“We were just a small group of friends trying to do the right thing and help people that had no home, no country, no belongings, nothing.” ~ Sergio Cordova
It all started by accident when Sergio Cordova, Michael Benavides, and a group of friends, all educators, crossed the Gateway International Bridge with food and water for a small group of asylum seekers.
This bridge is one of three international bridges that cross the U.S.-Mexico border between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in Mexico.
The small group turned into hundreds, as did the number of volunteers.
Many asylum seekers are women, children, or families, awaiting their turn to enter the United States legally. They wait on the hot cement plaza in the blistering heat to cross the bridge to apply or to receive words of their application status.
While they wait, #TeamBrownsville offers tokens of comfort in the form of water, a simple breakfast, dinner, and personal supplies, with compassion and a smile. It is an example of acts of kindness from strangers to strangers. In the truest sense of giving, their only goal is to relieve suffering.
Out of the darkness and negativity comes light, and it only takes one beam of light to disperse this darkness. It’s something we all need to take note of.
Team Brownsville, Inc. is now a 501(c)3 non-profit that displays its Certificate of Formation, Application for Incorporation, IRS Letter of Designation of its status, and a Conflict of Interest Policy.
It’s all legal. And it’s evolved to the point that media sources throughout the world have covered its mission. Its beginnings were not only humble but unintentional.
Team Brownsville provides four programs and delivers assistance at two locations: La Plaza at the Brownsville Bus Station and the Gateway International Bridge Plaza mentioned above.
#1 and 2: Breakfast and Dinner at the Bridge
Asylum seekers come from South and Central America to Brownsville to apply for asylum in the United States. They notify the U.S. and are then sent back across the Gateway Bridge to wait in Matamoros' concrete plaza.
They await their turns to cross over and apply and then return to await word.
This is where they receive breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast is simple, and no volunteers are needed. The Team handles this on their own.
Dinner is another story. Volunteers prepare, deliver, and serve meals to approximately 1,000 people five nights a week with church groups providing food for two days. According to their website, the quantities of food vary “dramatically” day-to-day.
The Team and groups of volunteers provide dinner in two ways. One is by planning, buying, preparing it, or donating money for Team Brownsville to hire a restaurant. The cost is $1200.
If you want to prepare food but don’t have a kitchen, one will be provided for you. Volunteers place the prepared food into foam hotboxes, transport them to the bus station, and load them into wagons to cross into Mexico to Matamoros.
Volunteers also provide fruit snacks, cookies, or wrapped snacks. No whole fresh fruit is permitted, but it can be cut up. The Mexican government does not allow packaged foods, and it must be ready to serve.
#3: Escuelita de la Banqueta
The Sidewalk School provides children with basic instruction in English, math, geography, social studies, music, and other subjects. Four to five teachers teach 10–15 mini-lessons each.
They travel across the Gateway Bridge on Sundays from 9:00–10:00 AM. Following their lessons, children line up to receive goody bags and books.
#4: Assistance at the Bus Station
Assistance is provided in the form of supplies such as diapers, wipes, sanitary napkins, shoelaces, belts, coloring books and crayons, and small soft toys and dolls.
Volunteers help asylum seekers place calls to families for money for bus or plane tickets. They help them understand their itineraries and provide maps to give them directions. Families often wait up to six hours for a bus.
Those who spend the night at the bridge are fed dinner.
In general, volunteers at the bridge provide a calming presence to immigrants, many of who have been traumatized during their journey.
Dignity Village is a project with the Mexican government, Team Brownsville, and other non-profits to upgrade living conditions from tents to hard-walled structures. Until December 2019, thousands of asylum seekers lived in slum-like conditions in Mexican border towns.
This is a temporary camp within eyesight of the bridge, and it’s where the immigrants feel safest. Many are fleeing violence from gangs where murder rates are high, and the criminal justice system barely functions.
IKEA “Better Shelter” provides housing. It has provided sturdy temporary structures throughout the world since 2014. The Dignity Village Team began with 300 housing units capable of housing up to 1500 people. It provides a sense of community as well as sanitation, food, and water.
Non-profits contributors include:
-Resource Center Matamoros
-Lawyers for Good Government
-Angry Tias and Abuelas of the RGV
-Global Response Management
The Hazards of Volunteering
Volunteering is not without its risks.
The same violence from which the immigrants seek asylum is present for volunteers. They are instructed not to leave the plaza or go anywhere without a Team member.
Still, the program thrives, evidence that human beings are willing to put themselves at risk for the most vulnerable amongst us. In a sense, they are living monuments to the words “The New Colossus” by poetess Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
This is the legacy of greatness and compassion of the United States, the strongest caring for the weakest.
If you want to be a part of this legacy and make an impact on a personal level to those in desperate need, you can do so.
It’s as easy as clicking here.
Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash