One camp closes, another one opens... again? - Reynosa, Mexico 

Solidarity Engineering works in Reynosa, Mexico to provide water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure in camps and shelters throughout the city. The Solidarity Engineering team works closely with strong women leaders in Reynosa and highlights them in this episode in honor of Women's History Month.

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Lulu 

As an RGV local, Lulu has been working with migrants in Reynosa since she was 16. What started as crossing basic supplies like sleeping bags and food with her dad when she was a teenager has turned into decades of her supporting hundreds of asylum seekers throughout the city and helping run a shelter for some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers currently stuck in Reynosa. Lulu is a kind, determined and brave woman and it is known in Reynosa that if Lulu wants something done- she'll find a way.

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Sister Norma Pimentel

Sister Norma is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities in the RGV. She has been working with refugees since 1980 providing food, shelter and other basic necessities. Sister Norma has recently been working to coordinate between various Mexican and American groups who are involved in humanitarian aid work in the RGV. 

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Andrea Rudnik 

Instagram: @teambrownsville

Andrea Rudnik is one of the founding members of Team Brownsville, a humanitarian aid organization that has been largely responsible for helping to provide basic living necessities like food, water and tents in multiple camps and shelters in the Rio Grande Valley. Andrea spends much of her time welcoming and supporting families released by US authorities into the United States at the Brownsville Bus Station and coordinating and supporting various other organizations and ministries that support camps and shelters in the Valley.

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Gaby Zavala

Gaby Zavala began working in Matamoros, Mexico through Resource Center Matamoros. She has a background in community organizing and over the past few years has been working to provide countless resources to asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico.

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Jennifer Harbury 

Jennifer Harbury is a Harvard educated lawyer and a member of the humanitarian aid organization Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley. With the Tias, Jennifer closely monitors and reports on ongoing human rights violations, documenting changes, identifying legal violations, reporting to interamerican groups as well as national networks and shelters throughout Reynosa. 

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Suyapa

Suyapa is a Honduran doctor and one of the many leaders within the asylum seeking community in Reynosa. She is the lead coordinator of one of the busiest clinics in Reynosa and an integral part of the humanitarian aid work provided to asylum seekers at the border.

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Asylum Seeker Community Leaders

The vast majority of the leadership within the asylum seeking community Solidarity works with comes from women. Often refugee crisis' affect women more than anybody else simply because they’re more susceptible and vulnerable as a population. Given this heightened vulnerability we have found that the leaders in the Reynosa camps and shelters are predominantly women who truly understand why forming and leading a hygiene team or constructing a wall is so important to their community,

Audio Transcript

Chloe Rastatter: Why do you think that there is so many women leaders in this space between especially on the American NGO side but also within the asylum seekers you know they’re the ones who are cleaning the bathrooms and there’s so many women leaders on the asylum seeker team why is that in your opinion 

Jennifer Harbury: uhm I’ve wondered this for a long time ‘cause I started noticing it back when in Argentina there searched that group to women of the Plaza de Mayo with white headscarves looking for their kids and risking their necks right. Then all the groups all the way north through Central America and Mexico groups for the disappeared, predominantly women by far. Not all there were many heroic men who were killed for being in those groups. But by far the majority were women. And I see that in civil rights legal aid societies and stuff and I see that also in the work we’re doing right now with refugees and stuff and so I can only guess I’m not a sociologist or a shrink right but I’m gonna guess there’s some basic threshold of human society that we women, as being geared also towards protectors of children right, we take care of the home turf and the bottom line is our home turf worldwide for all human beings is crashing and burning and we need to stop that right. We’re gonna protect that home turf, we’re not gonna let a child his fingernails torn out under our watch that’s not gonna happen. We’re not gonna let ten year old girls be sold into prostitution we’re gonna not let 8 year old boys be dragged away with their fingers chopped off because they refused to work with the gangs. It’s like we’re saying no to that right and you and I are saying no to what we’re seeing in the Plaza and what we’re seeing all over Reynosa. It’s like human society is not supposed to go this low and we’re gonna raise a fuss over that. 

Chloe Rastatter: Hi and welcome to Dignity Displaced a podcast by Solidarity Engineering I’m Chloe Rastatter. 

Christa Cook: And I’m Christa Cook.  

Chloe Rastatter: And welcome to our episode today “One camp closes another one opens, again”. This episode acts as a follow up to our original Reynosa episode which we released in October, “One camp closes and another one opens” and today we are just going to kind of update everybody about what has been going on in Reynosa in the past four months. 

 

Christa Cook: I think between these two episodes you’ll learn that here at the border nothing changes and everything is different. 

Chloe Rastatter: And as the problems associated with the border being closed under Title 42 have just gotten worse and worse the bottleneck here at our border has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger and resources have become more and more stretched.

Christa Cook: And we’re seeing asylum seekers come from all over the world of course Haiti and Central America but also we’re seeing people from Afghanistan, Tigre, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. Basically if you’re seeing a conflict on the news we’ve probably met somebody in Reynosa fleeing it.  

Chloe Rastatter: Yeah so today’s episode focuses on the entire Rio Grande Valley which is the southern eastern most point of the border and just like in our first episode about Reynosa, we really focus on two cities Reynosa and Matamoros. And so this episode is a follow up to that original episode but this time it is from an entirely women’s perspective.

 

Christa Cook: And the reason we chose to highlight women and exclusively women on this episode is because on both sides of the border we’ve realized over the past two years that the vast majority of the leadership has been coming from women. So for instance, you know you have us Solidarity Engineering but also other women led organizations. We have the Sidewalk School, Team Brownsville, the Angry Tias, Global Response Management, Resource Center Matamoros, Catholic Charities, RGV local pastors, the list goes on. And of course the asylum seeker teams which you’ll hear in this episode many of which are one by women as well, and the second reason we really wanted to highlight women’s voices is just because often refugee crisis affect women more than anybody else simply because they’re more susceptible for instance to rape and robbery but they’re also generally the ones in charge of taking care of kids. You could imagine that that could be a pretty difficult job in a refugee camp 

Chloe Rastatter: And so with that here's today’s episode.   

