Notre Dame students help on the border

NDP students and teacher chaperones serve immigrants at border soup kitchen


The front of the Kino comedor (Anna Sera/The Seraphim)

By Anna Sera, Staff Writer

NOGALES, MEXICO _ Most students would sigh and complain at the thought of waking up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to school, but not when they are heading down to Mexico. On Friday, September 8, 2017, a group of eight Notre Dame Prep juniors and seniors, accompanied by NDP Spanish teacher Señora Santaella and NDP Theology teacher Ms. Purple, made the three-hour journey from Scottsdale, Arizona to the border between the U.S. and México.

At approximately 8:00 a.m., the group arrived in Nogales, Arizona. They were then easily escorted across the border into Nogales, Sonora by Julie Olbrantz, a Kino Border Initiative Educational Assistant. Walking less than one mile from the border, the group arrived at a white, cement building, crowned with barbed wire. The inscription on the front read, “Centro de Atención al Migrante Deportado”, meaning Deported Migrant Care Center. Established in 2008, the Kino Border Initiative is an international refugee service based in Nogales, Arizona. Kino is a Catholic organization designed to aid immigrants as they attempt to cross the border into the United States. Volunteers at the comedor (soup kitchen) provide immigrants with two meals: breakfast at 9:00 a.m. and dinner at 4:00 p.m. They also offer basic medical supplies, a change of clothing, and for the females, a place at the women’s shelter.

Upon arrival, the group was briefed regarding their activities for the day, with each person responsible for one of three duties: serving food, serving drinks, or rinsing dishes. The students were highly encouraged to talk with the people and learn their stories. This was the second time that NDP Junior Natalie Brothen journeyed with her classmates to Nogales.

She said,  “At kino, our job is not only to help out with food and cleaning, but to talk to the people and make them feel respected. Several, if not all of the people have been disrespected and their rights have been completely violated. It is our job to make them feel like humans, because so often, they are dehumanized by people of higher authority who are granted the same exact rights.”

Outside the fence, the students were afforded the opportunity to practice their skill with a group of men and women gathered in anticipation for the 9:00 a.m. breakfast. The Notre Dame students and teachers discoursed in both Spanish and English. Once inside, the nuns who prepared the meal introduced the group of visitors and gave a short presentation regarding human rights, which included a video. The Sisters spoke entirely in Spanish, but an English translation of the message was provided by those in the group who competently spoke the language.

Sister Cecilia Lopez Arias, M.E addressed the group in Spanish. Translated into English, she stated, “You have rights and deserve to have those rights protected. If you experienced any violation of your rights on either side of the border, you can talk with our staff to report it and decide whether or not you want to press charges.


Throughout the presentation, the Sisters focused on everyone’s right to have a good life, the right to feel safe at home, and the right to speak freely.  “You are not criminals,” said Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E.  “It is up to us to teach the youth and these young people who are here visiting today that we are not bad people. Immigrants are not evil people.”

After the presentation and the blessing of the food, the NDP students handed out drinks and passed plates of food down the long, wooden tables that dominated the center of the room. After weaving between the benches to serve seconds to those who desired more, the students were given time to sit and talk with people and learn their stories. Natalie Brothen and NDP Junior Lauren Schillig talked with a young woman named Teresa (Tere).

“Tere told me she was trying to cross the border so that she can get any kind of money or medical help that her son back home needs,” said Brothen. “Her husband had left her about 5 years ago because Tere refused to abort her daughter. Tere is raising two children all by herself. Her son has a walking disability, so all she wants is to help him the same way her parents helped her when she was young and had the same disability. She said her children mean everything to her and she will not stop trying until they are properly supported.”

After serving breakfast, the group trekked to the women’s shelter and talked with two of the women who were residing there. Kino offered the women a place to sleep, as well as a kitchen and bathroom. They also equipped the women with the means of making bracelets and earrings, which they sell to create a small source of income for themselves. Residing with the women was a family of four. Each shared their stories with the group, recounting tales of death threats, coyotes (people who offered to get immigrants across the border for hefty sums of money), and detainment by border patrol. However, it was all surrounded by hope and thanks for the blessing of Kino and the work of the Sisters. The young family shared that they were terrorized by the MS-13, a local gang, which threatened to kill Jorge, the father, and his entire family if they returned. He and his wife, Odette, explained that they had been traveling North for seven months, leaving behind their home in El Salvador. The group moved slowly, so as not to be detected by the gangs. Oblivious of the earnest discussion, their two children, Berkley and Vanessa, ages 6 and 4, played excitedly with toy cars as their parents spoke.

The Mariposa Port of Entry welcomed NDP students and staff back to the U.S. (Anna Sera/Seraphim)

Around 3:00 p.m., the NDP students returned to the comedor and helped sift through bags of beans, picking out an occasional rock or twig, which saved someone from a dentist appointment later in the week. Repeating the process from earlier in the day, the students assumed their positions for the 4:00 p.m. dinner rush. After washing all the dishes, wiping the tables, returning the leftover salsa, and hugging everyone goodbye, the NDP students and staff walked back to the border, handed their passports to the security officers, and effortlessly strode back into the States. In a matter of seven minutes, they were able to do what a family had been waiting seven months to attempt.