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Day 1: Bisbee

September 30, 2019
By Dusty Krikau
Naco/Naco Sonora Border

This blog post is part of a series reflecting the experience of Dusty Krikau as she visits the sisters in Bisbee and Tuscon and attends the conference for Communicators for Women Religious. While Dusty is an employee of the congregation, the views expressed here are her own personal reflections on the time spent near the border, with the sisters, and learning from other congregations at the conference; they are not necessarily endorsed by the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.

Yesterday, I left my family behind and flew from Wisconsin to Arizona. The short 3.5 hour flight was followed by a 3.5 hour drive to Bisbee, where Sister Mary Rose Obholz was waiting up for me, despite it being midnight. The commute time gave me a chance to reflect on where I was heading and what I would be experiencing. Most notably, I paused and thought about all the extra hugs my two children and my partner had given me before I left the house that afternoon. “Mom, I will miss you so much. Are you sure you have to go?” The question was asked often and occasionally accompanied by a tear or two, but I was able to reassure them that I would be home again at the end of the week. During the flight, the parallel of my experience with that of families crossing into the border seeking asylum hit me hard. The small amount of tears and sadness I endured were nothing in comparison to what it must be like to be separated from your child with no understanding of when you might see them again and with no concept of how they will be cared for in the meantime.

Today in Bisbee, I did not see the families of asylum seekers or tents with waiting families. I was able to walk through the border in Naco, Arizona (just south of Bisbee) with Sister Mary Rose and we walked around for about three miles with two destinations in mind: Naco Wellness Initiative and Casa Hogar Emmanuel

When we arrived at Naco Wellness Initiative, Zumba class was in full swing and Lupita was sitting to the side with her mother and sister. Sister Mary Rose introduced me to her and Lupita began sharing the story of the space. As an organization they offer wellness services to their community in numerous ways. Lupita’s stories become more and more animated as her passion fueled her words and she explained how they live their slogan, “Cambia tu Vida.” (Change your Life)

Her first tales were about how Sister Mary Rose was the person responsible for making Zumba classes a reality, when she brought a DVD player to center and they used DVDs to teach the first classes.  Now they have a Lucia, a certified Zumba instructor, who teaches two classes each day for a total of 50-60 participants. Because Zumba is exercise that is set to music and uses choreography, the regular attendees occasionally perform their Zumba dances in events in the center.

One of her other passion points, was telling me about “Descuelito,” their after school program that gives kids a chance to learn something new each time they visit. She showed me photos of kids learning about art, designing murals, learning about gardening, and working with adults to implement community gardens.

In addition to “fun” wellness projects like Zumba and Descuelito, Naco Wellness Initiative also offers blood pressure checks, assists more than 60 people with diabetes, teaches CPR, and provides physical therapy. Their most recent project is a partnership with “SolarSPELL” which provides access to “relevant, localized educational content to resource constrained locations around the world.”

Lupita encouraged us to go see the community garden at Casa Hogar Emmanuel, a local orphanage. The gardens were in transition, but Huberto met us at that gate and was happy to show us around. The land was irrigated to avoid water loss, a greenhouse built out of tires and clear plastic sheeting housed “baby” cilantro, onion, and chard, the compost bin was full of garden detritus, and two ducks wandered and quacked in their pen. Huberto’s pride in what he was working on was clear in how eagerly he showed us around, but he was also quick to point out how happy he was to be teaching these skills to the young children at the orphanage.

The return walk from Mexico was a quick pause to show passports and then we were on our way; a clear advantage to crossing on foot instead of waiting for an hour in the vehicle crossing line!

From there I switched over to spending time with Sister Kathy Cook, the caretaker at the “Ranch,” which houses her, Sisters Susan Kolb and Christi Ann Laudoff, and four very love-able cats. Sister Kathy took me out to explore the history and geography of Bisbee, the expanse of which, I could not have fathomed. Our explorations included a stop at the continental divide, a little gelato shop, the 101-year-old St. Patrick’s Church, a 1938 mission church, and the Lavender Pit – an old copper mine that feels like a not-quite-as-grand canyon that happens to be man-made. After seeing the sites, we ventured back to the ranch were I had a chance to just sit and chat. Sister Christi has a black belt, and is working toward two others in Tang Soo Do and T’ai Chi. As a young girl in Lomira, Wisconsin, Sister Kathy daydreamed about being in Arizona working on a ranch and loves that her vocation meant she is living that dream. Sister Susan loves sweets and seeks them out when she travels, but has also removed caffeine from her diet for the last several decades, so it probably comes out even.

While my time at the Ranch was much more social, their ministry work was not overlooked. The sisters there, along with Sister Mary Rose, operate the non-profit “We are One Family,” which operates very similar programs to those offered by Naco Wellness Initiative, but with the additions of spiritual direction and immigration law services.

A full day of visiting in Bisbee included much more than can be contained in one blog post, but I think the overarching theme of the day was, “resource hubs.” In addition to actually doing the work to improve the lives of those around them, the Sisters have created connections and access points that ensure that if the Sisters can’t help directly they can connect those in need with the exact person who can help.

Tomorrow, it is on to Tuscon.

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