Desperately needed: “Hearts as Big as Cities”

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As a Spanish interpreter, I’m constantly in a position to have others speak through me. It’s an honor and a solemn duty to strive to convey their messages safely across cultural frontiers. While my work deals in the crossing of metaphorical borders, vast and growing swathes of humanity (including most of the people I serve) know intimately the perils of traversing actual borders.

These are the least among the outcasts of today’s global capitalism, the base of those of us comprising Earth’s ninety-nine-plus percent. If there’s a lesson recent events should drive home for us, it’s this: we all must band together and support one another, recognizing that we’re all human beings on this planet. This week I had the tremendous fortune of interpreting for a woman who is precisely this ethic incarnate.

Olga Sánchez Martínez (pictured above) is a tireless warrior for the people who are most acutely feeling the suffocating squeeze of global capitalism’s vise. Extraordinary circumstances in her own life led her to undertake an extraordinary mission for the lives of others. She is the founder and coursing lifeblood of the Albergue Jesús el Buen Pastor del Pobre y el Migrante shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, just across the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico.

As documented in Sonia Nazario’s national bestseller Enrique’s Journey, Ms. Sánchez Martínez is on the front lines of a great exodus underway here in the western hemisphere. She works  to provide shelter, medical care and the basic  necessities of life for those she finds most in need. They are primarily Central American refugees, fleeing the scourge of deprivation, gangs and devastation ravaging their homeland.

They are men, women and children who are running for their lives. In their quest for survival, many of them are maimed and lose limbs to the infamous “Death Train” freighters that connect southern Mexico to el norte. The tragic result of this deluge of disasters is that the migrants end up in a seemingly hopeless limbo where their disabilities won’t allow them to pursue their “American dream” up north, yet returning home is certain death. Many struggle to find a reason to keep living.

In steps Olga. Beyond a roof and basic needs, her shelter aims to provide prostheses, crutches and wheelchairs for the newly disabled. She and her modest team of mostly volunteers tend to the wounds, both physical and psychological, of those they take in. They train migrants in vital skills like baking, and donut sales become a fundraiser for the shelter.

To say that she operates on a shoestring would be a gross understatement. She has managed to fund her efforts by relying on the kindness of others, begging for donations on the street when necessary. The success she’s had up to this point is owing to her dogged determination to serve those in need. Presently, as the ranks of the needy are swelling, she is working to expand her efforts by opening a second shelter just for women and children.

In her presentations, in addition to the heart-wrenching stories of the individuals she has helped, she illuminates some of the basic ideas that animate her generosity of spirit and her undaunted optimism against all odds.
Smiling broadly, she says that:

* All around the world, people are the same. Race and skin color matter not.
* We all have dreams that we must and can make reality, if we work for them.
* Humanity needs “hearts as big as cities” to meet these challenges.

Finally, she entreats us to make this cause our own. Without our assistance, the vast and growing needs will continue to far outstrip the services she can provide. With our help, she can continue and expand her work. There are many dreams yet to be realized, owing to the scarcity of resources at her disposal. We can help, and grow our hearts in the process.

There are so many ways we can help. The only limitation is the scope of our imagination. Cash donations can be made, including donations made as a gift in others’ name (a great stocking-stuffer). Summer clothing, basic medical supplies (gauze, tape, etc.) and crutches, prosthetics and wheelchairs are needed. Volunteers are needed to work hands-on at the shelters. A virtual “street team” is needed to get the word out on social media and beyond. Help raise awareness among your social networks. Organize book clubs to read Enrique’s Journey. Host a potluck party fundraiser. Use you imagination. Get creative! And, share your ideas to inspire others.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions below, and I encourage you to take the initial step of sharing this post. ¡Sí, se puede!

1 Comment

  1. Love this! This hits close to home as I am from Mexico. So much suffering but again there are incredible people out there doing great work in this world. And I couldn’t agree more with how many different ways there are to help.

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