August 28

A Borderlands Story

This is my first blog post ever!  And like many before, I have to say, the idea of posting a story was a little bit daunting.  However, Pulse is about development and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones, so here goes!!!

Through the Pulse matching process, I was incredibly honoured to be matched with Save the Children’s US Domestic Emergencies team based in Washington, DC.

This group is responsible for managing and implementing Save The Children’s Emergency responses – simply put, the team deploys into communities so that families and caregivers can meet the unique needs of affected children.  My assignment is to identify and improve the operational efficiencies of the current model so that teams of people can deploy within 24-72 hours after an emergency strikes.  Additionally, I also deploy with the team to Emergency response sites.  Just 3 short days into my assignment, I was asked to do just that and help out the US borderlands response and of course, the answer was yes. 

We will get to my deployment in a moment, but I wanted to share a little background into my mindset.  The day before I was due to relocate from my home in Toronto, Canada to Washington, DC, I received word that one of oldest and dearest friends died suddenly of a heart attack; she was my age and in perfect health.  The news sucked the oxygen out of my lungs.  Gravity felt heavy and the world felt like it was engulfed in a thick fog.  We had known each other for over 35 years and did everything together.  After all of the rituals that come with death were completed, I wasn’t sure I could move to a completely different city, start with a new organization and go through the grieving process by myself.  However, I had made a commitment and on July 3rd I landed in DC.  I remember very little about the first few days except for the extreme heat and humidity; but I know I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

Now back to deployment.  To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into, but knew that help was needed and on July 19th, I landed in El Paso and headed out to Las Cruces to meet a team of incredibly dedicated Save The Children employees and volunteers.  Thus began my work at the US-Mexico border.

The most common question from my family and friends is how bad are things?  We see things in the media…and the purpose of this story is to give you my answer.  Yes, there are things I have seen that will leave a lasting impression and take some time to process and understand.  Then there are the stories that we should all hear and embrace.

The on the ground Save The Children crew is the epitome of what working with a team should be.  They received me with open arms and gave me a crash course in my tasks and duties.  We would brief and debrief at the beginning and end of each day and ensured we looked after each other’s health, security and well-being.  Some of my best memories of deployment were cooking dinner for the team and chatting about our lives and everything in between or travelling to a destination playing trivia and discovering new songs to listen to.  We laughed and helped each other out on our tough days by simply listening to each other.

We had many tasks, but the most important was to set up child friendly play spaces in two shelter locations for children of families transiting onto their next destination after clearing detention.   We did this every day and welcomed kids and parents open arms.  The thing is, based on my time in New Mexico, our work is a brief moment in someone else’s story.  A child’s story.  A child’s life.  The children come into our CFS spaces and in the matter of a few seconds, they feel safe.  They feel like they are children again.  They just want to play and be kids.  We created gardens, undersea magical kingdoms and made it snow in the heat of a New Mexico summer using our imagination and some art supplies.  We played soccer, football and endless games of Jenga.  Every day, I saw new faces, smiles and heard the laughter of children who had faced harrowing journeys.  Despite different languages, we found a way to communicate and more importantly; connect.  I met a mom and her daughter who travelled for days with little or no food to get to the border.  Upon reaching our space, she finally got to breathe and relax with her two year old daughter.  This beautiful mama sat in a rocking chair with a blissful smile on her face, while I played with her precocious daughter.  She smiled knowing she was about to give birth to her second child.  She smiled despite being separated from her husband and not knowing when she might see him again.  She smiled moving into an uncertain future with a relative she had not seen in 6 years.  I met another family who were waiting at the transit shelter for her brother to pick them up.  The brother dropped everything and hopped into a car to drive 15 hours to pick up his sister and nephew.  While they were waiting, the son very sweetly took care of his mom and all of the little ones around him.  He played games, read to kids and coloured.  There was a kindness and curiosity about him that was infectious.  We spent the latter part of the day looking at a map so he could understand where he came from and where he was heading to.  And then his curiosity shone brightly and by the end of the afternoon a large group of us were standing around the map telling our stories.  There were at least four different languages amongst us and yet we all understood.

After three weeks in the field, I now know what I’m dealing with.  I have met people with the courage, vulnerability and compassion that place humanity and common decency at the core of everything they do.  I have seen the beauty of a community coming together to help people and children know that all is not lost and to inspire them to keep moving on their journey.  I have seen the brilliant smiles of parents and children and heard their laughter.  The work that team is undertaking at the borderlands is quite possibly the first positive interaction some of these kids have had while heading towards their new homes.  And yes, a brief moment in their lives, but hopefully a lasting memory that kindness, empathy and compassion can triumph over adversity.  Moreover, the whole experience helped me on the path to being healing.

 So please remember these stories; these are the stories that matter.  Take care,

Angie