The real work started on the Friday of the first week. After spending the first few days being introduced into Mexico as a country through numerous cultural visits and historical overviews, we begun to focus on what we came to Mexico to do; learn about immigration and human rights within the Northern American region. Anyone even remotely interested in the current global political climate can see that this is very relevant, topical and emotional material which affects migrants worldwide.
On the Friday morning of the second week we visited Casa de Los Amigos, which offers housing, food, community support and even Spanish classes to make integration into Mexican society easier. We had a chat with an 18 year-old called Frank who had made his way to Mexico City from Cameroon. He was aiming to reach the US but upon arriving at Casa de Los Amigos he decided to stay in Mexico City and make a life for himself here.
Next stop was Casa Tochan, which houses male migrants who are transiting through Mexico to the US. They offer assistance to migrants wishing to apply for humanitarian visas as well as feeding, housing and offering medical and psychological services to those who need it. The house had a gorgeous garden covered in paintings and murals painted by those staying in the house. Many would make little sculptures out of cans, and the bedroom featured a half a meter-long hand crafted titanic! Fashioned by an individual residing in the house, the beautiful artwork featuring miniature people is going to be the winning prize in a raffle. We were given a tour of the residence and then were cooked an amazing lunch by the lovely people where we had a chat with a few of the residents.
That weekend we were lucky enough to go on a two night trip out of the city. First stop was the most colourful city I've ever seen in my life; Puebla. We were blown away by the bright colours of the buildings and markets and felt like we were constantly being serenaded by mariachi bands as there were so many of them around the streets.
Our second stop was to Cordoba in Veracruz where we all had one of the most emotional experiences of our lives. We visited the ladies who run the charity organization Las Patronas. They are situated on the side of the train tracks, where they see many migrants pass on the trains trying to go north. The majority of these people haven't eaten in far too long and are constantly unsure of when and where their next meal is going to come from. So these selfless ladies at Las Patronas work every single day, cooking, sorting and packaging food to throw up to the migrants travelling by on the train. They rely completely on donations, so we went by and helped in the morning by packaging the food the ladies had been up early cooking, tortillas, hot beans, rice and bread rolls in a single bag. We helped sort through 20kg of beans to get the little rocks out, on which the migrants could easily chip a tooth.
As we were working and chatting away with the ladies who work there, someone shouted TRAIN! It took us all a moment before we knew what was happening, but when we figured it out there was not a single hand not helping. We ran for the crates filled with the food bags we'd packaged not even 10 minutes before, sprinted down to the tracks through the mud and rocky path and situated ourselves right by where the train was about to pass. Adrenaline running high, the ladies showed us how to correctly hold the bags really quick, so we didn't accidentally result in pulling someone off the train or losing a hand ourselves. Some of the train drivers slow down so the migrants are able to grab as much food as possible, and some of the drivers speed up.
When the train passes there were about 30 people hanging off the side of the train, one hand holding on for their life, the other outstretched as far as possible to grab as many bags as they can. The look on their faces when they were able to get food was phenomenal. The train only took about 30 seconds to completely pass us but it felt so much longer. Everybody frantically trying to give them as much as possible. One lady on the end of our line was throwing up 3 water bottles at a time tied together by string so it was easier to catch from a moving train.
After the train passed, what we had done begun to sink in. The looks on their faces as they realised they had fresh and hot meals was incredible. One of the founding sisters Norma, who had been doing this for 21 years started crying with the rest of us, and that’s when we realised the full importance of what we had done.
The bus ride home was a somber affair, with everyone reflecting on how lucky they are and how else can we help these people?
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had classes on human trafficking, legal issues for migrants and how gender affects migration at University. All of which are very important issues as many migrants easily fall off the radar and get sold into sex work and hard labor during their transit.
On Wednesday morning we visited another migrant shelter in Mexico City called Cafemin. This shelter which catered to women, children and families, people would stay until their Mexican Humanitarian Visa was granted and often would make a life for themselves in Mexico City. We helped them make some deep fried pastry snacks to sell at the markets and played with the kids in the shelter. We were all showered in stickers from the generous kids, who played with skipping ropes and colouring in books.
Thursday night we were fortunate enough to be invited to the Australian Ambassador's, David Engel's house for drinks and conversation. It was so kind of him to reach out to us students, he expressed how much he wished more Australian's would come to this beautiful country and we discussed Spanish and Immigration Policies. It was such a lovely night which we all enjoyed immensely.
Friday was another day where we didn’t know what to expect. In the morning we visited yet another shelter called Casa Del Samaritano. Working again to help migrants in transit offering food, supplies such as clothing and sometimes a place to sleep. One of many shelters run by locals attempting to improve life for migrants in transit by offering the necessities and a smile. We helped by cooking and serving food along with packaging it and chatting away to the migrants in the shelter.
That night, we attempted something all of us were excited for but had no idea what to expect. A community in the state of Hidalgo offers a 'simulated border crossing' experience. This is done to not only deter people from attempting to cross the border after having a taste of what it is really like but also to show people a portion of the struggle that migrants face every second of the day.
So our 2-and-a-half-hour night walk was completed in pitch black while sprinting through forests and mud running from border patrol. Along with dodging Mexican gangs who rob, rape and sometimes kill migrants if there is nothing to steal from them. One of the guys in our group had the nervous giggles, so the 'gang members' dragged him by his shirt to the side of the group, waving a gun in his face and pretending to beat him up with a rock. Needless to say he was not giggling after that. They also have to evade drug dealers who will extort migrants into smuggling drugs over borders. What we experienced didn’t even make up to 5% of the hazardous and terrifying journey the migrants endure on their trip north.
The night walk concluded with a touching tribute to the migrants who lose their lives attempting to make the most of them by heading north. We all left with a newfound awe, respect and understanding of what migrants go through.
This last week was very intense and emotionally draining. But all of us have a newfound passion and motivation to do all we can to assist those forced to migrate in anyway we can.