Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Blog Center

Border Awareness Immersion Reflection: Suffering

By Sammi Sluder, Economic Justice Intern
Art work at Annunciation House, a house of hospitality for undocumented migrants, where the young adults and children in this story have found shelter. Photo courtesy of http://annunciationhouse.org/

Art work at Annunciation House, a house of hospitality for undocumented migrants, where the young adults and children in this story have found shelter. Photo courtesy of http://annunciationhouse.org/

I encountered the compelling mystery of human suffering while playing a game of soccer with undocumented young adults and children who had recently migrated to El Paso, Texas. Through the celebration of goals, the coordination of blocked shots, and their shouts of “Aquí! Aquí!” I almost forgot about the incredibly high toll they each have paid as migrants.

Moving from one country to another – often leaving behind not only toothbrushes but also siblings – is a deviation from the just human experience and can only be sufficiently described as trauma. Is one migrant story more worthy of response than another? Differences in push factors – violence, hunger, poverty, lack of housing, health care, education, just wages, breakdown of the family – is suffering all the same. Each factor is a violation of the dignity of the human person.

As a privileged person, I tend to stratify suffering into a list of least to worst. However, the dignity of the human person cannot be ignored just because someone else has it worse. Jesus did not judge degrees of suffering, but “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Matt. 9:35).

Being with poor and marginalized migrants taught me to see suffering as Jesus did. When I am far away – either by physical distance or social standing – it is easy to judge who has a priority of suffering, but when I am present, seeing the pain for what it is, the faces of the poor all reflect the same longing for mercy and justice.

 

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Highlights of a Border Awareness Immersion Trip

By CCAO Advocacy Interns
Click HERE to see the two-page highlight sheet of this Border Awareness Immersion Trip to El Paso, Texas. For more information about joining an immersion trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, contact Fr. Robert Mosher at cmc@columban.org

Click HERE to see the two-page highlight sheet of this Border Awareness Immersion Trip to El Paso, Texas. For more information about joining an immersion trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, contact Fr. Robert Mosher at cmc@columban.org

Border Awareness Immersion Highlight Sheet

The natives call it “the Borderlands” – the area between Mexico and the United States that is separated by one tall, wide, militarized fence. As the four CCAO advocacy interns for the Summer 2015, we came to El Paso, Texas, across from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to immerse ourselves in the people and social justice issues of the Borderlands.

None of us had visited the U.S.-Mexico border before. We felt eager and curious to see the fence that we had heard so much about, wanting to learn the deeper workings of the border security system which so many call for reform. We stepped out of our car, out of our secure bubble, and walked across the hot sand toward the metal ten-foot fence that enforces the line between the two countries.

As we looked at Mexico through the fence, we saw a family outside of their house. Two little girls noticed us and we exchanged waves. The girls walked over to us and lifted their tiny hands to meet ours. We asked for their names: ¿Cómo te llamas? We laughed and smiled as we learned their names and ages, but remembered the reality that we are separated.

This fence is not something to be proud of. We asked ourselves “Why are we given this life? Why were we born in the United States instead of the two little girls? Do we fully understand our privilege? When our government continues to demand extreme measures to secure and militarize our border, do we understand who is affected?”

We saw “the Borderlands” and the people who are crying for peace. We are called to stand in solidarity with them so they may have the dignity of life that is rightly theirs as children of God.

Faith in Action: Ask Congress to Uphold Just, Humane Immigration Policies

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Border Awareness Immersion Reflection: Solidarity

By Gwen McElhattan, Environmental Justice Intern
Gwen McElhattan looks into Mexico at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy of Gwen McElhattan.

Gwen McElhattan looks into Mexico at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy of Gwen McElhattan.

Solidarity, one of my favorite social justice pillars, can be defined as unity: when I meet people in the Borderlands I want to share empathy (not sympathy), and support. I want to mindfully hear and try to understand their stories. Our immersion trip to El Paso had one large overall goal: presence. We were there to learn, to listen, and to understand.

As a way to both serve and be present, we made dinner for the residents of Annunciation House, a house of hospitality for undocumented migrants in El Paso. During the meal, I sat with two teenage boys named Daniel and Carlos. I took a deep breath and hoped my intermediate level Spanish was enough to understand the boys’ stories and their struggles; instead we laughed and discussed the translations of words from both English to Spanish and vice versa. They told me what music they listened to (One Direction, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars). It was like I had known them for months instead of minutes.

