It’s been two weeks since I returned from Tijuana, Mexico, where I traveled to volunteer as part of a delegation organized by the Florida Immigration Coalition, to help Central Americans as they wait to apply for asylum in the United States.
There was so much to take in. Things to do. I was there for four days and tried to do as much as possible, but it felt like a race against time. We did the best we could.
On my last day, we visited one of the LGBTQ safe houses, where seven women and four children were staying. Dr. Tanya, trauma surgeon, and Dr. Peggy, psychiatrist, both from Miami, met with anyone needing medical or mental health counseling.
I visited with the ladies and we put together a list of needed food and clothing. List in hand, Isabel and I went shopping. Along the way we dropped off Dr. Joan, who had purchased medicines and was going to a third LGBTQ safe house to visit her patients.
The men and women we met at the safe houses shared stories of violence, death threats, rape, incest, kidnappings, and the terror of having to endure the abuse alone, never expecting protection or justice from the police.
I interviewed some of the women, they were hopeful at the prospect of starting a new life in America. Several of them were expecting their numbers to be called up the following week. I asked if they would be willing to stay in touch and continue to share their journey with me.
We said good-by to the women with teary hugs. At the last moment I asked if I could take a picture of the group and they agreed. As they gathered around the small room, laughing, making jokes and ordering each other into position, I was hit with the wonder of it all. After a long and painful journey, they had not lost their humor, love and commitment to each other.
Returning to my life was surreal, it felt foreign. Everything was orderly, clean, no one was trying to hurt or attack me. I was safe in my home and community, loved and nurtured by friends and family. I couldn’t stop thinking of the men and women I met.
People have asked why I went to Tijuana. Watching the news and hearing their stories, as a migrant myself, I felt that I needed to help. I could relate to some of their stories, fears and hopes.
As volunteers, beyond the immediate help provided, we offered respect to each person we came in contact with by honoring their story of pain and struggle. Many had not experienced this before.
I believe that all people are valuable. As Robert Mueller, former FBI Director, told the graduating class of 2013 at William & Mary, “We must all find ways to contribute to something bigger that ourselves.” He went on to stress, “Most importantly, we must never, ever, sacrifice our integrity.”
As Americans we are in a unique position to help others. It was a privilege for me to serve each person I came in contact with, and it is my hope to continue to be involved serving others in my community.
If you would like to volunteer, start by reaching out to your local hospital, public library, or church group. These organizations should be able to point you in the right direction.
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