Justice

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Justice

Heartache at the Border

August 8, 2019 by

In my mind I see their faces again, and tears come to my eyes. It’s been a month since I came home to New York, but I can’t stop thinking about those children. They have nothing now, and a bleak future. Seeing them could break your heart.

photo of toys in a Save the Children child-friendly space

I spent the month of June in New Mexico as a volunteer for Save the Children, working in a shelter in the town of Deming with immigrants recently arrived from Mexico. I don’t claim to understand the border crisis completely, but the stories I heard from the men, women, and children who had crossed the border and anecdotes from the other Save the Children staff showed me that this is a humanitarian crisis of unbelievable proportions, and that each person has a story of suffering and fear and yet, inexplicably, of hope. Most of them traveled across the border from Central America and were held in detention centers until they gained temporary security as asylum seekers. They then stayed at our shelter two to four days before travelling on to wherever relatives or friends had agreed to sponsor them as they began their uncertain life in the US. They knew that in the near future they would have to appear before an immigration court that will either grant them asylum, or deny it – which means deportation.

Our team set up two “child-friendly spaces” in the towns of Deming and Las Cruces. We spent our days occupying the children in the shelters, allowing their parents much-needed time to rest and process paperwork. We usually saw about ten to twenty, sometimes forty kids a day.

I don’t know where these children came from or why, all I know is that I loved each one and wanted to do everything for them, so they could have a good life.

These children could steal your heart in no time. There was Jazmín, a lanky five-year-old with a tangled ponytail and an adorable face, who seized ownership of the play space. She repeatedly hit another girl while vying for dishes from the plastic kitchen. In an attempt to distract her, I handed Jazmín a sheet of tiny round stickers, and showed her how to make patterns with the butterflies and bugs on paper. She grabbed the stickers with a wide, rotten-toothed grin, and before I realized what was happening, plastered my arms with them. Soon she was strategically placing butterflies in tidy patterns across my face; she even removed my sunglasses in order to decorate my eyelids, which she effectively stuck shut. My glasses beautifully bedecked, she proudly put them on her own face, laughing uproariously.

Then there was Valentina, a chubby girl of about two. She sidled up to the edge of our play space, intrigued, but when invited in, quickly moved away. She silently refused a puzzle and loitered just outside our fence. I figured she wanted time and space, but the next thing I knew, she followed the gestures of one of my teammates and made a beeline for the play kitchen. She began cooking busily. By the end of the afternoon, Valentina was broadcasting a steady commentary on her cuisine (it didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand most of it) and offering each of us rounds of plates and cups of “pastel” and “café.”

child playing in an area set up by the Save the Children organization

Another of my favorites was Santiago, or Spiderman, as we came to call him. He was everywhere at once, destroying other children’s carefully built structures, and never settling down to anything. In his mind he really was Spiderman – Hombre Araña – fast, invincible, and free. He spun tales of being bitten by a spider and run over by a bus without being hurt, and the next moment was requesting “Can you make a Spiderman for me?” He watched in wonder as my teammate skillfully crafted an action figure out of red and blue pipe cleaners. When it was finally placed in his hands, he shouted for joy. For the rest of the day, that pipe-cleaner Spiderman swooped all over the space, into block towers and doll beds and through the air.

But the child that I remember most vividly was a three-month-old baby, who came to our space the last day I was there. Another boy of about eleven carried him in and placed him in my arms. All I could do was hold the baby and look into his eyes; I saw innocence and a beautiful soul. I never found out his name.

I don’t know where these children came from or why, but it didn’t matter to me. All I know is that I loved each one and wanted to do everything for them, so they could have a good life. In reality, I couldn’t do a single thing but maybe help them forget their troubles for a few hours.

The children amazed me with their resilience and their ability to find something to laugh about in the worst of circumstances. 

Anger. Heartache. Helplessness. I felt these emotions over and over. Why? Why? Why is the world so cruel to children? It should not be; they are so precious. Can it ever change? Is there any hope? The only hope I could see was the children themselves. Each a phenomenal creation of God, they are still close to God’s heart. They amazed me again and again with their resilience and tendency to find a reason to laugh, something to be happy about in the worst of circumstances. It is a lesson they can teach us all, if we would see their faces.


Tirzah Kaiser lives at Platte Clove, a Bruderhof in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York where she does graphic design and web management for Rifton Equipment.

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  • As a volunteer for peace in past, I would like to thank you for living for others. May God protect all people those who are working for the peace on earth.

    Metin Erdem, Istanbul