A Photographic Visit to El Paso
Thursday, March 28 and into the 3rd week here at the border. Sister Patricia Weidman (Trish) arrived on Tuesday, March 26 and will be staying in the same place I am. She, too, will be working at Casa Oscar Romero on the same noon to 7:00 p.m. shift.
This week’s posting is a visual presentation of where I’ve been working, where the guests stay, and other visuals that might deepen your understanding of what I’ve been writing about this last little while.
Thanks to Dusty and the staff of the CSA Mission Advancement Office for their help in setting up the format. Left to my devices the presentation would be like sending mail via a Wells Fargo stagecoach!
This is the entrance to the Casa Oscar Romero. Casa Oscar Romero is one of at least 10 houses for released detainees operated under the umbrella of Annunciation House Hospitality Centers. Annunciation House has been in existence since the 1970s and has been responding to the needs of immigrant and refugees since its inception. Their ministry has exploded within the last few years. They are funded by donations and depend heavily on volunteers. Their tagline: No Refugee to the Streets.
Casa Oscar Romero was opened in February of this year and can house up to 120 individuals. It is not an impressive looking building and in fact appears quite desolate and deserted. Appearances can be deceiving. Inside the building there is a lot of healing and hugging and living and loving going on.
This is one of the intake forms we use with the clients upon their arrival at Casa Oscar Romero. It begins the process of their reunion with family members in the States. Upon arrival at the house they are given food, bedding, and a place to sleep. They are interviewed and their documents from ICE are reviewed. We make contact with the family and/or friends who will be arranging their travel. Two bulletin boards in the office reflect the travel status of the guests who arrive.
Once the travel plans have been made the intake sheet is moved from the “pending” board to the board reflective of the date they will be traveling. The bus sheets run down the left side of the board; air travel runs down the right side.
We are responsible for getting the guests to the bus station and/or airport in a timely fashion. We help them get the tickets from the agents and in the case of air travel print their boarding passes. Then we explain the transfer process since there are few direct flights from El Paso to anywhere in the US and assist them through security. If they are traveling by bus to distant states, we provide them with enough PB and J sandwiches for two per day per person for three days. We give them bottled water and snacks and hope their travel goes well.
The turnover can be quite rapid with some guests arriving on Monday afternoon and leaving by bus the next morning. It is rare there is a stay beyond four days. In fact, just this Sunday a guest and his son arrived at noon and they were leaving for California on a 6 a.m. flight on Monday. In that instance, because we don’t have volunteer drivers so early in the morning, they were taken to the airport at 10 p.m. and slept there overnight.
This is the PB&J sandwich making room and travel pack assembly area. We rely on the goodness and generosity of strangers and friends to keep this room stocked with bread, jelly, peanut butter and snacks. Annunciation House provides many of the essential food items as well, especially bottled water. Due do the generosity of friends and former colleagues, we are able to include a toy for those children traveling long distances by bus. Can you imagine being a mother of 3 children under the age of 2 traveling by bus from El Paso, Texas to New London, Wisconsin? It happened. We hope the family arrived safely with no travel glitches.
This is a picture of one of the two women’s dorms. Most of the women prefer to pull the mattress to the floor rather than climb up and down a bunkbed. Because the number of women and men guests can fluctuate, the population in the different dorms can go up and down. It’s not uncommon to have guests carrying mattresses from the men to the women’s dorms and vice versa. The guests and their children determine where and with whom the older girls and boys will bunk. Sometimes the 13-year-old male would prefer to stay with his mother in the same bed and vice versa. They have experienced enough separation and trauma, so we allow them to make those decisions. Primarily, though, the women are housed in different dorms from the men.
This is a picture of the dining where the 3 meals are taken. The diet is primarily beans and rice with occasional helpings of meat, primarily chicken. The guests clean off the tables and sweep the floors after each meal.
The meals are cooked by guests themselves who volunteer. For the last two weeks we’ve been blessed to have a Cuban couple handling the cooking detail and they’ve prepared wonderful, tasteful meals. They have moved on so other guests have “stepped up.”
This is one of three of the men’s dorms. Boys tend to be more adventuresome and take the upper bunks more easily then young girls. Two of the three men’s dorms have showers and toilets attached. One of the two women’s dorms have a shower/toilet area, so there is a lot of sharing that goes on.
This large space is reserved for the children and their play needs. It looks pretty bare now because the children often take the toys to their dorm. We had a wonderful set of interlocking, foam pads for the floor. They had stars and circles and other figures in the middle for educational purposes. In their own creative way, the children used the center pieces for frisbees and the pads themselves as necklaces. They have drawn some wonderful pictures on them as well. Most of us have stepped on or kicked Lego pieces – not a favorite toy for lots of reasons! The coloring books have been filled and the crayons are being reduced to stubs. Chalk for outdoor drawing is a big hit.
There is an MD on call for consultation about health-related issues with the guests. Most of the guests arrive with coughs, colds and other upper respiratory issues related to the “hieleras”. We have good first aid medicines and cough and cold remedies. I’ve been in the clinic for a few sessions. We are lucky to have a volunteer nurse for the next 2 weeks as well as a physician’s assistant. They hold regular clinic hours and respond to the guest’s health needs.
After guests have completed the intake process, they are given a set of sheets and towels and select a bed in the appropriate dormitory. They are then able to go to the clothing room where they can select 1 top, one pair of jeans/slacks and clean underwear. We rely heavily on donated clothing although some volunteers have been purchasing men’s and women’s underwear.
We have two functional washers and dryers and two that are broken and awaiting repair. As noted above, the turnover is quick, and we must wash the sheets and towels and get ready for the next group of guests. Guests take care of the laundry themselves. We have noted a pattern of guests receiving a clean shirt and jeans and leaving the clothes they arrived with behind for “recycling.” They are washed, dried and returned to the clothing room for re-use. Very thoughtful. The guests are not into “acquiring” and graciously settle for what is available.
This photo depicts a pair of post detention and pre-new shoelaces. Parents are very creative in using the aluminum-like blankets for shoelaces. Most of the time the guests arrive with no laces at all. It’s fun to see them looking through the shoelace box for a pair of colorful shoelaces. The young girls and boys in particular like the bright colors. Their parents, on the other hand, choose either gray, black, or brown.
Drawings by two little girls given to me as “thank you” for crayons they were offered. Both girls were from Guatemala and have already moved on
Some children choosing the colors they will use for their “chalk-art”. Some of the children are quite good with a strong sense of dimension and perspective. Others looked befuddled when I suggested they draw a sun. By the time this posting is made, they will have moved on to their host families in the United States.
I hope this pictorial summary puts some images to the words that were shared in earlier missives. The last Posting from El Paso will be published next week.
Until then…may all roads lead to freedom, safety and new beginnings!