Story by Elissa Maish, Southern Arizona, International Services Volunteer
“Do you have a high clearance vehicle?” Volunteers at No More Deaths (NMD) posed this question when Red Cross representatives expressed an interest to view the humanitarian work provided to migrants. The small Red Cross delegation included Harold Brooks, Senior Vice President of International Operations, Kathleen Salanik, Director of the Restoring Family Links program, as well as other key representatives from Washington, DC and Arizona. Our objectives were to explore Red Cross programs in action and to grow partnerships with organizations that share common values in alleviating human suffering.
No More Deaths is a partner organization that works to provide humanitarian relief for migrants along the US-Mexico border. They conduct water drops along migrant trails and also have a camp in the desert where travelers can receive medical aid as well as make safe and well phone calls to their loved ones.
When asked about high clearance vehicles, we knew that we were in for an adventure. Byrd Camp, the location of the NMD humanitarian operation is located in rough terrain. Our NMD staff guides for the day, Dr. Norma Price and Leah Peachtree, met us at the Arivaca Community Center.
We also met and interacted with several very dedicated and experienced No More Deaths volunteers who had just arrived in a well-worn pickup truck. Their mission for the day: backpack into the desert and leave life-saving water along migrant routes.
After wishing them well, we continued our journey over a very distressed road to the camp. It was not lost on us that our discomfort paled in comparison to the conditions experienced by the migrants who walk, suffer and perish along these routes. We saw several small crosses dotting the landscape where human remains had been located previously.
Upon arriving in the camp, we toured medical tents and a few out buildings. The migrants present at the camp suffered from a variety of injuries including sprained ankles, severe blisters and other foot injuries, dehydration, general exposure, and malnutrition. Patients are evaluated and if possible, treated at the camp. They are also provided with food, water, shower facilities, used clothing, shoes, and harm reduction kits.
Also while at the camp, the migrants are able to take advantage of an essential service that fulfills a critical human need – the ability to communicate with family members. Through the cell phone services provided by the American Red Cross, migrants are able to place well-being calls to family members, most of whom are desperate for news from their loved ones.
Upon leaving Byrd Camp, our group traveled to Nogales, a city separated by a border. We traveled to the Mexico-side where we were greeted by our counterparts at la Cruz Roja Mexicana. Over lunch, we received updates on the services they provide, including those for migrants in Mexico. Since 2003, la Cruz Roja Mexicana in Sonora has served over 106,000 migrants through medical support, water and Restoring Family Links cell phone services.
One highlight of the trip to Nogales was a visit to a migrant shelter operated by a husband and wife. This shelter is a welcoming space with clean, cushioned bunk beds capable of accommodating approximately 300 people per night.
The owner told us how he was saddened to see particularly talented farmers from Chiapas leave Mexico for low paid, low valued labor in the US. He decided that he could make a difference and bought small quantities of seeds for a unique chili and then provided the migrants with some temporary parcels of land. The goal was to give them a jump start and see if they could support themselves in the long term. We were so moved when we were told that the program has been so successful and profitable, that the farmers now have no plans to seek opportunities in the USA. One person can truly make a difference.
Our day ended with a celebration at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona. Father Galaz and the church members had generously hosted several Restoring Family Links volunteer training classes during the unaccompanied child crisis this past summer. Many new bi-lingual American Red Cross volunteers were recruited to help the children place calls to loved ones.
The field trip was an immense success. We witnessed the work of the Red Cross and partner organizations to protect human dignity, meaning everyone is entitled to feel safe, and have food, clothing, shelter, medical and mental health and an ability to practice their religion or spiritual beliefs. The need for contact with loved ones is essential and was recognized and understood by all. We were proud to experience the programs and services of the Red Cross in action that consistently align with our principles of impartiality, neutrality, independence and volunteerism.