When I was at La72 this past summer, I was moved by the profound stories, by the amount of suffering, and the heaviness of the experiences of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters, as well as by the beauty and humanity of their hopes for a better life. La72 does an amazing job with helping migrants on their journey and refugees with navigating the complicated asylum application process in Mexico. They partner with outstanding organizations such as ACNUR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Doctors without Borders, Asylum Access, the Mexican Red Cross and a whole slew of other organizations that provide excellent care and services. Yet, in the frenzy to provide for pressing, immediate needs, interior care – that unseen care for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing, for our sense of fulfillment, for our dignity – can easily be overlooked.
I worked with the team at La72 to identify opportunities for caregiving that can provide the most vulnerable migrants and refugees with resources and experiences that foster the flourishing of human dignity. We developed the Dignity and Development Project, a collaboration with La72 and the Migrant Center at the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in New York City. This project will seek to provide members of grupos vulnerables with many positive, life-affirming experiences that are not possible otherwise during migration, such as community building, monthly retreats for women and LGBT, vocational and professional development, and recreation and celebrations for children.
One of the key areas we identified is the general malaise and depression that can come as a result of the months of uncertainty and anxiety that is part of the asylum application process. The Dignity and Development Project will provide vocational and professional training for long-term residents of La72 who are waiting out the asylum application process with skills training in a variety of trades, including tailoring, culinary arts, and beauty. These workshops, conducted with various municipal organizations in Tenosique, provide women and LGBT refugees with hands-on job training and concrete, applicable skills that they can then utilize as they seek to build a new life in a new country. While those important vocational skills are being taught, they also experience a reintegration into society with experiences and social interactions that will help to move them beyond the traumas of migration.
We also looked into fun, recreational encounters, events that we so often take for granted. When I was in Mexico, I met a young girl, Jeimy who had come to La72 from Honduras with her mother and aunt and nothing but the bags on their backs. She was turning 15 the following day, and as many of us know, the quinceañera is a hugely important celebration in Latino cultures. $13 allowed us to buy a small cake, drinks, snacks, and balloons for Jeimy and the 30 other children at La72. Because of a donation to the Dignity and Development Project, we were able to provide Jeimy with a quinceañera celebration she never expected, and one that will most likely not forget.
These are real bridges being built, that not only prepare our brothers and sisters for a new life, but which also restore a sense of humanity and dignity to an otherwise bleak and traumatic experience. And so, I ask you to consider supporting La72 through the Dignity and Development Project. When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples in the Gospel of Luke, he said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” Indeed, this speaks to the truth that the problems and injustices facing the most vulnerable among us are vast, while those who work for justice and the Kingdom are few. Very few of us will ever know what it’s like to experience forced migration or displacement from our homes and loved ones. Unfortunately, millions and millions of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters do. But we don’t need to go to La72 or to Mexico to help our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. We can do so right here.
You can read more about the Dignity and Development Project in Journeying Together/Viajando Juntos and visit the website of the Migrant Center at the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi to make a donation.