Migrants, especially those who cross our border without documents, are sometimes portrayed in media as “illegal criminals”. Yet how could anyone think these boys do not deserve the same peace and dignity as children in the U.S.? “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chess board of humanity,” Pope Francis said.

Another aspect of our immersion in the Borderlands, was to experience environmental sustainability and simplicity at the Columban Mission Center. Fr. Bob has overseen renovations to make the Mission Center eco-friendly. A few months ago the exterior of the house was wrapped in Styrofoam insulation to keep out the Texan heat in summer and keep in the electric warmth in winter. Solar panels on the roof generate almost all of the house’s electricity. Some months the electric company pays the Mission Center for the extra energy it produces but does not consume. Fr. Bob also focuses on conserving water in the house. The Columbans in El Paso know the hardships that many of their neighbors face, such as those in Las Colonias, who have only just recently been given access to potable water.

During our immersion, I reflected on the privilege I experience in my life, such as access to basic necessities. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was released while we were in the Borderlands, calling for us all to hear the cry of the earth and cry of the poor, and care for our common home. This is solidarity.

 

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Border Awareness Immersion Reflection: Language

by Erin Odom, Peace and Conflict Transformation Intern
Two local volunteers with the Columban Mission Center (one at each end) and four visiting Columban summer interns (center) stand before the mural at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Fr. Robert Mosher/Columban Mission Center

Two local volunteers with the Columban Mission Center (one at each end) and four visiting Columban summer interns (center) stand before the mural at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Fr. Robert Mosher/Columban Mission Center

Being in the Borderlands taught me the consequences not only of what I say, but how I say it. The complex world of connotation and meaning influences my understanding of humanity. People on the U.S.-Mexico border choose words carefully. I noticed that the people I met who provide social services in El Paso avoided the terms “illegal” or “alien,” choosing instead to say “undocumented migrants.” They also took the time to name the countries of origin of the people they served, making it clear that although some migrants come from Mexico, many more have traveled from further away to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, such as Peru, Senegal, Pakistan, and many more.

Despite all the words used to describe people who have fled their countries, they remain fundamentally human. This is the heart of the call to welcome the stranger and the call for a transformation of our immigration system. No matter what we may label them, they will always be human: men, women, and children in search of asylum, crossing the Rio Grande from the south into the north side of the border. To cloud this fundamental reality by word choice is to lose sight of our first identity: beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Border Awareness Immersion Reflection: Community

by Melanie West, Migration Intern
Gloria Morales shares her life story during our tour of a colonias near El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy of Melanie West.

Gloria Morales shares her life story during our tour of a colonias near El Paso, Texas. Photo courtesy of Melanie West.

With Fr. Bob driving and his friend Gloria Morales sitting in the passenger seat, we drove through two colonias on the edge of El Paso. A colonia is a community of extremely poor housing for people who are working in low wage factory jobs that became abundant after the signing to NAFTA in 1994, or working as manual laborers in the informal sector. Colonias can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, but Texas has both the largest number of colonias and the largest colonia population. We stopped to visit the site of the health clinic where Gloria’s role as a community leader launched. The clinic closed four years ago, but Gloria spoke proudly about the services and hope the clinic brought to the community.

After our tour, Gloria invited us inside her home and offered us a drink of water. She spoke to us about the moments that grew her leadership. Gloria and her husband immigrated to the United States as newlyweds. Living in poverty and pregnant with their first child, Gloria went to a garage sale organized by the Sisters of Mercy to shop for baby items. The sisters invited her to assume the role of directing these garage sales and organizing an annual toy drive to ensure local children received Christmas gifts. With pride, Gloria shared that she and her team received enough donations from the community and toy companies to distribute toys to over 1,500 children. Gloria also spoke passionately about her efforts to improve the health of people living in the colonias. With a high occurrence of diabetes among the residents, Gloria organized classes at the clinic to educate people of the colonias.

Gloria received an invitation to take responsibility and leadership, to lift up her voice and to organize her community to respond to their own needs. I feel inspired and empowered to bring her story back to Washington, D.C and share in this call to community participation and care for the common good.

