mexico border makes every step you take to find someone’s loved ones, to give help to those in need, to educate your community mean so much more than it ever had before. The more I learn about it, whether that is through reading about it, hearing someone’s personal account, or talking to those also involved in this work, the more I feel motivated to do everything in my power to help those affected by this crisis.

I’m looking forward to seeing Eddie and Don and everyone else who we worked with previously. By the end of the trip, I considered everyone a friend on top of being a teacher, a leader, and some of the most amazing people I’d ever met. Our team this May is made up of Dr. Latham, myself, Olivia, Jordan, and Austin. I am excited to see how we grow over this trip not only as teammates but friends as well.

See ya soon, Texas! Izzy

Day 8: Some pretty awesome ladies!

Today was day eight. I cannot believe that we only have one day left. It has gone by so fast, and I am very thankful that we write these blogs in order to reflect and remember everything that we have done from day to day. It is hard for it not to all blur together when we have done so much in the few days that we have been here.


We continued trenching our site today and were really shocked at how much progress we made. With two hours left we made it our goal to complete two more trenches, yet we finished those and began 4 more trenches before the end of the day. I think that I say this in every blog but I am very proud of how much dirt we have moved, how much area we have cleared, and the positive attitude that remains within our team. We are some pretty awesome ladies if I say so myself!

Today I had a unique experience of helping the Texas State team leads with intake. This is where we open up the body bag, coffin, patient belonging bag, etc. that exhumed, unidentified remains were found in and record how many and which bones were accounted for. If there is any writing on the bags or identifying features/belongings, that is recorded as well. Photographs are taken, and the bags are sealed up ready to be sent to the Texas State Labs for analysis. It was interesting to be a part of, as our team has not yet exhumed anyone or participated in this process so far this season.

Sister Pam
Sister Pam

Sister Pam came to the cemetery today – she is a catholic Nun who has helped in previous field seasons and is a huge supporter of our project. She drove 23 hours all the way here from Ohio to be able to see us this season, which we could not believe. She greeted us all with warm hugs and a kiss on the cheek before proceeding to put gloves on and help us move dirt. After all of the stories I have heard before meeting her today, I was not at all surprised. She was hauling buckets better than I could. She is exactly the type of woman that I would like to be later in life – stubborn, determined, and strong. It was nice to hear her talk to Dr. Latham about previous students she has met while helping with exhumations. Asking what they are doing now and so forth. Most of them have moved onto PhD’s or highly regarded jobs, many on the basis of what these exhumations have taught them and what experiences they have gained from them. It made me feel very lucky to be where I am, getting into the dirt with Sister Pam just like others have done before me. She is one cool lady, let me tell you!

Dr. Cate Bird was on site today. She is a forensic specialist working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Which for many of us here – is a dream job. She is a supporter of our project and is going to report back to Washington D.C. on the work that we are doing here in Falfurrias. She has been with us for a few days and has been kind enough to make the rounds to all of our teams to chat and see what progress we are making. She was so kind to buy everyone popsicles on site today. It was such a kind gesture in the peak heat of the afternoon, to get us all together for a refreshing treat. Thank you, Dr. Bird, for being yet another example of what we can aspire to be in our field!

I’d like to end this post today with some things which have been on my mind the last few days. Right now, there is a government shutdown on behalf of President Trump due to concerns with border security. It is a bit surreal that we are here… at the border, exhuming unidentified migrants, visiting the border “wall”, participating in search and recovery with Border Patrol, donating to the Humanitarian Respite Center, meeting very nice people who are here to seek asylum, and working with people who are so passionate about this side of immigration that you do not see on the news. We are seeing a humanitarian crisis that is different from what many may know. It is humbling, and it is important. We are here to do what we can to promote social justice and I am very proud of that.

Thank you for reading along! We will be seeing you again tomorrow, where you can read about our last day of digging. Bittersweet!

Day 8
Day 8


Day 4: Roots

Day four group photo
Day 4 with our amazing team!

Day 4 is in the books. After moving to a second site and hacking our way through what felt like a MILLION tree roots, we feel just as motivated as day one. We have almost cleared our second site after today with only a little bit of trenching to go.

South Texas Human Rights Center T-shirt design
T-shirts we bought from the South Texas Human Rights Center today

I had two pretty unique experiences today which I would like to share with you. While we were digging away at our site, Ryan introduced us to two young ladies who work for the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC). We said hello and asked about what they did and they began to tell us a side to the human rights work that we are not exposed to as scientists. These ladies are responsible for manning the Missing Migrant Hotline. Families can call this hotline to report their loved ones as missing and give any information that may be helpful for the STHRC. This includes what clothes they were wearing, what personal effects they may have had, if they have dental records available, where they may have crossed the border, who they were with, etc. The STHRC then cross references this with any information on individuals that the county may have found deceased, to aim to make identifications of unknown persons and return their remains to their families. They spoke of a few other organizations in Texas and Arizona which map migrant trails, fill water stations, and provide medical attention for people in need. There are many obstacles they face with Border Patrol, rough terrain, and funding, yet these people are mostly volunteers assisting out of the kindness of their hearts. I was very impassioned to hear the ladies talk with such dedication about what they are doing. It was very inspiring and motivated us more in our work the second part of the day.

Later in the day a car drove up to us, which has been a regular occurrence. People usually ask what we are doing or if we have found anything – as it is a very small community and word has spread fast about our project. But this time a man said that the woman next to him (his wife) wanted to tell us something. So Angela and I went up to the car, and the woman said that her father was buried in the cemetery a few years ago. She said that she had tried to buy the plot of land next to him to be buried in when she passes, but the funeral home had told her that there were “unidentifieds” buried there and she could not buy it. I asked her if she could show me which plot she was talking about, so her husband parked the carSacred Heart Cemetery Sign, and they led me over to her father’s grave. There was a patch of grass between his grave and another family plot just adjacent where she said that they had buried two “unidentifieds”. She said that her husband did not want her to tell us about it – as many people would rather just keep to themselves. She was wearing scrubs and I imagined her being taken to the cemetery by her husband on her lunch break, driving around and deciding whether or not to inform us with what they knew. I thanked her greatly for coming to us with the information. As I looked down the row next to her father, I could see that many members of her family were buried alongside him. I knew that being buried with her family meant a lot to her and if we exhumed anyone from the land next to him, hopefully she could acquire the land to be buried in. I told Dr. Latham about what the woman said, and a group from Texas State began surveying and excavating the area. We have had a lot of tips on where people may or may not be buried, but a lot of them are conflicting. There was no reliable GPR reading from that area of land, and apparently Texas State were just deciding whether to excavate the area or to move onto another with a more promising GPR reading, when the new information came forward. Sure enough, two unidentified remains were uncovered.

Although the UIndy team has not uncovered any remains yet, I felt satisfied to have played a role in that discovery. I hope that the woman who had the courage to inform us of the unidentified individuals buried there, can be laid to rest next to her family. That was a result of our excavations that I had not yet considered. When we clear an area, that plot then becomes available again for local burials. It is reuniting people with their loved ones – not just through the process of repatriation, but also in situations like this one. A father and daughter can hopefully now be reunited in this cemetery one day.

Thank you for following along with my very lengthy stream of consciousness tonight. Today was a good day. See you again tomorrow!