Nogales Mission Update
Heather Williams

Last Monday, June 12, a delegation of eleven youth and adults journeyed from St. Mary Magdalene to Nogales, Mexico, to learn about life in the Borderlands. We were hosted by Hogar d’Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC), which works to create a healthy community in the impoverished Bella Vista neighborhood of Nogales, so that “citizens do not feel that their only choice for survival is to risk their lives in the desert in an attempt to immigrate to the United States.”
True to their motto, “Building Bridges Across Borders,” two of our hosts guided us through the border crossing and brought us to HEPAC for a tour of the campus and its programs, after which we were treated to a fiesta with a Sonoran dinner, music, dancing, and a piñata!
On Tuesday, we visited the site where a 16-year-old Nogales boy named Jose Antonio was shot and killed in 2012 by U.S. Border Patrol agents firing into Mexico. We also heard a presentation at the Instituto Nacional de Migración, or Grupo Beta Nogales. This Mexican federal agency offers water, medical aid, and information about desert safety and human rights to those who are migrating or considering doing so. Grupos Beta also provides transportation home for migrants who decide against crossing the border. Outside, we spoke with migrants who agreed to share their stories with us.
Part of our mission with HEPAC was to assist with the afternoon Kids Camp offered to the children of the community. Despite our language barrier, it was such sweet fun to sing songs, play games, and make crafts with them.
For dinner we were warmly welcomed at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Nogales, Arizona. We participated in a Lectio Divina and heard about the church’s incredible mission in providing a monthly medical clinic for Mexican children identified by aid workers for complex medical needs.
On Wednesday morning, we set out on a four-mile hike to make a humanitarian food and water drop along a known migrant trail. It was a tough slog on a hot day and a deeply humbling experience. We returned tired and hungry to Bella Vista for a lively and delicious meal prepared by a HEPAC volunteer in her home.
The following day, we visited the Institute Technológica de Nogales to meet with engineering students practicing English. Our assignment was to converse in small groups and then to introduce each other to the larger group.
On the way back to HEPAC for lunch and Kids Camp, we stopped in an industrial park to see the interplay between the maquiladora factories and the workers’ neighborhoods that support them.
After another generously prepared meal in the home of a HEPAC volunteer, we visited the San Juan Bosco shelter, which has served more than one million migrants since 1982. We heard the stories of migrants who agreed to share with us, as well as that of the shelter’s founder, Juan Francisco Loureiro.
On Friday, our last full day in Nogales, we had a little R&R downtown, browsing the curios and enjoying some fruity, icy confections. Adding to the fun was a farewell/”despedida” party thrown by our hosts. There were tamales and a surprise tres leches cake in honor of Nick and Kathy Madsen’s 50th anniversary! There was a bonfire and s’mores and music and dancing under the stars.
It was so hard to say goodbye to our new friends in Nogales, but we are grateful for the opportunity to help “build a bridge” there.
Peace be with you,
Heather Williams