Act One: there from the beginning

Chloe Rastatter: So as we talked about in our October episode the asylum process has been increasingly derailed on an iterative basis resulting in the humanitarian crisis we now see today where the border is essentially completely shut to asylum and it has been for over two years now since the closure of the border in March of 2020, under Title 42, a COVID “public health measure”, over 1.7 million asylum seekers and migrants have been expelled upon entering and trying to apply for asylum. So that means we know that at least 1.7 million asylum seekers came to our border and were turned away. But that number is likely much higher because the main policy that’s sending them back Title 42 either sends asylum seekers right back into Mexico or all the way back to the countries they were fleeing from to begin with. So out of fear of deportations not all asylum seekers who are currently at our southern border have even tried to enter the US. They’ve been waiting in the shadows in Mexico. In places like Reynosa, the city where we work which is often cited as one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Reynosa experiences particularly high levels of cartel violence and it happens to be the epicenter of the crisis and it’s the hardest hit region on the entire U S Mexico border. Rape, kidnapping, extortion, and murder are commonplace and the city is now housing thousands who live in tents and makeshift camps and formal shelters throughout the city. The situation to be frank is worst case scenario as an estimated 3000 people are living in the Plaza de la to publica, a city square that is less than the size of a standard soccer field and tensions are running high as the crisis is just getting worse by the day. The crisis at our border has been given national attention and since our last Reynosa episode the Trump era policy known as migrant protection protocols MPP or the remain in Mexico policy has been officially re implemented after Biden initially terminated it in 2021. So MPP is back but with a few changes according to the American immigration council and ACLU some particularly important changes were made. Biden actually expanded who MPP can be applied to under Trump, only people from Spanish speaking countries and Brazil could be sent back to Mexico under MPP now under Biden all Western Hemisphere nationals excluding Mexicans can be placed under MPP. But he also expanded vulnerability screening programs which are programs that exempt people from being sent back into Mexico. Now clarifying that individuals with a known mental or physical health issue includes those with a disability or medical condition relating to pregnancy. Probably the most significant change to MPP 2.0 is the process by which someone can be exempt from the program due to a fear of persecution or torture in Mexico under trump CBP officers were not allowed to ask asylum seekers if they feared being returned to Mexico whereas MPP 2.0 requires officers to ask asylum seekers about their fears of returning to Mexico and if they can prove that there’s quote UN and if they can prove that there’s quote UN quote reasonable possibility that they’ll be tortured or kidnapped they can be exempt. Although it seems like MPP 2.0 is different we at the borders still aren’t exactly sure how MPP 2.0 will play out because Title 42 is still in place and is still stopping hundreds of thousands for even applying for asylum meaning they don’t even get far enough into the process to be placed under MPP since they don’t have cases. They’re either deported back to places they were fleeing from or sent back to Mexico and they’re all told the same thing. Sorry border’s closed. On March 30th the US government announced that Title 42 will be lifted on May 23rd but with MPP still in place and migration to the southern border expected to continue those at the border aren’t entirely sure what the future will hold. In the year that we’ve been working in Reynosa organizations and churches have been watching it get worse and worse by the day as we all work to try to provide basic necessities for thousands. Ever since the closing of the Matamoros camp in March of 2021 Reynosa has been absolutely overwhelmed. A lot of organizations more recently started working in Reynosa and the one thing that almost everyone has in common in Reynosa they talked to Lulu before starting a project there. Lulu is a Reynosa local who’s been working with asylum seekers for decades and although she’s soft spoken and charming after meeting her you’ll quickly find out why she’s so successful in what she does rather than having an Oh well we tried attitude Lulu definitely has a, well that didn’t work let’s try it in a different way attitude. So you can get a taste for yourself of what type of person Lulu is we’ll let her introduce herself with this story. 

Lulu: Well I I’ve always been like I would always sell anything, anything. So I I would always pass through the Telemundo office when they started and I said I want to work there so uh they would tell me now you’re not going to be able to work there because you don’t have experience and they were asking for experience in selling marketing. I had I mean I had some experience in marketing but I mean they, they wanted experience in TV, TV marketing. So I said I’m gonna go and try it so I went in there and human resource told me- do you have experience? I said no I don’t but don’t worry I can I can even sell you a rock. So they did give me a second interview with the director and he said they told me you can sell a rock. You can even sell rocks, I said yes I’ve sold charcoal. So and I said yes I can sell you a rock and he said okay try it so I said I’ll just get a rock and tell you this rock makes miracles, and you’re gonna believe me and believe me you’re gonna believe me. So but, and and I got hired. 

Chloe Rastatter: So that’s Lulu in a nutshell. She’s spent almost her whole life helping asylum seekers in Mexico- first starting part time when she was in high school. But, the humanitarian situation in Reynosa wasn’t always what it is now, and no one knows it better than Lulu who started working in Reynosa when she was 16 and never really stopped. Here’s lulu: 

Lulu: I’ve been working here in Reynosa for some years already. Working, helping all the migrants especially all the people that are outside the shelters. It’s what I’ve been doing with I’m hand how do you say it hand to hand with Jennifer Harbury. I started since I had my first job when I was in high school so I had a like a marketing classes, DECA and all those things so uh I had to work so I could get credits in high school. If you worked on that on with the marketing classes they would give you credits so you didn’t have like they would take off two classes and then you would get credits for working so then I started working. So my first job it was it’s funny but I started working at Kmart. So uh the I remember the first check. Sorry. We bought a bunch of blankets and we brought them over here. 

Christa Cook: This was when you were in high school? 

Lulu: Yeah I was in high school.

Chloe Rastatter: So you guys worked for a long time.

Lulu: Yeah, yeah I remember it was Christmas so me and my dad started. Yeah. 

Chloe Rastatter: So what started as an project both for school and with her dad, never really stopped. And Lulu’s done a lot since that first Christmas  

Lulu: I started helping people that were on the street homeless and then uh well I would cross every single day the border so I would always see people that needed help also. And I discovered they were migrants also so I started helping them. But I started uh bringing things from family members, friends, I would call and say hey do you have anything that uh you don’t need ‘cause over there we need it so I would get food blankets sleeping bags I always was I was always looking for sleeping bags because I knew that many of the people that were there at the borders they were just sitting there. So we needed blankets, sleeping bags. I would go to the flea markets and get, I had this man who sold us the sleeping bag so I would get them real cheap so I would also get money from friends or whoever wanted to donate my my daughter and son’s friends they would also help us. So, we would get a bunch of sleeping bags and blankets and also, I mean big, how do you call it, ice chests of food, so I’ve always done that. And then here comes Jennifer Harbury. I met her because of a friend of my daughter, so we started as that day that I met her we started that day working together. I mean it was crazy. 

Chloe Rastatter: Once Jennifer and Lulu started working together, Lulu was really able to extend her reach. She now runs a rental assistance program for specifically vulnerable populations, and she contrinues to help supply the refugee community around it with basic needs like food, blankets, and more. She’s been watching the camp in the Plaza camp grow since day 1, and all that time has been working within the plaza to find the most vulnerable families to help them move out of the Plaza and enroll them in her rental assistance program. But a lot has changed over the past year, as the population within the Plaza has far exceeded the resources of the supporting groups. Here’s what it was like at the very beginning: 

Lulu: We would take food, and we also started taking like everything, blankets, socks. Everything that they needed ‘cause all these people were coming back without anything. I mean they were all they didn’t even have a I mean nothing. Not even how do you say they were just what they were wearing. So we were there at the at the border like day and night taking things. I mean as soon as we got things I mean donated or something I mean every single day we were there. Then we started bringing people to looking for shelters, shelters. So we would bring people to Casa Migrante, or Senda or also we started bringing them to the apartments getting donations so we could pay rents. 

