Migrants’ stories enrich Kino experience

A day of service turns into an experience of a lifetime

Students take in the view of the Mexico/Arizona border in Nogales, Mexico. Photo taken by Ellie O'Donoghue.

Students take in the view of the Mexico/Arizona border in Nogales, Mexico. Photo taken by Ellie O'Donoghue.

Ellie O'Donoghue, Staff Writer

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Before serving a breakfast of warm tortillas and a mix of beans and meat, sophomore Natalie Brothen sat down next to an older man with shaggy gray hair who had been deported that morning.  As they started conversation, Brothen was surprised at how fluently the man spoke English.

Brothen found out that he spoke English so well because he had been living and working in Mesa, Arizona, for the past 15 years.

This is one of the stories NDP participants shared about their life-changing experience on the Kino Border Initiative trip this month.

Brothen was reluctant at first to ask personal questions, yet the man was willing to share his life story.  He detailed the ways he struggled to survive and evade the violence in Mexico due to La Eme, the mafia in Mexico.

Their conversation was cut short for breakfast was about to begin. As Brothen shook his hand and started to walk away, he gave her a thick, silver ring, and thanked her for volunteering willingly  that day.

As Brothen shared her gift from the migrant with the other volunteers, sophomore Ivanna Cuellar gasped in surprise saying, “Oh my gosh Nat, he just gave you everything he had.”

Before the sun rose on a recent October morning, eight students and Spanish teachers Noemi Santaella and Maria Rice left NDP in route to Nogales, Mexico, to serve at the Kino Border Initiative.

Students of all grade levels chose to go on the trip to gain insight on the issues at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Future Kino Border Initiative trips are set for Friday, Nov. 11; Friday, Feb. 10, and Friday, March 24.

Senior Sydney Gebhart said, I choose to go on Kino because I thought it would be an amazing experience and something that I have never done before.

Upon arrival, students had no idea what to expect for their day in Nogales.

I did not know anything of what we were going to do coming into this. I had no expectations, and a lack of information, but an open mind to any experience coming my way,senior Aidan Gregory said.

While walking across the border with the Rev. Peter Neely, the assistant director of education at Kino, on their way to the Kino Border Initiative, students saw firsthand the way migrants are deported.


The gate where migrants walk through back to Mexico.

Throughout the day, students talked with recently deported migrants, female migrants at the nearby women’s shelter and walked around the city of Nogales, gaining historical information on the tensions surrounding the U.S. and Mexico border.

According to Brothen, there was not one single thing that had the greatest impact; the whole experience was life changing.

When arriving at Kino, I could tell that Father Pete was trying to prepare us for some sad faces and stories that were about to come walking into the room. It’s incredibly difficult to put into words how strong these people are. How much they have been through. How much thinking about my problems seems like nothing compared to what they are going through. Mafia. Gangs. Rape, Brothen said.

Gregory called the entire experience overwhelming and eye opening.

On the ride back to campus from Nogales, all eight students unanimously agreed that they would recommend this trip to anyone and everyone at NDP.

Gebhart said, I highly recommend this to other people. It is such an eye opening experience, and I think everyone should get the opportunity to do something as amazing as this since it has the ability to change your whole perspective on life.

Students had the opportunity last school year to serve at the Kino Border Initiative as well.

Students interested in going on one of the three remaining trips need to get an application from Mrs. Leslie Gjerstad, director of Christian service learning, and it costs $35.

The students said the trip is worth it, for as Gregory puts it, “It’s more than just hours; it is an experience.”

Mrs. Gjerstad said, “We live in Arizona and it is such a hot topic that people do not understand the humanity, that a wall will not solve the problem and to take the humanity out of the issue is wrong.”

“It is a complicated issue, and we need to know the humanity of the issue,” she said.

The Kino Border Initiative website provides additional information on its message and the services it provides. 

Seniors Aidan Gregory, Ellie O’Donoghue, Hannah Gebhart, and Sydney Gebhart take a picture after serving at the Kino Initiative.


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