Mission Diary: to share Life

Every day, hundreds of migrants – young women, boys, and children arrive at the Bethlehem Shelter Centre. The Tapachula Diocesan Centre is not their destination, however. Coming from Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Haiti, they have something in common: They want to pursue the “American dream.”

Tapachula, a city in the state of Chiapas, is a place of transit. It is among the most dangerous Mexican border cities. Neighbouring Guatemala, this small city witnesses daily the crossing of thousands of migrants from Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.

The Comboni Missionary Sisters established a crisis intervention program called “Effatá” at the Bethlehem Shelter to assist and serve migrants. “Effatá” (“be opened”) — the Spanish form of the Aramaic “Ephphatha” –  is a powerful word that expresses a desire for and a commitment for life. A community of four Comboni Missionary Sisters welcome and provides support and compassionate care.

Three of the sisters are dedicated to listening and healing. Through spiritual and therapeutic accompaniment, migrants strive to integrate their trauma. Under the sisters’ care, migrants renew their hope, self-esteem, and courage. Another sister teaches handicrafts. Most adults and children engage joyfully in art therapy and develop their creativity.

The intervention focuses on two stages. One is the accommodation of the population in shelters or refugee camps. The other is the repatriation to their countries to help in the reconstruction process or preparing them to continue their journey. The first stage of the intervention includes training health promoters and community leaders. Then, they learn to promote “crisis interventions” directly with affected populations.

The goal is to alleviate, empower and journey with them, and share life, while they wait for the documents to continue their journey of hope, toward safer destinations. The program helps migrants in the following ways: First, to offer spaces to let off steam, manage stress and project themselves positively into the future; second, to facilitate the acquisition of hope, initiative, and self-esteem to cope with whatever they will experience; third, to promote and strengthen their psychosocial support networks; forth, to empower them to search for alternative, post-disaster solutions and finally, to help them become instruments of change with their fellow migrants, even if they are repatriated back to their places of origin.

The Mexican border is filled with the tears, nightmares and dreams of those who cross it daily. Migrants seek asylum or ask to continue their way up north. In addition, young people flee gang violence, while others are forcibly displaced. Poverty, inequality, social unrest and lack of opportunities are other factors that cause people to leave their families and country.

In 2020, the pandemic lockdown put migrants and refugee claimants at risk at the border and in detention centres. Stuck in the middle of the pandemic, they became even more vulnerable to violence, robbery, human trafficking and organized crime in the local Mexican cities they passed through.

When borders were closed, migrants were left unattended as centres failed to provide them with safety. Feelings of incomprehension and despair, and loss of direction turn into open defiance. For the moment, stranded people, asylum-seekers, and refugees say that they are exchanging the “American dream” for the “Mexican dream.”

Through the women’s healing program, we see that when women lighten their emotional “backpack” load, their energy flows and healing happen. Some women arriving at the centre carry an accumulated amount of pain, and at times, they cannot even breathe. As they process their pain, loss and grief, they regain a sense of worth, strength and courage.

Some help other women who are at the first stages of the healing process. We have seen women assisting fellow travellers. Some of the women who have been in the centre become healers themselves. Migrant women know the importance of healing at this stage as their journey is still long. Once healed, they hold on to their dreams, even though they lack the resources to carry them out.

(Photo. Comboni Sister Pompea Cornacchia with migrant women)

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