Chloe Rastatter: The plaza was the first camp within Reynosa- and as the populations have grown- so have the tensions in the city surrounding the camp. Although Lulu grew up on the US side of the border, she’s been living in Reynosa nearly 20 years and in Reynosa it’s no secret that at least the Reynosa government is not happy with the camp. But its not just the government of Reynosa who isn’t thrilled about the situation. UNHCR workers can’t even enter the camp premises because they determine it to be too dangerous both due to COVID and political tensions. Given this information, we asked Lulu what the people of Reynosa thought about the camp. This is what she said: 

 Lulu: Well they were against the people moving to the Plaza since it’s it’s the entrance they didn’t see it like okay especially because some of the organizations I mean they started putting tents and that’s what they didn’t want, or wanted like to do like an encampment, but it did, it started. 

 

Chloe Rastatter: Has there been a lot of pushback from the people of Reynosa about the camp? 

 

Lulu: Yes, the truth yes even the people around there. The businesses, they have always been against all this. 

Chloe Rastatter: Because of high tensions, there’s been increased pressure from the Mexican government for organizations and churches to build a different place as an alternative to the Plaza. After months of coordinating- construction on a new camp has begun. It’s on an old baseball field, on land that is particularly difficult to prepare for 3,000 people to live on. First of all, it’s on the flood plain of the Rio Grande making it really dangerous in the event of a hurricane, but on top of that, there is no connection to city drainage, and the soil is clay, meaning water has nowhere to go. On top of it all, it’s in a particularly dangerous neighborhood within Reynosa.  

The camp, however, will be run by Pastor Hector, a Mexican pastor who currently runs the largest shelter in Mexico- Senda de Vida which houses 1,500 asylum seekers. Although the baseball field, or as some people call it, “Senda 2” will have increased access to services, it remains unclear when the city of Reynosa plans to start moving people and if the baseball field will even be ready when they move people, and a lot of people are really worried about what's next. Although the plaza is dense, dangerous, and with few resources, not all asylum seekers want to leave. Here’s Lulu: 

Lulu: Well, what I understand the government from here from Reynosa, uh presidente municipal and all the people from here, they just wanna clear the Plaza. So they wanna take all the people out. So that’s why they started the organizations, they started helping Pastor Hector Silva to do the Senda 2 and that way they can they could move all the people over there. But the truth- I see it very, what’s the word very, hard- bad uh that all the people are going to be, how do you say de aquerdo. 

Christa Cook: That they agree 

Lulu: That they’re going to agree  

Christa Cook: So you think that the people in the Plaza will not agree.

Lulu: well  us that go a lot to the Plaza like a go a lot to the Plaza and we’re always and helping them and then, that most of them, they know who we are and they talk to me and everything. I mean there’s a lot of people that, I mean it’s, it’s like it’s always been, I mean they’re scared. They’re scared of where they’re going they’re scared if they’re gonna be safe in there. I know they’re trying to, to do everything there at Senda II, where there, they are going to be safe, but I mean you know like at the beginning I mean you don’t know where you’re going so of course they’re scared.  

Christa Cook: What are their fears? 

Lulu: Well I think it’s the same as what they’re going through there at the Plaza. I mean you know of, of everything- of kidnappings, of they’re going to have enough food over there. I mean over here they’re stores all around so they can go buy things and everything over here you don’t know I mean there’s nothing probably. I haven’t, I mean I haven’t seen really good around there but probably not gonna be the same, same, thing, and they can't be getting out. 

Chloe Rastatter: The border can often be extremely stressful as everyone is forced to work with very, very few resources in a high risk environment. And yet, there is still an abundance of women, who despite many odds, choose to take leadership roles. We asked Lulu why she thinks that is. 

Lulu: Because us as women I think we’re more, we’re stronger than men. We’re stronger than men, oh my God. Yeah no. Well, well, I mean I think we’re, I mean I don’t know if that’s the word but I mean I think we’re. Like me, I can bet you whatever you want I’m, I’m stronger and I’m more brave that’s the word right brave then then I mean then some men.

 

Chloe Rastatter; Yeah I think I would agree with that.

Christa Cook: Yeah  

Lulu: I mean ‘cause I mean every single day they tell me why are you doing that. I mean why are you doing this. I mean aren’t you scared. I mean if I would have been if I’m scared, I wouldn’t be doing nothing of what I’m doing right now. So no I’m not scared, I mean I’m uh we’re just trying I’m just trying to help and and uh what I’m most do is help the people that really really need it. I mean you know what I’ve been doing is just getting all those people out of the Plaza, getting out all those people that really that are coming very, very sick. I mean we’re talking about you all have seen the the cases with cancer, kidney problems, I mean kids raped. Women that are raped here in Mexico I mean in that they need help and they need medication. They need everything and then if no one is helping there I mean we have to go in there and get them out. Like me that has this small shelters right. We see every single day, I mean when I get this cases if you hear one of those cases I mean you for reals you would go crazy of what you hear. I mean even psychologists for MSF told me that probably I need a psychologist also because all the things that we hear, every single day and that has happened to all these people. I mean all them deserve, all of them deserve like a chance to be, to, to be okay, I mean they deserve a life and to seek asylum. I mean get out, get out from where they’re hurting them, you have to be I mean you have to get out. I mean it and the same thing would happen to us I mean if we’re in the US and something is happening, happening to us I mean of course we’re gonna get out and go look somewhere else where you’re gonna be you’re gonna be okay. So I mean they all deserve a chance, they all, all of them all deserve a chance. 

Christa Cook: It's not just American and Mexican NGOs and local churches who are working to provide basic necessities for thousands in Reynosa, there's a whole another half of the team altogether. The asylum seekers themselves. From hygiene teams, to security teams, to kitchen crews, and to the baseball field construction team, asylum seekers have taken the betterment and their survival of themselves, their families and their community into their own hands. And it is only through the direct collaboration with the asylum seekers themselves, that all of the project you just heard about are successful or even possible. The construction of the baseball field is a powerful example of this, as 100% of the construction is being done by asylum seeker volunteers who live in Pastor Hector's first shelter, Senda de Vida. Nearly every single member of the construction crew lived in the Plaza before Senda. They are working on the baseball field because they know better than anybody what life is like in the Plaza. And they are doing what they can to help out their fellow asylum seekers. To be clear, this is not a comfortable or a safe job, especially for asylum seekers, as they are a specifically targeted population. You see, the baseball field is not exactly in a great location within Reynosa. It's actually one of the most dangerous parts of Reynosa because it's close to the river and therefore the border. And this proximity results in high levels of gang activity. The building of a 10 foot high concrete wall was the first step in construction, but this period was specifically uncomfortable as people were open and vulnerable on all sides. There are so many women leaders within the asylum seeker community who are prioritizing taking care of not only themselves and their families, but also their communities. A prime example is a Honduran doctor named Suyapa. Who is an asylum seeker herself and the coordinator of Casa Clinica, a small shelter in Reynosa which hosts clinics for both the residents of the shelter and the refugees living in the streets around Casa. The shelter’s run by Lulu and the clinic is incredibly overburdened with a wait list currently exceeding 2,500 people. Since Lulu and Suyapa are power team, we thought the best way to introduce Suyapa properly would be to let Lulu do it, here’s Lulu: 

Lulu: I met Suyapa, she was there at the Plaza. Thank God I met her, ‘cause she’s my she’s the one that, she’s my right hand. She’s the one that’s been helping me and together I mean we’ve been doing so much. 

