In response to an urgent request from Catholic Charities USA, via the national office of LCWR, RSHM Sisters Mary Heyser and Mary Lang, and Extended Family member Clare Horn from the Eastern American Province, travelled to assist refugees at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. Mary Heyser has written about her experience:
The first day for Mary Lang, RSHM, Clare Horn and Mary Heyser, RSHM began on Sunday May 12th by welcoming 100 new refugees who come every day around 2:00 PM from the detention center. They are usually fed, registered and assigned a room for the night. Most who come to us leave the next day or the day after. Mary L knows Spanish so she helps register and call their sponsor who lives in the States and who must buy a bus or plane ticket. After tickets are confirmed we arrange transport to airport and bus terminals.
Mary H drives to the bus terminals and airport and accompanies each one to the ticket counter to get his/her ticket. The airport runs are more complicated since tickets must be obtained from each airline and then the refugee must go to TSA to a special line and wait to be approved so they can go to their gate. One day Mary H waited with them for one hour while the regular passengers got first preference, of course.
Every morning Clare and Mary L help with breakfast, then go to rooms of those leaving that day and tell them to vacate their room. They must wait in the lobby until they leave for the bus or plane so housekeeping can clean and change sheets for the next group of refugees.
We usually have two bus loads of refugees arriving each afternoon. One day we had three lunches: the first was for the refugees who were still with us, the second and third groups (100 in total) came that afternoon less than an hour apart. Each group comes in quiet and still. After they have a welcome and orientation talk by the coordinator, we begin lunch and interact with them. There are so many young mothers who are breastfeeding. We are amazed at the fathers with babies and toddlers who tend to them with such care. Our days are long. Initially we had been arriving at The Soluna Hotel at 7:00 AM and leaving at 5:00 or 6:00 P.M. We decided we could not continue to work those long hours. Our coordinator was fine with our starting at 8:00 AM and leaving at 4:00 P.M. We will continue with that schedule.
Since so many arrive sick with coughs and temps, we three are fighting colds despite all our hand washing. A doctor comes about every other day to check on the sick. One three-year-old child arrived after four days of nose bleeds and severe stomach pains so the doctor had her sent to the hospital immediately.
This is exhausting work! We are very involved in every aspect of what goes on whether making peanut and jelly sandwiches, packing food bags for their journey and serving meals at the site. We do everything and even though Mary H and Clare do not speak Spanish they have become skilled in using the ‘google translate’ app.
Today, we challenge you to participate in an experiment. Put on a pair of sneakers and remove the laces – not just untie them – remove them completely. Now, walk around for a while in the sneakers with no laces. Going downstairs is not so bad but coming up a flight of stairs is difficult. Every day at Annunciation House, every person we serve who has shoes that should have laces, have none. When they enter our country, Border Patrol takes their shoelaces. Shoelaces are the number one item requested by the refugees.