Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Service Immersion Day 4: The Border

We all rose bright and early for day two of service. We all woke up extremely sore from our work at Southwest Key (the unaccompanied minor shelter) the day before. We ate breakfast, packed our lunches and headed off to our next site. Today we toured the border. We made it out to the headquarters, silent, wondering what we were about to see. The joke of the day was around the access to bathrooms. We were going on a 3 hour tour in a van with no access to a bathroom. One of the students, Maggie, was so worried because of her self-proclaimed "small bladder". I think she went to the bathroom 5 times before 9:30am. We arrived at the headquarters and met our tour guides. Two young, male border patrol officers who work as community liaisons for border patrol. We watched a short video about the history of the border and where the state of the border is now, especially the area of San Diego. After the video, and making 1 more bathroom break, we all jumped in a van and started the 20-minute drive to the border. I was excited to not be the driver and get to experience all of this as a passenger. 

During the 20 minute car ride we learned about how the 2 officers got involved with border patrol, some of the issues they are currently facing and a little bit of what their day to day life on the job is like. In no time we had left the area of mass homes, Starbucks and people making their way to work and we were at the border. It was so weird because there was almost no transition from the suburbs with large housing complexes, conveniences stores and the routine life of  the people of San Diego to the heart-wrenching, run down communities of Tijuana, Mexico. We learned about the 2 different fences, one serves as the secondary fence, made from Vietnam scrap metal, that mainly stops cars from driving up to the area (many people can get over this fence by foot). The other is the primary fence made of barbed wire. This fence is much taller and harder to get through. That hasn’t stopped people from getting creative. Many will bring chain cutters to cut through the chain, leaving plates of steel that have been made to cover those holes.  We learned that a major issue with the San Diego border is the limited amount of time that the border patrol has to detain the undocumented immigrants. Once over the fence, in many spots along the border, are shopping malls, factories and other businesses where individuals can immediately blend in.

Secondary fence made out of Vietnam scrap material

Primary fence
Group photo in front of Tijuana, Mexico

Group learning about Tijuana. If you notice you can see that we are in between the secondary fence (on the left) and the primary fence (on the right in the distance). Only government officials are allowed in this area. 
Tijuana, Mexico
 Our first main stop was near the roughest and most dangerous part of Tijuana. I have never seen a third world country so this part was very devastating and saddening to see the extreme poverty. Some houses did not have roofs, it was dirty. One house had a large banner serving as a makeshift roof. We all got out of the van and the border patrol explained a lot about the cartel that run this area and how dangerous this area is. The reason this experience was also so moving was the fact that we were so close. We have the incredible opportunity to drive in between the two fences where only government officials and border patrol are allowed. This gave us an up close and real look at the fencing and the border what it is like to be on the other side of the U.S. 

I love this picture because I think it speaks to this idea of separation and exclusiveness. One world....divided.
We continued the stretch of the border for miles. We saw the land-port and the extremely long lines to cross over. We heard that the wait for cars is usually 2.5 hours and by  foot about 2. We did some off-roading, saw a few individuals who looked like the were going to try and cross as well as the “upscale” portion of Tijuana. I could tell l that the group was very impacted and overwhelmed by the experience and I know that it was a very impactful and lifechanging experience.

We ate lunch at a park, grabbed some Starbucks and headed to our next site. We arrived at Crawford High School which is a predominately refuge high school We met Keegan, an International Rescue Committee worker who works with the community garden and nutrition initiatives at the school. After we signed in and placed our visitor stickers on our shirts, we headed out the garden.  Our first task was to build a raised bed for a newly acquired piece of land that they were going to use to grow more vegetables and plants. The acquired land (parking lot) has to stay intact which means they can not take up the concrete, so Keegan's idea were these raised beds. We watched a short video on how to make them and got started. It was slow in the beginning, trying to figure out each of our roles and how exactly to construct it. Once we got on a roll we were called back to meet with the students in the garden club. We all introduced ourselves and then they did too. We learned where each of them were from. Many from out of the country, Africa, Honduras, as well as many born in San Diego.

Keegan explaining the raised bed

The beginning
We then split into three groups. Composting, hydroponics and the raised bed construction. I volunteered for composting. Once groups were decided, our group headed to the cafeteria to collect the composting bins. From there we brought it back to the garden to add to the piles. I think they had about 6 large composting piles, each at a different stage in the composting process. Most of the time Angel and I sifted the compost to make perfect soil while learning from the students about the composting process. It was amazing to see how much they knew about composting and how to maintain the beds. The quote for the day that Keegan presented to the students was: “Nature doesn’t rush, but everything gets accomplished. “ This was so true about the composting process. I had no idea what all went into the process but it is such an amazing process.

Angel helping sift the compost to create soil
We then checked with the other groups and were glad to see that they had finished the raised bed, which was our goal for the day before we left Crawford High School. 

Alicia & Stephanie working which their two high school girls to finish up the raised bed.

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