The decision by a New Mexican couple to handcraft teddy bears for immigrant children triggered a network of assistance to thousands of families arriving at the Las Cruces shelters on the border.
This “adventure began with a bear,” after seeing a message on social networks asking for stuffed animals for border shelters and processing centers, Susan Workman told Efe.
“My husband Jim Gage and I made several shipments, then Freida Adams, the health care coordinator at the Las Cruces shelters, contacted us to tell us: You should come and distribute them yourselves and see the faces of the children who receive them,” recalls Workman.
Currently the couple, living in Azteca New Mexico, a town a mile from the Colorado border, has touched the hearts of hundreds of people who are donating basic necessities for immigrants, such as clothing, blankets and toiletries.
Workman and Gage will make their third trip to Las Cruces in late October to deliver the contributions, along with their traditional handmade bears. They will never forget the first day they delivered aid personally.
“My husband and I visited three shelters and churches, handed out hundreds of bears and dolls, and the children’s smiles and parents’ gratitude were overwhelming,” Workman said.
She remembered one morning when breakfast had just been served to the refugees and watched as the children smiled enormously at the gifts.
“It’s hard to understand who was happier with this little stuffed animal gift, if the child or the father, I remember that a Brazilian mother, who only spoke Portuguese, looked me in the eye with an expression of gratitude and hope, both of us hugged and held my hand as she whispered ‘obrigado’ (thank you) to me, the only Portuguese word I now understand,” she said.
The couple coordinates their donations and border visits through Freida Admas, who lived and worked as a nurse in Venezuela for 20 years, recently worked with the New Mexico State Department of Health and now works with the shelters as a volunteer.
“These visits have been some of the most significant experiences of my life,” said Workman, who says that happiness contrasts with how immigrants are treated by authorities when they arrive in the United States.
“We are absolutely horrified by how they are treated, I think the Statue of Liberty cries because we are all immigrants here and, more importantly, we are all human beings who need to support and help each other in times of need,” he said.
In her mind are the scenes from her visit to the shelters, where a “sea of families” leave the detention centers with their children in their arms.
“I’m almost glad I don’t speak enough Spanish to understand their stories, I can’t imagine traveling thousands of miles with a nursing baby, a three-year-old child and a small child, each family has at least one child for those who want to give them a better future,” she said.
The couple says their efforts have spread “word of mouth” and through social networks, attracting more people to join the immigrant cause.
“This has been the most amazing part of our project, numerous people in the United States have made, collected and sent the necessary items on their own, people we have never met, and locally a campaign to ask for coats and blankets was published in the newspaper of Durango, Colorado,” she said.
After meeting the couple, Alexis Saghie, a resident of Durango, Colorado, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is planning his own visit to Las Cruces in mid-October.
“My focus is on refugees, primarily their health needs during emergencies such as the crisis they live on the border. We see that because of immigration policies almost 14,000 immigrants are trapped in Juarez, Mexico”.
“The mission of my trip to Las Cruces is to bring donations across the border to Juarez, Mexico, since many refugees are limited to crossing into the United States,” Saghie told Efe.
He mentioned that previously, his focus was on providing assistance to refugees in the Middle East or Europe.
“But I realized that there is a big crisis in my backyard and I must start here to make a difference for these asylum seekers seeking refuge in the United States,” he said.