What I learned this week is that we all have something to give.
We came to Brownsville for 4 nights to volunteer. I wondered how we could help either of these two groups, Angry Tias & Abuelas or Team Brownsville. Both work to meet the needs of asylum seekers in the process of getting to the USA. Neither group has paid staff, everything is organized by volunteers via text and feed, and it all happens organically. And they have no agenda.
These people have applied for asylum but due to the Zero Tolerance policy (everyone down here attributes this to Jeff Session), they must remain on the Mexican side of the border until their number is called for interview. There are two shelters in Matamoros, the Mexican city across from Brownsville, but they are full to capacity and a ways from the bridge and interview station. So many choose to stay right there, at the border, sleeping in tents. They fear that if they are not present when their number is called, they will go to the end of the line once again. This locale lacks the basics. Only 2 bathrooms are available, no real wash facilities, no tables or chairs,
Most have the clothes on their backs and little more. The Angry Tias y Abuelas visit the group each day and ask what they might need and work to fill that need. Requests might be clean underwear, a razor, panty liners, socks, shoes, and more. Team Brownsville serves breakfast and dinner each day. We have volunteered with both groups. The training process takes about a minute for either one and anyone can help, no skill needed. You only need is to walk across the international bridge, have a passport and US $1.25.
Tias try to fill the needs from the storehouse of donated items they receive. If not in inventory, they purchase the items with donated funds or their own money. Each morning, volunteers come with toilet paper, granola bars, bottled water and/or energy drinks.
Team Brownsville makes and serves meals to 50-80 men, women and children. For the most part, volunteers cook the food themselves and it always includes a protein, vegetables and a starch, bottled water, followed by fruit or cookies. For example, Thursday nights are covered by LULAC. Tuesdays belong to Melba, a volunteer who is also a professor at the local college. On the weekend she shops and on Tuesdays, her elderly mother and her aide cook the meal. Melba picks up the prepared food after she gets off work, meets the volunteers at the bus station at 5:30 pm, loads it to a wagon and away we walked across the bridge. Each night the food arrives hot and the service goes quickly.
Anyone can help these two groups. Even with no Spanish, you can make a difference. Pam knows little of the language but she understands what a 5 month old needs. Yes, diapers and formula, but also hugs.
We’ve come across the bridge 4 nights and 3 mornings, so we recognize many faces but see new ones on each visit. Tonight was our last night here. When we departed, we said good bye and wished them all the best luck in getting to the next step in the process. What we received was more than we gave. Several people thanked us and wished us blessings on our ride home. The grandfather of the 5 month old said the affection we showed his daughter make his day. The men from Cameroon thanked us for making sure they felt included in this group of Spanish-speakers.
I hope to return to the border next month to volunteer again but hope they have all made it to the next stage in the process well before then.
Both groups accept donations of money or make it easy on them and purchase an item or two on their Amazon page and have it sent directly to them. For Tias, click here. For Team Brownsville, click here.