Reflections from the Border Part 2: Catholic Charities NY in Arizona

Posted on May 20, 2019 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Children Become Hope

The Department of Homeland Security is releasing thousands of detainees at the southern border to relieve overcrowding, overwhelming Catholic Charities agencies that serve these immigrants. The increasing stream of asylum seekers is expected to continue throughout the summer.

To show solidarity and provide support, Catholic Charities NY deployed a team of staff volunteers to help one of our sister agencies in Arizona.  The need is both great and varied as the local Catholic Charities agencies are inundated.

Our volunteers are sharing their insights and updates.  Today we publish our second eyewitness report.

By Aster Kidane

I was the only non-Spanish speaking person in the team who was deployed to Tucson, Arizona May 12-18, 2019. As such, my direct interactions with the guests were limited but left a profound impression.

The guests were welcomed at the bus stop by volunteers. As they entered the monastery, volunteers at the reception area received the guests with warm greetings. The guests were ushered in the chapel for intake and provided with water, oranges and chicken soup.

On more than one occasion, I had the opportunity to pass trays of water cups and slices of oranges to the guests. The guests did not take a cup of water from the tray right away. Moments passed before the guests hands slide to the tray. Puzzled, I looked at the hungry and humble faces of the guests. They made sure to say “Gracias” or expressed a thank you nod before they took the cup of water. I learned my lesson. I looked straight into the guests’ eyes as I placed cups of water in front of them. Then waited for the guest to express their gratitude and for me to express my warm appreciation of their gratefulness.

It was a joy to witness that kids are kids no matter what! I gave out additional slices of oranges; the kids would come running and grabbed as many as their little hands could hold. The sound of their sweet laughs could be heard all over the chapel.

I carried boxes of snacks from the kitchen to the travelers’ room. On the way a teenage boy took the boxes and carried them for me. I was truly surprised and happy for the help. One day, Brian (my team member) and I carried carts of heavy boxes to the car. Again, the guests helped us not only take the carts to the car but helped with loading them onto the van in an organized manner.

After each meal volunteers made up of guests were requested to clean the dining area. I observed a team of five worked cohesively. One guest cleared the way, two swept the rooms, one mopped the room and the fifth placed the furniture back in its place.

At the monastery, there is a small chapel with a candle that stays lit 24/7. One day when I sat in the chapel, I noticed one of the guests was sitting quietly with tears showering down her checks.  In that moment a father and son walked in and kneeled down by the candle to pray out loud for few minutes. As they stood and were about to walk out the father noticed the quiet pouring of tears from the woman’s eyes. He bent towards her –hugged her and invited her to kneel with him and his son. So the trio knelt and prayed for a while. As they walked out the woman face was dry. She even gave me with a little smile. What a sweet and gracious moment.

Another day I had the opportunity to take two families to the Greyhound bus station. My teammate, Brian was driving the van. One family was travelling to Chicago and the second one to Atlanta. They were travelling together to some distance but each would transfer to separate buses eventually. As we walked to the van other family members escorted them and a bunch of kids followed them. There were lots of hugs and kisses and finally the two families got in the van. The family looked back through the rear window and watched kids running after the van. It became extremely quiet in the van. Brian attempted to strike conversations to families but in vain. The kids did not even respond to his jokes.  Eventually, we reached the bus stop. The conductor checked their itinerary. The families hugged Brian and I tightly as an expression of gratitude for all the services they received at the Monastery. We stood and watched the families enter the bus and walked to our van. We waited until the bus departed. The families, specifically the kids, waved and blew kisses to us. The silence in the van continued as we headed to the monastery. It was just one of those rare “sacred” moments that I will always cherish for the rest of my life.

One day as I was walking to the main door of the monastery – there were two bicycles on an open pickup car. I noticed a volunteer was adjusting the wheels of a third bicycles on the ground. A bunch of kids were watching eagerly on the progress. The moment the volunteer put the bicycle on the motion position one of the kids snatched it from the volunteer’s hands and took off with the bicycle riding it as fast as he could. The volunteer stood and watched the kid on the bicycle and said that it reminded him of his grandchildren. It was refreshing watching kids on bicycles riding fast- doing tricks, boys playing basketball and parents sitting under the tree chatting and laughing.

The deployment to Tucson was one of the experiences of my life; I will never forget the expression of gratitude I saw on every guest I met. I am left feeling inspired from the journey each family has taken to get to the U.S. and how hopeful they remain in their goal for a better life.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

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