It was early evening when Program Director Zita Telkamp, CDP turned off the main road and down the long driveway toLa Posada Providencia. I recognized it immediately from the many photos I have seen, but it wasn’t the same as seeing it in person. The three main structures – Casa Belen (offices, classroom, kitchen and dining room), Casa Carolina (women’s dormitory) and Casa Guillermo (men’s dormitory) – looked small sitting in the middle of the property’s ten acres. As we pulled up to the carport, the clients who were outside stopped what they were doing and rushed over toward us. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation as I got out to meet the current residents of La Posada.
I recognized the clients from the photos Program Assistant Joseph Rodriguez sends me every week. There were clients from Eritrea, Guatemala, Honduras and the family of eight who fled from Mexico just days before to escape the drug cartel who had already killed one member of their family. They greeted me with warm smiles and handshakes as they introduced themselves and welcomed me to La Posada. The young men fromGuatemalakindly took my bags to Casa Carolina where I would be staying.
Casa Carolina, the women and children’s dormitory, also is where program director Sister Zita and Client Mentor Therésè Cunningham, SHSp live. Sister Zita showed me to my room and as soon as I’d set my things down, she beckoned me back outside to give me a tour of La Posada.
Unlike other immigrant shelters in the area, La Posada is not an institution or a facility. It’s a home. As we walked around the property, Sister Zita spoke about the many projects that were either completed or underway. Many of these projects, like the irrigation system and the garden, were funded by grants. The projects are often worked on by the clients as part of their life-skills training. I was amazed at the craftsmanship and skill it took to complete some of the projects and how well they turned out.
As the sun slowly set, I was struck by the peaceful quiet that had settled over La Posada. I thought about the clients and the persecution, injustice and violence so many had suffered in their homelands and on their journeys to theU.S.In that moment, I felt God’s presence and prayed that the clients felt this same sense of peace in knowing they are safe here.
Before I went to bed that night, Sister Zita told me while they never know who they are getting at La Posada, they only have one or two incidents per year of clients causing any kind of disturbance. If they do, they are told to leave. I think she was trying to reassure me that I was safe at La Posada. I thought about the clients’ stories and their warm smiles, I realized these are people who have fled violence because they do not want to be a part of it. They want to live in peace and freedom like I do. Any fears I had quickly faded as that peaceful quiet surrounded me and I fell fast asleep.
The next morning, I awoke early and found La Posada was already buzzing with activity. Sister Therésè had returned from her early morning walk. Sister Zita was at her computer checking email. Some of the clients were up doing chores. La Posada is very clean and orderly, both inside and out, because the clients take their chores seriously. They are respectful of La Posada and each other. There is a sense of community and family there that is hard to describe with words. The clients take care of La Posada and in doing so, are learning to take care of themselves with the life-skills they are acquiring during their stay.
After breakfast, it was time for me to head over to Casa Belen where Sister Therésè was about to start her daily ESL (English as a second language) classes. Monday through Friday, clients have two hours of ESL class in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Classes start with a prayer and a patriotic song. It was incredible to hear their voices united as they sang “God BlessAmerica” in perfect English.
Between classes, everyone stops and has lunch together. Meals at La Posada are prepared by the 19 year old cook, Nelson. Nelson is fromHondurasand is also a client. Sister Therésè proudly told me Nelson is on the third ESL book of the series she teaches and is doing very well with his English studies.
Prior to my visit, I had asked Joseph to teach me how to cook something from his homeland ofCuba. While I was in the kitchen, Nelson also showed me how to make “plantain fritas” – fried plantains, a native dish fromHonduras. He patiently walked me through the recipe and when he smiled, it was with pride because Nelson really knows how to cook. The food he prepared during my stay was not only healthy and well-rounded, it also was delicious.
In the afternoon, Joseph took me to see the border, “the fence” in downtown Brownsville, Texas (above photo). Standing almost 20 feet tall, the black iron fence silently conveys one message and one message only – keep out. Beyond the bars there was a dirt road where the Border Patrol was slowly driving up and down. Just beyond that was the river that many clients swim across. Joseph showed me the bridge where for just 50 cents, you can walk toMexico. We did not because it was “not safe.” I wondered how desperate someone had to be to want to walk acrossMexico and swim across that river, just be captured by the Border Patrol and be put into detention for months. I was thankful I only had to wonder.
We returned just in time for dinner, which began with a prayer and a song. After dinner, the children of the Mexican family kept singing “God BlessAmerica” as they cleaned the tables and swept the floor. In the kitchen, there was an assembly line at the sink as clients and staff washed and dried the dishes together. As they worked, I could feel that sense of community and acceptance filling the room. No matter where these people were from or what they had endured, they were now a part of La Posada’s family.
Later that evening, Sister Zita and I went out to do some shopping for the clients. When we returned, it was dark. Nelson and Joseph came out to help us carry the bags inside. Nelson asked me when I was leaving. I told him my flight was early in the morning and that I probably wouldn’t see him again. He gave me a hug and I thanked him for teaching me how to cook something fromHonduras.
I returned to Casa Carolina to pack and get ready for bed. Sister Zita was in the kitchen, putting away the items we purchased when all of a sudden she stopped.
“Listen,” she said, motioning for me to be quiet. “You can hear our family fromMexicopraying the rosary outside. They do that every night.”
As I listened to the gentle chanting of “Dios te salve Maria, llena eres de Gracia …” I was humbled by God’s Providence that not only allowed the family to be at La Posada, but also allowed me to be a witness to it.
As I reflect on my time at La Posada and the clients I met, it is my wish that more people could spend a day there to experience what I did. Those that emigrate to our country are not statistics. They are human beings. They have the same hopes and dreams we do. They want a safe place to sleep. They want to earn a living. They want to raise their children in a place where they do not have to live in fear.
If you go to La Posada, I can promise you will not leave the same person you were when you came. La Posada will change you and more importantly, it will change your heart.