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THE BOYS AND GIRLS OF TIJUANA

Sister Ercilia Janeth Ferrera Erazo, CND

As a daughter of Marguerite, willing to serve in every way, I was invited to spend the day and work with the children. A big challenge! First, because the migrants’ house does not usually welcome children and has no recreational spaces for them.

The first week, the ages of the children ranged from 3 to 14 years and the second week from 7 months to 14 years. Now you see the challenge! I started looking for diapers for the little ones.

The morning was spent painting, drawing, and teaching English and Math. Three volunteers took care of them, accompanying, entertaining, and teaching them.

In the afternoon, they watched some movies and played games.

This experience of vulnerability touched me deeply. I shared with the children, listened to them, and saw that in spite of being so small they were living great fears and challenges. They were going towards the unknown, running from realities hard to live. I cannot erase theses faces and names from my mind and heart. They accompany me every day.

My life was marked forever, not by being with them in a classroom adding, subtracting, or multiplying, teaching them how to say “hello” in a language unknown to them, or playing with them, but by listening to them from the heart.

The girls and boys came from different places, like Chinandega in Nicaragua; from San Pedro Sula, Villanueva, Copan, Olancho, Tegucigalpa, Lempira, Comayagua, Choluteca, and La Ceiba in Honduras; from Coatepeque, Quiche, Huehuetenango, Nenton, and Guate in Guatemala; and from El Salvador, Haiti, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria… Some making long journeys, walking for hours, days, or weeks, hiding from the police, sleeping on the road when night falls, sleeping on the ground in the open with the dangers of animals and assailants.

Many of them detained, imprisoned for trying to cross or crossing the border. Some arrested and taken to prisons in the United States. They experienced being locked up without food or the possibility of taking a bath. They said they boarded the white airplane, where they were taken to San Diego and then sent by bus to the Tijuana border. They were deported when they were trying to ask for asylum in the United States. Some received a number for a court hearing, but this appointment could take months. Some who were arrested and deported in January will have their hearing in August, November or even February 2020. This may be a tactic to discourage them and make them return to their countries. They do not treat everyone the same. This is more for Central Americans; the other countries are more easily accepted.

All these boys and girls accompany their parents on the journey. Nevertheless, I wish to make clear that they do not come as a family, the father travels with a son or daughter, and the mother with a son or daughter, most of the time the oldest of the family. They heard in their countries that it is easier for them to cross if they travel with children… As we all know and heard in the news, that is not true! Some were separated from their parents and detained in prisons in the United States. We also heard the solidarity gestures of many religious arrested for asking their government to reconsider this decision.

These children are fleeing violence and the difficult social realities of their countries. With their sad faces are trying to understand why they have to leave the land where they were born.

This is what they are currently living. They also share what they experienced in their country and made them run away, whether poverty, lack of employment, gang threats, political persecution, repression, and the situation experienced for some time in our countries. Also the social problems in Haiti and Cameroon.

Two of the experiences almost made me cry. One was Derek’s, a four-year-old Honduran boy who cried because he wanted a pair of shoes. Derek only had a pair of “sapitos” (flip-flops). He wore out his shoes while walking and his father had no money to buy him shoes. I immediately started asking myself how many pairs of shoes do I have and use. Do I need them? Or, can I live with less? And even I, who made a vow of poverty… I recalled a popular saying I hear from time to time and that always challenges me: “religious men and women take a vow of poverty and it is others who live it.” Like
Derek, I wonder if I am wearing my shoes walking towards others, if I am wearing them on the mission.

The other experience was from a three-year-old Guatemalan boy, who cried a lot because his father had to leave the shelter early to work. A separation experienced by this little boy in his short life. Then he cried because he wanted a little toy car to play with and we had none in the house. When another migrant saw him, he felt sorry for him, bought and gave him the car. The happiness on his face was amazing! How can these little things make us so happy, how can we see that the needs of others help us let go and share! I was greatly surprised when the boy started playing with the car and saying that the police were chasing them!!!!! When I saw him living with fear and insecurity even while playing it made me realize the urgency of accompanying and giving security.

A couple of days later this same child wanted to eat “tortilla with beans”, something so normal, common and full of meaning for us. I gave him his tortilla with beans. This meant his belonging to the land. It told him that even in a place he did not know he could feel at home and feel part of it, be recognized and secure.

The last significant experience was the day I was coming back to Montreal. Brenda and I tried to bake a cake to share with them. Seeing the little ones involved in the work of art and wanting to do their bit made me realize that even being so different we can work as a team and achieve goals together. I also saw the importance of everyone doing their part so that everything works and bears fruit. Saying goodbye to them was not easy. Now they remain part of my life, I see Derek, Yoselin, Fernando, Marlon, Henry, Heidi, and Angel, among others, smiling and dreaming of a new and better world; encouraging them to believe that it is possible… Is it true? Could it be real in their small lives? Could we, adults and religious, create possibilities for small migrants?

Thank you dear boys and girls, because God continues touching my life through you, inviting me to transform myself, to convert myself and go to the things that are essential and necessary in life. Thank you for all your details, words, glances, smiles, and hope that goes beyond everything. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

This bracelet is a gift from Marlon with the name Yanet, as they called me.

 

 

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