Volunteering to Help Unaccompanied Children

By Veronika Schlecht, National Headquarters, Program Associate

Working with people for people

When I was traveling most recently to the border town of Nogales, AZ, I met up with volunteers who had provided services to the unaccompanied children from Central America. I was curious to listen to their stories and to gain insight on how the influx of children was managed in a logistical but also psychological way. I was moved by the compassion and empathy the volunteers had shown while responding to the crisis and realized just once again how powerful and rewarding working with people for people can be. It was a great pleasure to be reminded how the unique experience of experimental learning empowers the individual while the volunteer’s commitment to service enriches the entire community.

Groundbreaking volunteer work

Groundbreaking volunteer work made support for the Nogales crisis possible and successful. Disaster responders worked side by side with Restoring Family Link (RFL) experts. The phone service provided by the American Red Cross (ARC) allowed the children to talk freely with their family. The volunteers reported that the children felt “relieved” after connecting with their loved ones at home. By respecting the children’s inherent human dignity and facilitating reconnecting family links, the volunteers uplifted the children’s psyche and helped their emotional and physical well-being.

The volunteers not only showed great responsibility in their role as members of the community but also did not hesitate to help alleviate human suffering with all of their heart and utmost compassion. A volunteer shed tears when telling her story about working with the unaccompanied children at the surge facility – she explained the experience had personally moved her and she would never forget what she had observed during her service. Another volunteer shared that “I went home and just wanted to hold my grandchildren so much longer” and that “It was a very long day but I came home feeling very good.” One volunteer even reported that she had postponed her honeymoon in order to support the children.

A small community can be a huge thing

The experiences shared by the volunteers highlighted that “a small community can be a huge thing” and that “community can make a great and quick response happen.” It was the volunteer’s work that successfully supported a collaborative and coordinated approach of the local community and the ARC to swiftly respond to the crisis. The stories also underlined how volunteering can serve as a model to enhance community participation and to provide a great opportunity for social inclusion by embracing every community member. Volunteering with people for people has the power to unite people of different walks of lives and ethnic backgrounds.

The shared stories and passionate volunteer work emphasized that every human being and every personal tragedy matters and that the migration crisis on the border is first and foremost a humanitarian tragedy that requires a humanitarian response.