Christa Cook: Here’s Suyapa: 

Suyapa: Good afternoon, my name is Suyapa and I am from Honduras. I’m a doctor a general practitioner  

Christa Cook: When did you arrive here in Mexico? 

Suyapa: I arrived here in Reynosa in May 2021.

Christa Cook: Almost a year ago, a long time. Have you been working as a doctor the whole time you’ve been here ? 

Suyapa: Well I don’t really work as a doctor it’s more like a coordinator, because I don’t have a medical license here in Mexico. But I help the asylum seekers at the Casa Clinica shelter as much as I can. I collaborate with doctors for everything in Casa Clinica. I help the people who are here at Casa Clinica because they are the most vulnerable. They’re all vulnerable. They usually arrive with some kind of medical condition whether it be physical illness or psychological. So we try to give them help with medication or psychological help. For psychological help we coordinate with Doctors Without Borders, and for the physical health we collaborate with GRM. But more than anything we give food, sheets, blankets, clothes, and if they don’t have them. Also, apart from people living in Casa Clinica we also help asylum seekers who are living on the streets around Casa Clinica. They are given personal hygiene kits, also sheets, cold weather clothes, shampoo, pampers, with the help of you all and other organizations. More than all that, when Miss Lulu is not there, I take care of the shelter.

Christa Cook: How did you get involved in this type of work? 

Suyapa: When Miss Lulu took me out of the Plaza the la republica a refugee camp when I met her there we struck up a conversation and I explained my situation my life and I told her I’m a doctor in my country and that if I could help her then I would. 

Christa Cook: Why did you choose to be a doctor?  

Suyapa: Because I always liked it my mom always asked me when I was little what will you do when you grow up? When I left elementary school, doctor. When I left high school, doctor. So I wanted to be a doctor all my life.  

Christa Cook: Can you talk about the difference of being a doctor in Honduras, and being a doctor in Reynosa Mexico. 

Suyapa: More than anything medicines are different sometimes we don’t use the same protocols to treat these diseases. Also with antibiotics they do keep track of antibiotics here in Mexico. In Honduras, no, antibiotics there’s are over the counter. Anyone can buy it, anyone can self medicate. Instead, here the difference is that it is controlled. If it is not with a prescription they do not sell it to you. 

Christa Cook: What kind of challenges do you face being a female doctor in Reynosa?

 

Suyapa: Challenges- because of the fact that we are women we are already discriminated against in several areas and people think we do not stand out or excel. So women’s efforts are not recognized, just because of the fact that we were women. But throughout history we have seen that we do stand out in many areas and society always reflects that, that men will believe they are superior in such areas. But since we are already on the subject of gender equality, we are moving forward, and challenges, challenges, they are huge here. The fact that you are not in your country, that you meet different people, many people who speak their own languages that are different than your own. For example, with Mexicans, sometimes the language changes because even though we speak Spanish we always have different names for things, so more than anything is where, that’s where the challenge comes, communication. Despite being the same language sometimes we use the same words but they have different meanings. For them it means one thing, and for us another. So that causes confusion, but we learn, we learn. 

 

Christa Cook: How do you overcome those communication challenges?  

Suyapa: Despite this difference, you always learn, one should always be learning. And there are asylum seeker volunteers who help us translate. For example, Haitians speak their own language, Haitian Creole, but because there’s always someone from the Haitian group that also speaks Spanish, they help us translate. But a translation will never be exactly the same as the original meaning because the translation tends to change a little. So, we don’t always fully understand what they want to tell us, that’s why it’s more difficult to be able to help those who don’t speak Spanish. But we try to help them as much as possible.  

Christa Cook: Could you talk a little bit more about what you do here as a leader in Casa Clinica. 

 

Suyapa: Well, I don’t really consider myself a leader. As I told you I don’t really feel like the leader, more than anything I try to coordinate. I tell them how to organize how to do the distributions. Before the doctors arrive here at Casa Clinica we try to organize patients, especially those who live in the streets around Casa Clinica, to make it easier for them and easier for us. It is difficult because the Haitians they all come sick and they all need care medical but unfortunately, we cannot see all the number of people who come. Leader I don’t know why they call me leader more than everything it’s just directing and keeping control of everything.  

Christa Cook: Why do you do what you do? 

Suyapa: Due to the fact of being a migrant there’s always someone who reaches out to you for help and why not do it ourselves, for others, who are compatriots our countrymen and who are equals. We all come with a purpose that is to cross or fulfill our American dream which is going to work to help support our family that we left in our countries. Why not help them? Also, because when a new asylum seeker arrives to Reynosa, you can imagine they feel bad, depressed, they know they may not be able to cross in the United States, or that they may get returned back to Mexico, or maybe the person they paid to cross them abandoned them or doesn’t want to cross them anymore or wants to get more money from them. It’s very difficult, there are people who left everything, sold everything in their country or took out loans to be able to make this trip, only to be turned back. And they know they may have to return. There are some who make the decision to stay here in Mexico, even in the dire conditions in the Plaza. Others make the decision to return to their country even though they know that they are going to return with debt, maybe they even sold their houses. Why do we want to go to the United States? Because the United States we know that we have to go to work, nothing is free in life we know that we have to go to work, but the money we earn in the United states pays off in our country it’s double or triple in value.  

Christa Cook: Between the construction of the baseball field, the cooking crews, and the hygiene crews, we’ve seen a lot of asylum seekers supporting asylum seekers. Can you talk about that? 

Suyapa: Well, as an asylum seeker I know how they are living and how they feel so I try to collaborate to help them. Like when you’re in the Plaza, give care, tell them that everything is going to be fine, help them think through their situation and options. Maybe offer them food, water, but more than anything we help connect each other to resources. When I was living in the Plaza, we helped each other out by directing people or giving them directions, indication as to where they could ask for food, water, cell phone service. We let people know that on the other side of the Plaza there is like a warehouse where there are clothes, there they can get clothes, because many people arrive filthy because that’s the only clothes they came with. More than all that, well, just as just has how they arrive that’s how we arrived it’s the same and someone else held out their hand to us.  