 

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Introducing the Spring 2015 Advocacy Interns

spring-intern-sebastian-ramirez

Sebastian Ramirez

Sebastian Ramirez
Migration Intern
Hometown: Weston, Florida
Studying: B. A. Political Science, American University

I am looking forward to not only learning a unique and diverse skill set, but also advocated for the underrepresented migrant population on an issue that is critical to their well-being.


spring-intern-darcy-wood

Darcy Wood

Darcy Wood
Peace and Conflict Transformation Intern
Hometown: West Friendship, MD
Studying: B.A. International Studies, American University
I am most looking forward to strengthening my faith through advocacy with Columbans for a more just, peaceful world, while gaining a better understanding of the issues surrounding peace and conflict transformation.


spring-intern-erin-brown

Erin Brown

Erin Brown
Environmental Justice Intern
Hometown: Jackson, New Jersey
Studying: B.A. International Studies, American University

I am most looking forward to joining the Columbans work with other faith-based organizations to support ecumenical efforts for environment justice.


Zachary Alles

Zachary Alles

Economic Justice Intern
Hometown: Hanover, PA
Studying: M.A. Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs, American University
I look forward most to meeting new people and working first hand on informing people on issues related to economic justice.


spring-intern-erica-rodriquez

Erica Rodriquez

Erica Rodriquez
Human Trafficking Intern
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Studying: B.A. International Studies, American University

I am looking forward to increasing my knowledge of the links between human trafficking issues and migration, as well as to raising awareness of these issues in the Columban community.

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Introducing the Fall 2014 Advocacy Interns

Emily Van Etten

Emily Van Etten

Emily Van Etten
Environmental Justice Intern
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois
Studying: M.S. Public Administration and Nonprofit Management, American University

I’m most looking forward to learning more about the people the Columbans serve and using Catholic social teaching not just as a set of beliefs but a tool to enact positive change.


Abdullah Kanneh

Abdullah Kanneh

Abdullah Kanneh
Demilitarization and Interreligious Dialogue Intern
Hometown: Born and raised in Liberia
Studying: M.A. Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs, American University

I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of faith-based advocacy work for peace, and gaining professional experience in Washington, D.C.


Michael Bodyke

Michael Bodyke

Michael Bodyke
Economic Justice Intern
Hometown: Bellevue, Ohio
Studying: B.S. Political Science and Minor Spanish, American University

I look forward to learning more about global economic issues, especially trade policies that affect communities where Columbans serve.


Tatum Garvin

Tatum Garvin

Tatum Garvin
Migration Intern
Hometown: Friendswood, Texas
Studying: B.A. International Studies, American University

I am looking forward to learning more about important issues that migrants face and especially joining in solving them.


Siobhan Spiak

Siobhan Spiak

Siobhan Spiak
Peace and Conflict Transformation Intern
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Studying: B.A. International Studies, American University

I’m looking forward to learning advocacy skills used by the Columban Fathers, especially on behalf of people adversely affected by human trafficking and extractive industries.

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Introducing the 2014 Summer Advocacy Interns

Megan Isom

Name: Megan Isom

Hometown: Howell, Michigan

School/ Major: Alma College/ Political Science & Pre-Law
I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about the important issues which affect people all around the globe, as well as experiencing all Washington has to offer.


Benjamin Martell

Name: Benjamin Martell

Hometown: Holliston, Massachusetts

School/ Major: Catholic University of America/ Philosophy & Pre-Law I’m looking forward to the relationships I’ll make with those I work with, encounter and aid in my advocacy efforts.


Kelly Donovan

Name: Kelly Donovan

Hometown: Fairfax Station, Virginia

School/Major: American University/ Environmental Science
I am really looking forward to working with others who share similar interests in an effort to tackle some of the world’s major current issues.


Jacob Fox

Name: Jacob Fox

Hometown: Marysville, Michigan

School/Major: Alma College/ History and Political Science Double Major Spending the Summer in Washington D.C is going to be an extremely fun experience, I am looking forward to meeting new people.

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Losing our Life-Giving Water

By Angela Garvey, CCAO Environment Intern

Climate Change has come to be nearly undisputed. However, many see it as just big storms and strange weather. In the faith community, we understand that these changes have very far-reaching effects. Climate change causes caring for God’s creation to take new meaning. Now not only our earth, but also our brothers and sisters suffer.  Currently, 783 million people lack access to clean drinking water. If nothing is done, we will see this number grow with the increased onset of climate change.

