Monday, February 20, 2012

Guest Post: Helping Those in Need

There are very few people in this world who go out of their way to help out others. I'm proud to say one of those people is my friend, Tara, from Musings of a Notorious Daydreamer. Last year, she had an experience which changed her life, and since she is an excellent writer, I asked her to give me a guest post about it.

I hope you enjoy!

Last March, I went to Eagle Pass, TX, a border town that is about a mile from the U.S./Mexico border. My college took a group of ten people down to Eagle Pass to do some service work, including holding a literacy fair for the community and a health fair for the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. Our group included some student nurses, some staff members from my college who have experience with service work, and students like me, who wanted to go to help the cause.

Eagle Pass is in a county that is within the top 20 poorest counties in the country. The Border Patrol runs rampant in the town to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing over—we even saw the patrolers driving around on the Kickapoo reservation, which the Rio Grande runs through. And that infamous fence that runs across the border? We went right up to it and looked across the river, watching the people on the Mexico side right up by the water. I’ve never been out of the country, but this was as close as I’ve ever been, and it was a surreal feeling. Knowing the turmoil that has been going on down there, and knowing that I was so close to it, was such a weird feeling.

My family was not too keen on me traveling to Eagle Pass because of the violence that has been going on by the border, but for some reason I felt like this was something I needed to do. I haven’t done a lot of community service in my life, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some experience and do something good for people who really needed the help. It was promised that we would not be crossing over, and that most of the danger was on the other side. To be honest, I almost backed out of the trip, as I was having a rough semester and wanted to take my Spring Break to recuperate and nurse my burnout. However, I thought about it for a few months and went back and forth before finally paying my deposit and taking off for a place I had never been with people I didn’t know very well.

Once we arrived, we teamed up with some people from a church in Texas and began putting together little bookshelves to give to the families who attended the literacy fair. We had collected books to bring with us as well. On the day of the literacy fair, we went to the Eagle Pass community library and gave out the bookshelves and books to the families. What was especially nice about this was the fact that each child in the family received their own bookshelf that they were able to decorate, and were able to pick out their very own books. The idea with this literacy fair was that the parents would read to their children and that the kids would learn and continue to read on their own eventually. I caught myself tearing up a few times during the fair because education is something close to my heart, and it felt good to know that we were doing such a wonderful thing for these kiddos and their parents.

After the fair was over, we traveled to the Kickapoo reservation to hold the health fair. We made up kits that had toiletries in them and brought them with us to hand out. The nursing students took blood pressures, weight, height, and blood glucose levels of the adults, and took the height and weight of the kids, while also giving them a lesson on hygiene practices such as washing hands and brushing teeth. This fair was a little more disheartening because it was evident that the health practices on the reservation were not where they needed to be, but hopefully our work sparked something for the residents. We also ended up handing out books to the kids on the reservation, and played some games with them for the day. I felt really good about our work with the Kickapoo Tribe, and was really grateful for having the opportunity to learn about another culture.

One day in particular that has stuck with me from my trip to Eagle Pass was when we met a 16-year-old girl who had a newborn baby boy. She lived in what is called a colonia, which is a cluster of houses that sort of operate as their own little town or community. The houses are pretty run down, and many of them don’t have running water or electricity. This particular girl’s trailer didn’t have running water or heating/cooling. She was living with her stepfather, and her mother recently had been deported to Mexico for living in the U.S. illegally. The girl was married to a man, but had left him after he physically abused her. Going into her home and seeing the conditions she had to live in was very disheartening, but luckily, a group from Texas was building her a brand new home next to the trailer that she and her stepfather would live in once it was complete. They hoped that eventually her mother would be able to come back into the country and live with them as well. We gave the young mom diapers, formula, and other supplies for her baby, and the nursing students showed her how to take care of the baby as he grew. I often still think about this girl and how she is doing today.

Another interesting experience I had while in Eagle Pass was the opportunity to eat dinner with a Border Patrol agent and his wife. We discussed some of the serious issues taking place at the border such as the drug cartels and immigration problems, and I appreciated his perspective and thoughts on what was going on. He said that he felt sincere sympathy for the people who wanted to come over and work so that they could provide for their families and escape the violence, but that because of the crime and the implications for the U.S., he believed in there being immigration laws. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I did feel that he was sincere and truly wanted the best for both sides of the border.

One thing I hadn’t counted on happening while on this trip was the impact the experience had on my spirituality. I haven’t been particularly religious for several years, but while on this trip, I became very disheartened and felt something change in me. I came to the conclusion that we couldn’t sit around and pray to a being that we couldn’t promise existed, waiting for a miracle to help save the people in trouble in this world. WE needed to be the ones to act and change things. I was sad at what seemed like me losing my faith, which wasn’t strong in the first place, but appreciated the insight I gained through this introspection. Something was sparked in me that made me want to do more, to be active in helping others make progress and in trying to change some of these issues happening in society. Most of the people who went on this trip were very religious, and I felt out of place being among them, but I knew that they also wanted the best for the people of Eagle Pass, and despite our spiritual differences, I was grateful to have the experience with them.

All-in-all, this trip was one that has affected me in many ways, one that I appreciate and am glad I took the chance of going on. I had planned on going back with my school this year, but recently found out that the trip was canceled due to a lack of interest. I’m pretty disappointed about it, but perhaps I will have the opportunity to go next year. I still think of the people I met on this trip and those who we helped while down there.

Because of this experience, I now have a newly-found interest in doing this kind of work in the future, and realize the importance of reaching out to others; it not only helps them, but teaches you something about yourself as well. I’m extremely thankful I was able to have this opportunity, and the cultural and political information I gained was invaluable.

Learning to understand a piece of society other than your own is something I think is essential, something that everyone needs to do. Eagle Pass was an unforgettable experience; I hope I can return again someday, and I hope that progress comes to the people of the community soon—they are wonderful, and they deserve to be happy and fulfilled just as much as anyone else.

I highly insist you check out Tara's blog, Musings of a Notorious Daydreamer. It's inspiring.

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