Christa Cook: Can you tell us a little bit more about what kind of illnesses you’ve been seeing lately?  

Suyapa: Both, well, but more than anything, we see people who bring psychological problems either because of the different situations in which people were abused physically and verbally. The treatment by the people they trusted to cross them, just because you’re paying them does not mean they are going to treat you well. So yes, many of them suffer physical and verbal abuse. Physical is not only being hit or something like that, there are rapes, there are people who were abused sexually, and some managed to escape, others are kidnapped. Even if they get their families to pay the ransom they may not survive. This is what we see most of all here, people who go through situations like these and diseases such as cancer kidney disease, kidney failure, or people who can’t walk, who have a disability. 

Christa Cook: Can you talk from a medical perspective about why bathrooms are so important for public health? 

Suyapa: Well, bathrooms are an important part of hygiene. Where you go to the bathroom has to be clean because so many people are using the same bathroom, and if a bathroom is dirty then that creates a route of infection that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever. So, bathroom hygiene is something that must be clean. What you are doing in the Plaza, which are the bathrooms, well really the bathrooms are needed, it’s a necessity.  

Christa Cook: Can you talk about how bathrooms relate to security?  

Suyapa: Okay, the security of not having to leave the Plaza, of not having to cross the street is important. Some are afraid because they are fleeing from their kidnappers right here in Mexico, so they are afraid to leave the the relative safety of the Plaza. So yes, security has a lot to do with hygiene in this way, the fact that the bathrooms are inside the Plaza is important, so people who are afraid can find a clean place where they can relieve themselves without having to leave the Plaza.  

Christa Cook: My last question is we’ve seen a lot of women leaders here in Reynosa for instance Lulu, Sister Norma, Jennifer Harbury, the list goes on why do you think there’s so many women leaders here? 

Suyapa: Well, I can tell you that as women we can be more empathetic with the situation of every woman, or every child, or every person. I believe maybe we are a little more empathetic with women and children. The fact that we are women we identify with their situation because we put ourselves in their place. How would you go through that situation, how would you endure it. Sometimes we say that God does not give us burdens that we cannot bear. You may say to yourself that you can’t continue on, but as women we have a lot of strength, so I do think for that reason we see more women leaders. 

Sister Norma: Hello, I’m Sister Norma “Pimeten”. I oversee the charitable arm of the Catholic Church along the border on the US side, uh Catholic Charities. And also because of our proximity right to the border we also are very involved in the Mexican side especially because the immigrants that normally we would help in the US side and our Respite Center are really a lot of them are still waiting in the Mexican side. So Matamoros, Reynosa, our access where we can really respond and and, organize a response where all of us can come together to help and do our part and help the many immigrants that are suffering here at the border. And so why do women get involved? Because, because it’s something that, honestly I think that it is our time it is our time. Women today are, are excelled to step, to move forward and to get be part of making our world a better place to live and so I think this is when we know we have a we’ve been in power with the gifts to bring forward to our communities and to make a difference in the lives of others. ‘cause we don’t want, I don’t see ourselves so much as being recognized as doing what we’re doing but rather as initiators of something that is going to make a difference in making our world better. Especially when it comes to people and treating people with dignity and respect that they all deserve. So, we have the heart, we have the mind, and then we have the willpower. And so I think all of that brings us forward to, to make a difference in our communities to lead and this is why we’re here. 

Christa Cook: That’s a beautiful answer, thank you so much. 

Chloe Rastatter: Act 2: Low resources. High Tensions. 

Chloe Rastatter: As the situation at the border and in the Rio Grande Valley has gotten worse, organizations are trying to figure out the best way to allocate the resources that they have. Without the UN at the border, organizations are left to meet basic needs for thousands, but with two cities that are about an hour apart from each other, Matamoros and Reynosa, both experiencing high levels of displacement, it’s becoming increasingly harder to meet the need. One of our partners, Team Brownsville, has been continuously faced with the question of where to put their resources ever since the Matamoros camp closed. We talked with one of their founders, Andrea Rudnik, about what it’s been like in the recent months. Here’s Andrea: 

 

Andrea Rudnik: My name is Andrea Rudnik and I’m a co-founder and volunteer with Team Brownsville. Team Brownsville was started here on the border in Brownsville. We were responding to the needs of asylum seekers as they were coming to our border and not being able to cross into Brownsville, and we were also responding to the needs of asylum seekers that were getting released at our bus station from the detention centers and didn’t really have anywhere to go. We came together as a group of educators from the Brownsville Independent School District. Those were the initial volunteers and cofounders of Team Brownsville, and then overtime we, we’ve been working now for almost four years. I would say that uh since the fall, we have seen more desperation among the people. As Title 42 has dragged on, as the threat of MPP came up and people didn’t really know what would happen with MPP, I think there’s been a lot of confusion. We weren’t sure what the best thing was to do because we’ve always felt like Matamoros was gonna reopen again, or like maybe people would turn from Reynosa to Matamoros and we would end up with a shift of, of population that people from Reynosa perhaps would come over to Matamoros. So in some sense it’s been difficult to make the decisions about where we would invest peoples donations, but I think ultimately, we decided that the best thing to do was to try to meet people’s needs in that moment in time, that it was really hard to anticipate what would be needed in the future and so we looked to organizations like Solidarity Engineering like the Angry Tias and Abuelas like Lulu, and we really heard that the need was so profound there that we really couldn’t just ignore it and, and wait for things to start happening in Matamoros. In Reynosa right now we work really closely with the Angry Tias and Abuelas and with Solidarity Engineering. So both of those groups are kind of our eyes and ears in Reynosa and they help us to know what’s going on really on a day-to-day basis. So I think that what we really looked to do was to fund projects that would be more long-lasting. It’s one thing, and it’s a good thing, to fund daily food, water, medicine, things like that, but there is also a big need for infrastructure, things that are going to last and allow the people to live there more long term as they have been. And sometimes those type of projects are not as seen, they’re hidden because they are infrastructure. The other projects that we’ve been working on especially with the Angry Tias and Abuelas have been identifying really vulnerable families, families that for whatever reason shouldn’t or couldn’t live in the Plaza area, and helping providing those people with houses, little apartments, food rations, and those kinds of things. So that they could just live and, and keep their families fairly safe and healthy while they waited too to request asylum. In Matamoros it was, it’s very different because we were the ones that really supported Pastor Abraham effort to establish the shelter there once the people had come out of the encampment. Initially all the eyes were on him because he actually took the tail end of the people that were in there in the encampment in the original Matamoros encampment and but then as people found out about Luced Refugio, which is Pastor Abraham’s shelter, they came and more people came and more people came and his numbers went went up to close to 300 at times. So he’s doing work that he really never expected to do, and we’re doing work and supporting him in a shelter that we didn’t expect to be supporting back a year ago, two years ago. I would say it’s been really challenging over the past year, people were very excited, very enthusiastic about people coming out of the encampment. Since the encampment emptied out and the people that everybody knew have gone on to their families and their sponsors in the United States, it’s been very different. I think that people felt like they could breathe a big sigh of relief, like everything was going to be better with the new administration, like everything was going to be more humane, everything was there was going to be a clear passage to asylum, and so people stopped paying as much attention. And so a lot of our volunteer support dropped, a lot of our financial support dropped. I think that women have more resilience honestly. I think that we have, have had to fight our battles to get where we are, and I think it’s just an innate part of who we are as women, and especially women that have stepped forward and said I will be part of this work. I think it’s kind of a unique group of people. 

