In March of this year, the U.S. government began housing unaccompanied migrant boys at Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Not long after that, Elisa O’Callaghan, advocate, artist, and board chair for Justice for Our Neighbors North Central Texas (DFW), was there to volunteer. We asked her about her experience and this is what she shared with us:
What can I say? I have good days and bad days. I leave happy to have made a difference or crying because the boys are very depressed. Bad days are when it’s time for me to go and I see the children crying or depressed because they are still there after 25+ days, and because they miss their family and just want to leave. I stay longer to listen and encourage them. I remind them that they have to have hope for better days ahead and that they need to have faith that they will leave soon. Those are two things they can’t lose, even if they have nothing else.
I remember when Bibles in Spanish came in and were handed out to almost all the boys. They were so happy and thankful.
The boys haven’t seen sunlight since they arrived, and they have been stuck inside ever since. By now they can’t wait to be set free and be reunited with loved ones. I play card games and teach English and I help them make their phone calls to family.
I ask them to make me a picture of their town back home. It makes them happy and proud to show me how beautiful and green their home town is. I have asked them to draw me a picture of their country back home because it helps them remember and connect.
They dream of the day that they will eat their native foods and see their families again. We talk about food a lot. Many know how to cook and tell me what they plan to make when they are out. I pray that they all get to go to their sponsors, but I was told a small number might not. This breaks me, and all I can do is pray that they all will soon have a sponsor.
The boys also love making bracelets with friendship strings. I now have so many that they made for me. I will forever treasure these gifts. They make bracelets for their relatives and sponsors when they are set free.
One boy wouldn’t get out of his cot and wasn’t doing much to socialize with his peers. I got him up to play cards and draw with me. These are moments that will stay with me forever. He was up at least for those hours I was there. He created a beautiful picture for me of his small town.
These boys own nothing. But whatever they have, they share with others.
I’m a product of migrants. My father came to this country alone from Ecuador when he, too, was a teenager. He, too, was an unaccompanied minor. He passed away six years ago at the age of 93 in Los Angeles.
He was a great father and a kind human being. He was always helping his friends and neighbors. I remember him after coming home from work; he would always work and fix a neighbor’s car in our driveway. He never charged for his work – only for the parts. For a low-income person who depends on a car to go to work, this low-cost car repair was a vital kindness.
I want people to remember that these are kind children who have suffered so much hurt and pain already. But, despite this, they are still not jaded or bitter. Let’s not inflict more pain on them. Let’s stop separating families or caging children because they came alone.
These are good boys, and I am sure that they will all do great things just like my father.
To read more about Elisa and her work:
Something to Love (Nogales, Mexico)
Photo of migrant children waiting to be processed courtesy of Eugenio del Bosque.