Catholic Charities at the US border — Hope lives at Casa Alitas
a story from Michele Saccente, Placement Services Youth Mentor at CFC
… What we saw at the border — a collective story from CFC as we encounter families seeking asylum at the US Southern Border — Part 6
I call my story, “ HOPE”. Hope is something we all carry with us, it’s something that we share with others and others share with us. I believe that Casa Alitas is a place of hope, a new chapter for all that enter through their doors. The volunteers, the staff and all Casa Alitas’ guests bring HOPE, each and every day. I traveled there with Catholic Family Center’s “Team ROC-585”, to Tucson, Arizona. There were five of us on this trip, which was sponsored by CCUSA. As I sit down to write about my time, I still hold so many amazing, emotional, life changing, profound memories from my time volunteering at Casa Alitas as well as the folks I met along the way in Tucson.
When Casa Alitas is notified that ‘asylum seekers’ are coming, all present make their way to the main area of the shelter. It’s the intake area and the place that I stood many times saying, “Bienvenidos a Casa Alitas” (“Welcome to Casa Alitas”) to the guests arriving. Each guest arrived carrying a small plastic bag containing their personal belongings in one hand, and in the other hand, they carried or held the hand of their child. Guests with more than one child clung tightly together as one unit. Their faces were filled with sadness, but at the same time I saw hope in their eyes. I smiled at each of the guests, sometimes my eyes fill with tears while I continue to smile. Many of the guests start to reach out to hug me as I welcomed each of them.
I’ll always carry these memories with me. So many to share, the dad with his little girl, the mom with her 2 year old, carrying her 4-day old child. She smiled at me in a way that said, “I’ve entered a place filled with Hope. I feel safe now, all will be right in the world soon.”
Each of my eight days volunteering were different and special. My tasks varied from day to day. On some days, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for guests that were traveling, on other days I checked rooms to be sure that they were clean for our next guests to stay in. I also assisted the doctors present with medical intake when guests arrived, but more about that later.
One afternoon I planned an impromptu dance time for the kids, with a social worker intern named Adriana. In my life, music and food brings all of us together at family birthdays and celebrations. So, for an hour our guests danced. The room was filled with so much happiness, but what stood out to me was the hope. One of the guests, Marie (name changed for story) showed us a typical dance style from Guatemala. Marie choose to teach us ‘Punta’, a dance that is done on beaches or dirt streets in Guatemala. Marie smiled and teared-up as she instructed us on the dance moves. “The Punta dance is performed by a man and a woman who evolve separately in a circle formed by the spectators.” All present loved our dance-time, they even requested we continue with an American disco song.
Another memory I’d love to share was spending time with the doctors that were part of the medical intake team. I worked with three of the doctors. I speak Spanish, so was able to be part of a guest’s medical intake. The doctors volunteer many tireless hours and bring such passion each time they enter Casa Alitas. The intake questions are generic, though the passion and hope they share with each of the guests is priceless. One man shared that his little girl was sick and that he was given medicine, although he had no idea when to give it to her. The prescription instructions were in English, and he did not read or understand English.
We moved with the guest and his daughter to a medical room for the doctor to examine the child. I was the interpreter for our guest with the doctor. The child did not appear to have any issues after the doctor checked her stomach. The father started to share of his terrible headache and began crying. He shared of his journey as tears rolled down his face. His wife and 10-month old child were kidnapped during their travels by the cartel and were being held for ransom.
The doctor left the room to get some Advil for the man. He left me in the room with the door ajar with the sobbing father. (I must add that the little girl was playing “hide and seek” under a blanket that was given to her, relatively protected from the situation.) As I sat there waiting for the doctor to return, I turned toward the door to witness the doctor wiping away his own tears as I held mine back.
We both shared how sorry we were, and asked if he would like us to pray with him. A few days later the father looked for me, he wanted to share with me that the Pastor of his town in Guatemala had heard what had happened. The pastor was planning to sell his land to pay the cartel to release his wife and child. This time he sobbed tears of happiness, tears of Hope. He asked that I let the doctor know, which I did later that day.
I met wonderful volunteers and wonderful student interns that brought so much hope to Casa Alitas each day.
I met wonderful guests that left their countries seeking hope in our country.
The guests I was blessed to meet ranged from 4-days old to 87-years old. I welcomed each of them to our country. My hope is that they learn to love our country, and carry their love for their own country with them always. And that they never, ever lose hope.
“ HOPE is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness”. Desmond Tutu
Little boy, Angel, drew a photo. He said this is what he hoped for his Mom one day. A house with flowers in the front yard, with a sun shining on it. Angel gave me the drawing, which now hangs in my office as a very dear and treasured memory.
See some of our photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/CatholicFamilyCenter.Rochester/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10157193326812819
**Learn how you can take action and support these local efforts at the border. 100% of your donation will help our agencies along the border meet basic needs and ensure that children are being treated with care and kindness. https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/border-crisis/
**Watch our international award winning series, See Their Stories, a campaign created in effort to bring clarity to the mistrust and misunderstanding of the refugee story. A series of short video-story vignettes have been created to illustrate the personal journey of refugees. www.seetheirstories.org
** Support to Rochester’s immigrant community has been a cornerstone of Catholic Family Center’s work since its founding in 1917. Over the past 35 years, over 15,000 refugees have resettled to Rochester, NY with the help of Catholic Family Center and our many partners. Learn more about our Refugee & Immigration Services at https://www.cfcrochester.org/our-services/welcoming-refugees-and-immigrants/