Chloe Rastatter: Exactly one year after the Matamoros camp closed. Another camp in Matamoros is under construction, as groups in Matamoros are facing the reality of all the shelters being full. With migration to the region expecting to increase organizations like the Asylum Seekers Support Network are trying to get ahead of the formation of ad hoc refugee camps, which are the worst-case scenarios, by building a camp on private land similar to the baseball field and to Senda de Vida. We talked to Gabby Zavala who’s leading this charge. Here’s Gabby: 

 

Gabby Zavala: Okay so uhm my name is Gabriela Zavala and I am the founder of a project called Resource Center Matamoros, I am the founder of a nonprofit called Asylum Seeker Network of Support, that kind of serves as an umbrella for all the different projects that I have worked on, including Resource Center Matamoros. So, in general terms Resource Center Matamoros is the safe space where people can access the legal resources, they can they could access medical help, they could access basically like social support in general. As you know immigration policy we never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next. One day people are crossing the next day people are being exposed people are being repatriated, sent back to their countries and so we never really know what’s happening. So a lot of our efforts have to be grassroots efforts they have to be like okay so wow people okay people are being deported, people have nowhere to go, people are sleeping on mats on the ground in a Plaza, people are showering in the river because there is no showers. So I remember there was a time I was at my OBGYN’s office. I was about nine months pregnant I think at that time, and I remember getting a video from, from some people about what had happened, and there was a group of like four, 15 to 16 kind of teenage girls that were bathing in the river and then some of them actually drowned. You know so they were rescued, resuscitated, but I remember seeing those videos of those persons you know suffering that tragic tragedy and then just seeing the people like in the camp or the people in the that were just living there, the asylum seekers trying to like do CPR, with literally like no substantial aid around. There were no Mexican ambulances there was nobody attending to them. I remember that broke my heart and that just kind of and it angered me you know it angered me to the point where I’m like okay that’s it I have to do something about this and if nobody else is going to like listen to me at the you know at this point I was like I’m just gonna do it myself. We found a space set up temporary camp showers got some shampoos towels a table set it up, and I remember that one day you know bringing in the tanks of water, setting up these camp showers and handing out buckets to people with cups, and then we got started and people had showers, you know the first showers with clean water for the first time, and I remember the people like just kind of singing inside of that camp shower tent. That sort of kicked off a lot of the work that I started doing. We do grassroots efforts, we design grassroots efforts that provide direct aid in real time. Every day is an emergency while you’re doing this work. To this day, my nonprofit creates programs that, that respond to a real need in real time. Matamoros continues to see the influx of immigrants throughout the year. Regardless of whether there’s a camp or not, there’s still people flooding to the border in mass amounts on a weekly, daily basis to try to seek asylum. And so, the border is still closed to asylum due to the Title 42 policy. Right now, we’re we’re, working on a new shelter site so that we can increase the capacity of how many people we can house in safe spaces. Right now the shelters are at capacity so we’re trying to respond to that need in real time by creating another sheltering site that can maybe shelter mass groups versus just 200, 300 we want to be able to provide a significant space so that we can house up to like 1000 people if needed. It has slowly, this whole asylum processes slowly just been derailed. I mean it, it has, it’s completely stopped at this, at this moment, it’s inaccessible. So, there are thousands of people within the cities. Each border city has thousands of persons seeking asylum that are fleeing from whatever extenuating circumstances they have in their countries and they cannot go back. They’re kind of waiting in Mexico. What does that mean for all sheltering sites in Mexico? That means that people need somewhere to live, people need help, people are in a country that isn’t very accommodating to foreigners. They face discrimination, they face they face organized crime, they face unsafe living conditions, they face like a resources. So Santa Rosa is really important because it’s gonna provide sort of that backup shelter for when all of the shelters are full. We want to prevent the spontaneous formation of encampments. Spontaneous encampments really leave people vulnerable to organized crime, they leave people vulnerable to the outside elements, to unsafe living conditions and all that. Women uhm, I guess in the setting, you know, we were carrying you know, we have sort of like this sort of carrying aspect right of us, and our heart reaches out, we have a lot of compassion. You know and so I don’t know if that’s sort of like you know the stereotypical ways that we that we grow up, the social norms you know, but also a lot of the work that we do lacks infrastructure it lacks organizational setting and so for for, women typically we have jobs that are not under an infrastructure right we’re not under like an institutional setting. You know women, are we’re moms, and that’s the one of the hardest jobs ever on earth you know on on the history of the world. Being a mom. But it’s not structured it’s not viewed as like oh that’s a job right we get paid nothing for it and it’s one of the most important jobs ever. And so I don’t know if being able to work under those conditions or under that kind of setting it's just natural to us a lot of the work we do we don’t get paid for right and we’re caring for others. And so doesn’t that really kind of coincide with like the whole mother sort of like you know vision, the vision of a mother is to work tirelessly day after day without recognition, without any resources or very little resources, and so I think that maybe that speaks volumes to like why it is that we do this work right. Do I want a traditional job? Yeah do I spend, you know do I want to just be an at home mom with my kids, that would make life so much easier and and believe me there are days as a mom were you know I have like babies crying on a zoom call, and I’m trying to type a document or I’m trying to submit a grant, but I’m also a mom you know, and I have to attend to my kids and it’s very frustrating sometimes. My mom supports me very much and so coincidentally right it’s a talking about how women you know kind of like take up the biggest face here if it weren’t for my mom understanding and wanting her daughter to really succeed and be an independent, like a truly, truly, independent woman that’s my situation I’m a single mom you know and so my mom really wants me to succeed she was a very hardworking woman as well. I learned a lot of my my, I learned a lot of like my work ethic from her and she just sees how passionate I am. She’s passionate when I’m passionate so she helps me out a lot taking care of my kids and so that’s how I do it.