Regions across every continent including western Africa, Pakistan, the Indian subcontinent, Australia, China, and the Americas are currently experiencing the effects of desertification and are at high risk for significant increase in the coming years. Islands in the Pacific, including Fiji, are facing rising water levels.

The People’s Republic of China, has experienced severe effects of climate change. In the past decades, 400 million people have felt the effects of desertification. The Gobi Desert in central China engulfs 3,600 square kilometers of surrounding grassland each year. This creates powerful sandstorms and robs farmers of land they need to produce food. The result: thousands of people are displaced from their homes and have to live without the basic resources they need.

If approximately one third of China’s population is currently affected by desertification, how much will this number grow in the future? If we abandon our call to protect God’s creation, how many more people will be without the life-giving water they need? How many more climate refugees will result from increasing desertification and droughts?

Now is the time to act. We must speak up. If legislators around the world hear millions of global citizens speaking out to stop climate change, we will see action. There is hope. On March 11th, U.S. Senators stood up and spoke about climate change and the effects here in the United States. Our elected officials must also use their leadership to lift up vulnerable populations globally who are already experiencing the effects of climate change and acknowledge the role we play in the lives of our sisters and brothers in the Global South and in island nations. These words must be enforced with action.

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Climate Refugees from Haiyan to Sandy

Cara Costa, CCAO Migration Intern

Cara Costa, Migration Intern

“But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals on the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided.”- Genesis 8:1

Around the world today, millions of people are being uprooted from their homes and countries.  Climate refugees are individuals or communities who are forced to migrate because of climate change, a reality that we can no longer ignore.

What do all of these climate related events have in common? Water: too much, or too little.  Droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and floods, provoked by global climate change, are leaving families to face separation, sacrifice and utter desolation.

The effects of climate change are surfacing across the globe.  Most recently, we can look at Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Philippines in November of 2013. Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever to hit landfall, claiming over 6,000 lives, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.  Approximately 4 million people are displaced and living in evacuation shelters around the hardest hit islands.[i]

Not only are many without homes, but the livelihoods of many were also taken in the storm.  Among those affected most were the coconut, sugar and fishery sectors. Many of these small farmers/fisher-folks are women.  With the complete destruction of coconut trees, sugar fields and boats, many will not be able to return to work for more than a year.  Haiyan destroyed some 33 million coconut trees, which in the Philippines are commonly called, “the trees of life.” When planting a new coconut tree, it can take anywhere from fifteen to twenty years to reach full production.  For many, the road to recovery will be long and hard.  [ii]

Typhoon Haiyan leaves women particularly vulnerable; not only because they are typically small farmers, but because women are vulnerable to sexual violence, trafficking, and lack of medical care during natural disasters.

And yet, even when the devastation occurs close to home, climate change is still overlooked.  Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the Caribbean, Eastern US, and Canada, during late October and early November of 2012, just a year prior to Haiyan.  The super storm was responsible for the death of 117 people and displacement of approximately 100,000.[iii]

The effects of super storm Sandy were even apparent in my hometown of Cranford, NJ, a town in Union County that is located sufficiently inland (approximately 40 minutes).  However, with a river running through the south side of town, Cranford experienced significant flooding, causing an estimated 6 million dollars in public and private damages.[iv] Some of my friends’ houses were flooded up to the second floor, their lives were uprooted, and rebuilding ensued. One would think that this amount of extreme damage in the U.S. would pose the question, why? I don’t know if it could be any more apparent.

According to a report released by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the U.S. was the second leading producer of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use in 2013.[v] Therefore, it is not only our responsibility, but our moral call to reduce our global footprint and prevent the future destruction of God’s gift to all creation: the Earth.   We can no longer look the other way and turn our backs on our very own brothers and sisters.


[i]CNN.  http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/13/world/asia/philippines-typhoon-haiyan/. Accessed 3/7/14.

[ii] Oxfam America. http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/2014/02/philippines-livelihoods-crisis-looms-typhoon-haiyan/. Accessed 3/7/14.

[iii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/04/hurricane-sandy-vs-katrina-infographic_n_2072432.html

[iv] NJ.com. http://www.nj.com/cranford/index.ssf/2012/11/cranford_reports_6_million_in.html. Accessed on 3/7/14.

[v]PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/news_docs/pbl-2013-trends-in-global-co2-emissions-2013-report-1148.pdf. Accessed 3/7/14.

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