Lets save a starfish – Part II

By: Luis Chacon
Province Coordinator for Volunteers

Last week we started the article “Let’s save a starfish” where I shared the experience of a migrant family arriving in this country. Here is the continuation of the experience of the children.   I also am offering ideas from their parents about how we might help these children and young people.

“We traveled to Los Angeles without knowing where we were going.  After 8 hours on the bus we arrived at a shelter on Skid Row. It is a place where there are many people using drugs. The population has no concern with regard to mental illness or  anxiety about drug use, children, adults, adolescents, single men and single women.

In this “refuge”, we experienced rejection, discrimination, and abusive language.  We stayed on a basketball court occupied by approximately 40 families, all on inflatable mattresses and without any type of privacy.  We were exposed to all kinds of dangers: sexual abuse, drug use, arguments and fights between adults over children who involuntarily take someone else’s toys, etc.

In the shelter they gave us cleaning supplies, but there was no support for clothing.   Communication was not easy since very few staff spoke our language, and we experienced racism on the part of security personnel. 

Going out to look for help was a scary experience.   The area is full of drugged street dwellers.  Some tried to rob us–I’m not sure if it was to take my brother from us or simply to take the money we didn’t have.

There was constant fear and anxiety in leaving and entering the facility when any errand had to be done. We were even afraid to go out to catch the metro bus because we didn’t speak English, and didn’t know the transportation system.

We saw the concern of our parents in searching for clothing, food or other places to live so that we would be safe.  The family endured rejection and discrimination, but we always hoped that all was going to be temporary.

However, not everything was negative. Because of my father’s work in our country of origin, the director of the Salesian community there gave us contact information about the Salesians in the United States.  This Salesian put us in contact with a Salesian missionary of this Province. I call him godfather;  he is the person who is for us unconditionally, always aware of what he could do to help.   He took us to a store to buy clothes and the most necessary things, he managed a donation of a beautiful stroller for my one-year-old brother, and helped with donations of clothes, shoes, and toys which were used for us and others at the shelter on Skid Row.

The Salesians gave us the opportunity to enter the Salesian Family Youth Center to share a beautiful place full of games, a clean space where peace was breathed and it was possible to share with children of our age.  The staff gave us have a happy time during the summer vacation ,  and we went to the beach, to swimming pools, to movies and to camp.

The persons at the Salesian Family Youth Center were always very kind, and they provided us with transportation to get to the Youth Center to and from the shelter.  The staff was always willing to help us, and they gave us information about different places to improve our housing conditions .

We are constantly on a quest to overcome the adversities that come our way, but it is always necessary to have a friendly organization that helps a family that is arriving in this country in this situation… (To be continued)