Update from The U.S. -Mexican Border-Impact of COVID-19 on our Ministry to Immigrants
Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN
November 11, 2020
For the last 2 and a half years, over 40 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have given volunteer time and service to immigrants arriving at our southern border. From early 2018 through to March of 2020, we have been present to the immigrants at both the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen (Catholic Charities) and subsequently in the Refugee Tent Camp in Matamoros, Mexico over the bridge from Brownsville,TX.
We had to move our presence from the Respite Center to the Refugee Tent Camp after the Trump administration ordered the … Remain in Mexico policy also known as MPP – Migrant Protection Protocol in July 2019. With the MPP – asylum petitioners mostly from Central America were no longer allowed into the USA. The Respite Center was empty! We now had to go over the Brownsville International Bridge daily to get supplies to the 3,000 + refugees stuck in the Matamoros tent camp awaiting a dubious chance at asylum. We, along with other volunteers, filled carts with tents, plastic sheeting, children’s books, school supplies, diapers, powdered milk, wet-wipes etc., and dragged them over the bridge. We did that daily until March of this year 2020.
Then Covid-19 hit and it was no longer possible to visit the camp in Matamoros for 2 reasons:, first, the medical team that served the camp – Global Response Management isolated the camp from all visitors and volunteers to avoid the spread of the virus in the camp among the very vulnerable refugee families; and second, the bridge was now closed by US Border Patrol to non-essential persons which included us!
This is the situation we face till the present moment. We cannot travel to the Border due to the COVID risk, which is extremely high in Border cities; and even if we were to travel south we could not go over the bridge to help the families still in the camp. However we have remained in contact with 2 groups which find ways to get needed supplies to the refugees in the camp: Team Brownville and Global Response Management. We channel donation money that we receive to both of these groups on a regular basis. The needs in the camp have grown increasingly vital as hurricane season brought heavy rains, floods, mud, rats and other vermin. Their fragile tents were destroyed and needed to be replaced. The Rio Grande flooded the camp and caused a number of drownings. …We plan to return to the Border as soon as the COVID permits to re- access how we can best contribute to a hopefully less inhumane situation.
Fighting Human Trafficking of Women in Rural Uganda
In the spirit of the above-quoted Scriptures, Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN is working with other Catholic Sisters and lay catechists from Africa and here in the U.S. to increase awareness of human trafficking perils among “high-risk” groups, minors and the general public. This is being done through information dissemination campaign and provide the public in Uganda and neighboring communities the truth about human trafficking as well as to devise mechanisms to remedy the prevalence of human trafficking Fort Portal Catholic Diocese and Rwenzori Regions of Uganda.
Escaping Human Bondage
We think of human trafficking/slavery as something that happened in the past- but sadly, it is an ongoing problem. Can you imagine the suffering of young Ugandan girls who were enticed by government licensed labor recruiting agencies and taken to the Middle East for honest domestic labor, only to find themselves entrapped in situations of horrible abuse? Recently, at a conference headed by Sr. Eucharia Madueke , SNDdeN, two such girls told how found themselves trapped inside employers’ homes, stripped off their names and called “Kafala,” ( an Arabic word for “servant”), overworked, robbed of their religious identities, physically and emotionally abused, and infected with sexually transmitted diseases. They eventually escaped and found their way back to Uganda with no money for medical care and no place to call home as their people rejected them.
Young Ugandan women and girls between ages 12-24 are most vulnerable to human trafficking. Human trafficking in Uganda is both domestic and international. The country serves as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Children as young as seven are forced to beg in Kampala streets and other urban areas, work in the farming, fishing, mining, dangerous heavy industrial work, street vending, in the bars, restaurants, and domestic service. False recruiting companies continue to use both private and government radio and television to entice young Ugandans facing economic hardship and lack of opportunity to leave Uganda for a supposedly better future. Government officials and in some cases, the police, have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse, and facilitating the movement of vulnerable populations from settlements in Uganda to South Sudan.
Sisters with a Solution
Sr. Eucharia and the women religious working with her have developed a plan to combat human trafficking in two areas of Uganda noted for tourism, yet particularly affected by this scourge. They have already confronted government officials, in the first phase of their program. But they need popular awareness and support. They want to use radio and other forms of social media to provide counter messages to the Ugandan public, telling them the truth about many of these jobs overseas. They want to gather data to expose these practices to the government and the world. They’d like to create a video that shows how traffickers often use false jobs to hook and trap young and vulnerable people into forced labor and sexual slavery. Even poor rural areas receive radio and TV programs. They want to continue to hold enlightenment campaigns and town hall meetings in this region, particularly in the rural communities targeted by traffickers, to educate the people about the evil of human trafficking. They want to mobilize and train other stakeholders, particularly the catechists working in vast rural areas, so that they will work together in combating human trafficking.
Will you stand with Sister Eucharia Madueke and help protect these innocent young women?
The overall campaign is estimated to cost $51, 240. U.S. Sr. Eucharia and those working with her are praying for support, and seeking funds from public and private foundations. However, there is a great need for smaller donations. For $600, Sr. Eucharia and her team could create and broadcast 10 radio programs countering the false radio advertising of the traffickers. A donation of $1000 covers the cost of a presentation at a town hall meeting in one rural area- they hope to hold 5 such town halls. $2000 would pay for creation of an anti-trafficking radio jingle. The research efforts and creation of a documentary could be accomplished for $5000. Any gift can help with the largest cost – the travel, and costs associated with workshops to train the sisters engaged in this work. We will keep you updated on Sr. Eucharia’s progress!
Unrestricted donations permit the Sisters to support human justice works like these, while letting the Sisters of Notre Dame apply funds where they are needed most.