Enough minutes to call

This post is also available in Spanish

by Elda Antonio Garcia

I’m grateful to God for this simple lesson: “What I saw as a misfortune has become a blessing for another, who in turn, out of their need, blessed me.”

I want to share with you a little of what I’ve learned during my time with CASM (Mennonite Social Action Commission), in Honduras, where I’m a volunteer supporting returned migrants through several different activities that make up the program.

Migration continues to be high, and despite the pandemic, people continue to migrate in caravans.  The United States and Mexico continue deporting migrants from all social groups—men, women, children, adolescents, and seniors—that we then meet through CASM.

The children are treated especially well and in accordance with human rights standards dictating that children must be protected and have their needs met, regardless of their situation. This is why children are brought to government child protection agencies when they’re deported, whether they are accompanied or not.

In Honduras, one of the institutions for child protection is the Child and Family Directorate (DINAF)’s Belén center. There are two Migrant Attention Centers where people normally arrive when they are deported; all deported minors are sent to the Belen Center, located in San Pedro Sula. If minors are deported along with their parents, the whole family arrives at the Belén center, and if they are unaccompanied, they arrive there alone. There, they receive food and other essential items and have a chance to bathe and change their clothes. Medical, psychological, and legal assistance is also available. They’re then given a ticket to travel from the bus station in San Pedro Sula to other parts of the country such as La Ceiba, Copan, or the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Although this might seem like quite a lot of assistance, in reality, it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs returned migrants have. Many of them have been travelling for over a month; they’ve spent all their resources and have very few belongings. In many cases, they have no money left to return to their home or their families in remote towns and departments all over Honduras.

Because the Belén center can’t meet all of the needs returned minors have, they’ve partnered with CASM who, through Childfund, an international development network focused on supporting children, they’ve been able to support migrants with cash. Between 200 to 500 lempiras helps them cover the distance to their home community—most returned migrants come from small towns or rural areas, and the initial ticket they receive only gets them to the nearest transport hub. If there’s money left over, they can buy some water or something to eat during the journey. They’re also given a supermarket card for each member of their family with 334 lempiras on it which can be used at Walmart stores anywhere in Honduras, allowing them to buy food and essentials for their return.

Elda Antonio Garcia sitting on the right. (Photo courtesy of CASM)

In the Cortes, Yoro, and Santa Barbara departments, CASM partners with/is covered by the Medios de Vida program. Families in these departments are eligible to receive assistance from this program in the form of scholarships, technical trainings, or seed capital to support small businesses. At the beginning of November, I accompanied my colleague Stefany Hernandez in a distribution of humanitarian aid through this program.

While many stories and experiences from my time in Honduras have been engraved in my memory, there’s one that especially stands out. I’m from Mexico, and because I’ve been serving in Honduras, I’ve had to change my cell company in order to be able to keep in touch with my family and friends in Mexico. Normally I do this through WhatsApp, but since both the internet at home and cellular data are often unstable, sometimes my only option would be to make a normal phone call to Mexico. Of course, I can’t do that, because a long-distance call from Honduras to Mexico would be very expensive—the equivalent of a dollar every five minutes. As I was researching the costs, I discovered that my phone plan did, however, include minutes to call the United States and Canada. This was very frustrating to me: those weren’t the countries I needed to call, so those minutes were useless to me.

The day I visited the Belén center, we were giving out information and humanitarian aid to the families. I noticed a woman impatiently trying to make a call to her family so she could let them know where she and her son were and ask them to get someone to pick them up. We sent her to the person in charge of making phone calls, but she came back disappointed. The only number she knew by heart was her husband’s number in Texas, but she wasn’t able make an international call from the center.

Suddenly I remembered that I had all of these minutes available for international calls that I wasn’t using. I told her she could try with my phone; she told me the number and when the call was answered, her eyes lit up with hope. She spoke quickly, explaining what she needed as briefly as possible, because she thought the international call would cost me a lot of money. When she hung up to give her husband a minute to call someone to come pick her up, I told her to take her time when she called him back. She had only been able to tell him the bare minimum, only what he needed to know so he wouldn’t worry about her.

As I redialed her husband’s number, I smiled, remembering how annoyed I had been by those international minutes. The woman was from a different part of Honduras and didn’t know exactly where she was, so she asked me to send her husband the location. I did, and we left with the hope that someone was coming to pick her up.

Later, I got another call: it was the woman telling me she was on her way home. She thanked me and told me that for her, the call she had made to her husband had been vital. Being able to share the location was what had enabled her to make it back to her family. I thank God for this simple lesson, that “what you had seen as a hardship became a blessing for someone else, who in turn, out of their need, will bless me.”

There are always a lot of things going on all around us; our job is to identify what these events can teach us, and how they can help us grow. Often they pass by unacknowledged, but I call them lessons of love from heaven that make our life dynamic and complete.

Elda Antonio Garcia is serving as the Migration Communications and Advocacy Assistant with Mennonite Social Action Committee (CASM) as part of MCC’s YAMEN program.

To learn more about how you can get involved in peace and justice work and to stay informed, subscribe to our newsletter and visit our website here>.

This article was originally published on the MCC LACA blog under the title Enough minutes to call. You can visit the MCC LACA website here.

Banner image caption: This landscape photo was taken in October 2018 when MCC staff with partner Social Development Committee (CODESO) visited Orocuina (and surrounding villages) in the department of Choluteca, Honduras.

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