Lets save a starfish – Part I

By: Luis Chacon
Province Coordinator for Volunteers

Have you heard the story of the starfish? In a preparation retreat for SYLC Fr. Itchan Laygo, SDB, narrated this story.   One day an old man was walking on the beach and saw thousands of starfish dying in the sand because the tide had taken them out of the water. In front of the sea there was a child returning the starfish to the sea one by one, rescuing them from dying in the sand. The old man said to the boy, “Why are you trying to rescue these starfish?  There are thousands of them, and you will never finish.   What difference will it make to the thousands of starfish?” The boy replied: “I can’t make a difference in the lives of all the starfish, but at least I’ve already made a difference in the world of those starfish that I’m rescuing right now.”

Don Bosco’s preferential option was for children and young people, especially the poorest and most needy. Personally, I feel honored to have started my Salesian formation when I was 14 years old as a candidate.  Don Bosco, through the Salesians, gave me and continues to give me many gifts in my life and thanks to him I am who I am.

In our province there are many starfish for which our Salesian ministry is making a difference in our various communities. However, there are many more starfish that could be saved.

A few months ago, a Salesian contacted me to ask how we might support a family coming to the United States for political asylum. This family was working with the Salesians in social works and with migrants in their country of origin. They had no place to stay in Los Angeles, and we found a shelter on Skid Row for them.  We then invited the children to our After School and Summer Camp Program at the Salesian Family Youth Center. Every day I picked them up from the shelter on Skid Row and took them to our youth center.

The Salesian Cooperators led by Jesús Ortega and Elena Díaz helped us to get them clothes, a stroller for the baby, and other necessary items.   Thank God we were able to support them in everything that was within our possibilities.

After a couple of months, this family found a better shelter for their needs far from Los Angeles.  They intend to stay for 3 months while their economic situation improves.  However, due to the distance, I was no longer able to continue taking the children to and from our Salesian Family Youth Center.  Fortunately they are already attending the nearby school in their new shelter.

I have asked the children to write to me about their experience. They are migrant children in a situation of marginalization who left their country due to a situation in which their lives were at risk. Let me share with you some of their reflections.

“We arrived on May 23, 2022, at the border where we surrendered as a family to the migration staff. Our negative experiences were:

  • Having to throw away all our belongings and only keep the clothes we are wearing without even a sweatshirt or jacket to calm the cold of the night, only what would fit in a letter-size manila envelope.
  • Separation from our father without knowing anything about what was happening to him.
  • Having to spend the nights on a mat that was shared with up to six people of different nationalities, where we covered our bodies with an aluminum sheet.
  • Having to endure the constant cold of the fans that work 24 hours a day at high power.
  • Being exposed to diseases such as flu, fever, vomiting, cough and possible COVID infection. Due to the number of people who occupied the different rooms, we were 30 to 40 people per room.
  • Having sleep interrupted at midnight by migration guards yelling and being arrogant and unkind as they disinfect the site.
  • Having a poor diet:  burritos, apples, and juice from a box with minimal amounts of water
  • Receiving poor medical help: our brother was very ill and was given only acetaminophen when he had a high fever.
  • Leaving immigration, the treatment is horrible and humiliating.  You have no voice to give your opinion or ask questions.  We had to be silent so that they would not return us to the cold rooms.
  • Transporting us to another state, in some large migration buses, where we were left with nothing and disoriented from the family.   Under the beating sun we did not know where to go because we did not have money for a hotel and less to pay for the trip to Los Angeles, with the fear and anxiety of having to spend the night on the street…” (To be continued)