Chloe Rastatter: The baseball field camp in Reynosa is well under construction and although things are always changing, organizations are using lessons learned from previous encampments in Reynosa and Matamoros to build a better and safer camp that will last for years to come. Seeing the crisis at the border worse than over the past few years organizations are now trying to create a more permanent solution for something that was once seen as a temporary problem. One of the people heading this charge is American human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury who’s with the Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley. But the process hasn’t exactly been easy. Here’s Jennifer: 

Jennifer Harbury: My name is Jennifer Harbury, I’ve been an attorney since ‘78 down here in the Rio Grande Valley, I retired a few years ago and to work full time with the refugees on both sides of the border and I’m a member of the Angry Tias and Abuelas. We’ve been amazed at how fast the Plaza fills up and it’s because they’re sending everybody back still under either Title 42 or regular deportation or everything else. And because the situation is not survivable now in Central America and many parts of Mexico, they have to come up. So more and more people are arriving in Reynosa. Why Reynosa which is such a terribly dangerous place? It’s the shortest and most direct trip, you have a better chance of arriving faster than if you go across the Sonoran Desert and stuff where you could get picked off at many places. And people don’t have the money to go that direction. So, they all arrive in Reynosa. So we’re seeing a huge increase in the brutality and a huge increase in the number of people here who are trapped in Reynosa, and they can’t get across and there’s really nowhere else to go. That’s why Pastor Hector who already had extended his 3 to 500 people shelter, greatly extended it so that they could take in another 7 or 800, now has 1500 people. He didn’t want to take charge of another of another alberga but we’re hearing about women being raped in their tents at the Plaza at 2 in the afternoon, they go around the corner and they’re attacked, their kids are getting kidnapped, they’ll be taken away to work several times and then never returned by the gangs. It’s a holy terror over there and everybody agrees we have to get them out of there, it’s just we have to. So, he agreed to build yet another one after a former baseball field and it’s going to be Senda 2, an extension of Senda 1, under his hospices direction and that we the protections under Mexican law for a church sanctuary hold. No one can go in and drag them out. He’s built an enormous brick and mortar wall around it that will keep people safe we hope, it has with Senda 1. And you folks, you Solidarity Engineers have already been putting in the bathrooms for a huge number of people and showers. There’s gonna be wash stations, there will be tents at first but hopefully not for long. The city just wants to just dump them in the streets which means they will all be kidnapped, raped, and trafficked and that’s just the worst possible scenario. The accelerated timeline is ‘cause the mayor keeps saying we’re just gonna throw him in the street on Thursday, they’ve been there long enough. And you know if they throw them in the street it’s a total disaster. If they throw them on the baseball field before water and electric are hooked up, and while things are still being worked out with like local gangs because it’s right at the Riverside, that’s gonna be a disaster too. They don’t seem to care it’s you know it’s something that’s causing public embarrassment ‘cause they’re not bringing medical supplies, they’re not bringing food, they’re not doing anything. The entire project out there has been completely funded and mobilized by the private sector and the church sectors. So, you know they’d like to say that they’re the ones doing it, I notice they did put down better gravel finally, and I think they may have contributed some doors or something, but it’s minimal. The Mexican government authorities here have promised water and electrical hookups and they haven’t done it. So, we may be going to you know a generator system hopefully solar at least after a while and immediately maybe going with a cistern, I hope not. The government needs to keep its promise and it’s done nothing at all for the migrants. They seem to have the idea that they shouldn’t have water, they should have portable toilets, and terrible little pup tents during you know cold freezes and unbearable heat, that that’s their punishment for being migrants. And you’re not supposed to be punishing migrants, they’re a vulnerable population who are only going after what they’re legally entitled to go after which is to seek asylum and save their children’s lives. Well Title 42 you know is supposed to expire and the whole excuse of having Title 42 is, was to prevent the spread of Covid. The interesting thing is that so many people coming in from from, Mexico like international businessmen, and people like us that spend time over there and come in, and students everybody else, we were still free to cross for a very long time. The only ones that were not free to cross under Covid were asylum seekers, even if they had a test showing they were not covid infected which tells you everything. So now that Covid is winding down, we hope, and everybody is really seeing that the effects of Title 42 have been frankly murderous. I mean we, you know, we will never live down what we have done to these people for the last many years. So given all of that, let us hope that it’s really shut down for good, and that people can come back across under the actual statue, the laws that Congress had passed and which the president cannot overrule nor can the courts unless it’s unconstitutional in some way. What does the statute say? The law says if they need asylum they walk across the bridge, they do not wait in Mexico, it says no such thing. They cross the bridge, they go into the 60 seat waiting room and tell the guy at the desk that they’re there to apply for asylum, and that they’re in danger. They then have to be processed they cannot be sent back to Mexico, they must be processed, and if there’s no danger to society, if they’re not Genghis Khan or related to Osama Bin Laden or or, something perhaps less than that, if they’re not heavily into the you know drug trafficking, then they are supposed to be sent like any other person to stay with their families while their cases are heard, and their families support them, they’re not any kind of burden on anybody. And then the judge of the immigration courts decides whether they should get asylum or not. And they can be sent home with if they are not eligible. We just need to go back to what the law says. It’s plain and simple. Now MPP was yet another one of those projects for making people stay over there you could come over and get 10 minutes with a judge on screen for your little tiny hearing and then sent back to wait another six months but as I’ve told you before I’ve had clients that were attacked and kidnapped over and over again, and gang raped during the time periods they were sent back to just wait in Mexico. So, we need to quit the wait in Mexico, we’re killing people. You know a pastor never did get you know returned after he was kidnapped because he was sheltering people. Wait in Mexico is not what the law says and it’s dangerous and that makes it unconstitutional, and against federal statute, not just against federal treaties and international law, against United States law. I think it’s quite amazing in that the migrants from Senda 1 are the ones out there building the Senda 2 encampment with their bare hands with pastor hector. They’re building it brick by brick, trench by trench, because as they say we used to be in the Plaza too we know what it’s like we’re doing it for our fellow, our fellow migrants. 

Christa Cook: Can you tell us why you decided to join the construction crew and help build this new shelter? 

Asylum Seeker 1: Well, I like to collaborate. I don't like to be doing nothing; I felt uncomfortable being there at Senda de Vida doing nothing. So, since my husband is also collaborating [with the construction crew], well, I did come here to put a good effort, right? Because it is God’s work; the Bible says he/she is blessed… blessed are those who receive foreigners well, so it really is a blessing for us how we are treated; how Senda de Vida is a blessing for us. Well, for me, in my case, it is a blessing, it is a stage of restoration also that God has us in this place. And for me it is a pleasure, a pleasure to serve, I love to serve for the glory of God, right? I do it with a lot of love. And I do it with a lot of love because we never know what surprises we would find here. And it makes us think now, honestly, that we see so many families, children, women. And I admire the women - I came with my husband - but I admire women who come alone with their children because this is a very dangerous journey. And I thank God for Senda de Vida and for Pastor Héctor and for you all. Because God puts the love and will in your hearts to look after us in every way. We are here and we are ready to break stones! 

