I find myself thinking I can change the world, I certainly felt this way when I joined Change A Heart. But since I’ve begun my placement at Casa San Jose, I’ve felt more defeated than I had expected.
Let me back up a little and explain how this placement thing works….
The format of the program connects each volunteer with a non-profit organization in the Pittsburgh area. My site is Casa San Jose, a resource center for Latino immigrants. I am the Director and Coordinator of After School Bilingual programs including an Educational Enrichment Program for K-First graders and a Secondary Mentoring program for teens. I am also the Volunteer Coordinator for all the other programs we have. For the past 3 weeks I have been doing mostly administrative things and not so much one-one work with the clients. I’ve been developing this after-school program, meeting with university officials, creating partnerships, and so forth.
I’ve also been accompanying people to court, helping abused women, meeting unaccompanied minors, and helping people get their library cards. In the midst of so much busyness I have felt tired and defeated, frustrated and overwhelmed by the needs of the Latino community in Pittsburgh. I can truly say I was sheltered back in New York. While I know the difficulties of being an immigrant, the people I work with have it ten times worse. Hospitals have no translators, many schools do not have people to translate registration, DACA kids are having trouble getting promised money for college, and people don’t know the community exists. People have been surprised when I tell them that there are Latinos in Pittsburgh; and of course you’ll never find them Downtown. They are scared and cautious to come out in public. They are looked down upon and judged, they are vulnerable and poor. They need help.
I think the greatest issue is the misconception that people cross over because they “felt like it” or because they are criminals. There is a real crisis going on in Latina America right now. According to information provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 6,800 children in Fiscal Year: 2004-2011 have crossed, 14,000 in FY: 2013, 24,000 in FY: 2013, and the 60,000 expected in FY 2014 have already been exceeded. 30% are coming from Honduras, 26% from El Salvador, 37% from Guatemala, 3% from Mexico and 2% Ecuador. The main reasons for migration are: flee community violence, escape poverty and hunger, reunify with family in U.S. (safe place), education and employment opportunities, escape situations of family breakdown, abuse, abandonment. Flight from violence seems to be the primary reason children mention (gangs, community violence, lack of ability of government to protect its citizens). Children report being victims of extortion, rape, and are targeted to join the gangs.
My work at Casa San Jose is a difficult one. I get frustrated many times because of people’s lack of understanding and sensitivity. However, I am recognizing that this is an opportunity in which a small thing can cause a big impact. I sat down as a panelist, representing the Latino community, for Cultural Competency, to a group of AmeriCorps students and the Department of Human Services. I think it begins there, with education, awareness and sensitivity, not only from the non-immigrants, but also from the immigrants. We must be open to each other, to loving each other.
And regardless of my frustration and my defeat, I need to rise up. I cannot let these frustrations and road blocks hold me back. i have two options, either stay down, lamenting how devastating the people’s situation is, or GET UP and actually do something about it…like getting a 4 year old a library card so he and his mom can start learning English.
As St. Francis said: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. I pray that God teaches me to be sensitive to others and their struggles, specially in community, so then I can teach the children i work with how to be sensitive and love those who live in ignorance. I also pray that God’s love overflows the work we are doing and transforms the hearts and lives of the people we are working with. While it might seem much to ask, it is possible. Today as i sat waiting for the train reading over some registration papers for the After-School program, a little girl said “I have one of those, my name is ***”. She happened to be one of my 1st graders who will start their program with me very soon. She sat next to me in the train and showed me how she’s starting to read in English. She’s excited for the program! She wants to go back and learn more! That is all I need. One child, one soul, inspired to do great things, to learn and persevere. A soul willing to fight for itself, to show God’s love embodied in their innocence and curiosity.
Lord, make us humble instruments of your peace.