Asylum Seeker 2: Well, honestly, I didn't know much about construction. My husband also collaborates [with the construction crew] and I told him, well, I'm bored, I’m not doing anything and it doesn’t seem fair to me to do nothing while other families are stuck outside and have nowhere to go – they are in danger. And so I told him, well, let's go, I'm going, so we started to help [with construction]. Besides, whatever we can learn is going to help us, and we may have to do this construction work] up there [in the United States], since we are going with the mindset to work, so let’s get started from here we thought. So, because of that I decided to help out and get involved.  

Chloe Rastatter: Can you talk about what you’re working on right now? 

Asylum Seeker 2: Well, we are filling the holes in the wall with stones so that we don’t use so many materials to finish the wall. We are breaking cinder blocks, filling buckets, moving materials. Sometimes we carry blocks to bring them closer to the other workers. We help in whatever way we can, we realize our strength is not the same to that of a man, but wherever we can help, small or big, we’ll do it, and we will move things.  

 

Christa Cook: Can you explain why a brick wall around the entire new shelter is necessary here? 

Asylum Seeker 1: Security; protection [the wall provides]. It is very important to me [because] I lived in the plaza [de republic refugee camp] for 4 months. And believe me, you don't sleep well, and thank God that nothing happened to us, although we did receive threats, we did. But that's why one must work with love - the walls are very important; they represent security and protection, for children and for everyone, right? Well, and as she says, well here we are moving cinder blocks, breaking stone. Also, sometimes I make coffee or hot chocolate when Pastor Hector brings the things to make it with, I make it with love too [for the other workers]. There are other women helping out with construction too!  

 

Christa Cook: As Suyapa pointed out bathrooms in the hygiene team are extremely important to public health. Those who know better than anybody the importance of having a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom are the asylum seekers themselves who live in the Plaza during the spring and summer of 2021, when the Plaza was still pretty new. A lack of resources and organization resulted in the bathrooms within the Plaza to be extremely, extremely dirty. Like places where nobody should be forced to go, especially children. So a group of moms organized and started cleaning the bathrooms, originally taking voluntary donations from for community toilet paper and cleaning supplies. After learning about this self-organized asylum seeker led hygiene team. We began supplying them with materials needed for our hygiene free store. The free store now supplies things like soap, toothbrushes, shampoo, condoms, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper, and has ensured everybody has access to sanitary bathrooms free of charge. The hygiene team in the Plaza, which was started by a group of moms nine months ago, has since grown to over 100 people who take shifts so the bathrooms are cleaned and guarded 24/7. This team has also been expanded to Senda De Vida. The women understand how dangerous bathrooms can be especially at night as you're alone in the dark. These moms understood that intimately, so they did something about it. This is another example of why wash office structure disproportionately effects women. cleaning bathrooms isn't exactly a glamorous job but it is incredibly necessary so we interviewed two of them women who started the hygiene team in the plaza and why they do what they do. Here is what they said: 

Catalina: Well, we started the hygiene team in the plaza because the reality was the bathrooms were truly terrible. And we lived right by the bathrooms, so we created the hygiene team to stop the filth, to create something cleaner so we can live in better conditions. 

Karen: We needed [the bathrooms] to be a cleaner place because we are here with children, also it is just nice to be in a clean space for our wellbeing. It was a great help from you all and from God that you helped us get the hygiene materials. Little by little we grew [the team], as you saw. We started the hygiene team in the Plaza, and now we bring the same support to the Senda de Vida shelter. We are always keeping the bathrooms on point.  

 

Christa Cook: Have you seen a change in health since you started the hygiene team?  

 

Karen: We have all had very clean personal hygiene, everything in the bathroom area is super organized and ordered, we have not been sick. Thank God, we have been very blessed in that way. 

Catalina: Yes, [since starting the hygiene team] everything has been much cleaner and better because remember that hygiene is valuable, because without it, we wouldn’t have our health.  

 

Christa Cook: What was the plaza like before the hygiene team began? 

Karen: We started in the plaza and in the plaza, no one was keeping the area clean so we were walking on top of the poop, we were sitting on top of the poop there [in the plaza], and that's why we decided to form a hygiene team, so people who wanted to help could sign up and well, I don't know, it takes will and strength to clean poop in a bathroom, it's terrible. After eating, to see food, and poop – it's not easy. But God has given us the strength because we are still here at Senda de Vida.  

Christa Cook: Alright, it's time for this month’s project updates. For about a year now we've been working on most of the places you heard about today. Here's what we've been up to most recently. While continuing to supply potable water, bathrooms, and the hygiene free store at the Plaza de Republica refugee camp, we've also started working on the construction of the new shelter at the baseball field, taking lessons from the Matamoros refugee camp, we wanted to be as proactive as possible to avoid gaps or overlap in aid efforts. So, we first use drone imagery and GIS to create a site plan for the new space. This site plan allowed us to avoid unplanned disorganized sprawl and the layout of the new area was agreed upon before construction. We also designed an integrated WASH system that includes greywater reuse for toilets, and collaboration with the asylum seeker construction crew. To date, we have built 34 bathrooms, 30 hand washing sinks and a large septic tank for blackwater to prepare for the incoming line integrated WASH system that includes greywater reuse for toilets. In collaboration with the asylum seeker construction crew to date, we have built 34 bathrooms, 30 hand washing sinks and a large septic tank for black water to prepare for the incoming people. We designed and implemented a drainage system that includes a 92 meter long, 3 meter wide, sloped drainage canal. Additionally, we have started construction of the greywater system, reusing water from the showers to feed the toilet lines. This is a particularly important idea because it not only saves on the amount of water needing to go into the camp, it drastically reduces the amount of water needing to leave as well. We understand that this is nowhere near enough infrastructure to support the estimated 3,000 asylum seekers who will arrive here, but you gotta start somewhere. We also continue to teach weekly STEM classes at two shelters. Huge shout out to Cas Holman for designing and donating one of the coolest STEM activities I've ever taught with, the Rigamajig. If you liked today's episode, please like share, subscribe, and rate Dignity Displaced and consider subscribing to our Patreon, or donating through our website. All donations go straight into our projects. Today's episode was produced and edited by Chloe Rastatter, Christa Cook, and Erin Hughes, translated by Karla Rosario, Angie Matos, Christa Cook and Tori Holland Reese voiceovers by Siobhan Merrill, Sabeen Rokerya, Susie Han, Maya Deyoung and Tori Holland- Reis. Special thanks to Siobhan Merrill, Wesley Howard Ansel Shugart Schmidt, and our whole field team for supporting all the on the ground work, y'all rock. 

 

*outro* 

Christa Cook: When us three engineers first got there, obviously we didn't really, we weren't really associated with anybody and you really gave us a platform to get stuff done, you know, such support right at the very beginning.  

Gabby Zavala: Yeah. Yeah. And that's where people just kind of grow, you know, people start and then they kind of find their niche, their own niche. And so, like you guys, I mean, became a non-profit, like amazing. Yeah. And one of the coolest ones I think of of all.