Voices from the Border is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization based in Patagonia, Arizona which formed following the Women’s March of January 2017.
Inspired by the values of justice, compassion, and human dignity, VFTB serves migrants, refugees, and those living in extreme poverty in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico through direct humanitarian aid.
We do this by financially and physically supporting the work of Nurse/Medical Assistant Francisco (Pancho) Olachea Martin as he drives his ambulance from the port of entry, the arrival point of migrants seeking asylum, to local hospitals and shelters, providing the only free medical care to migrants and asylum seekers in Nogales, Sonora. This support is provided by volunteers, and we have no administrative overhead. Our current monthly operational budget is $1200 US.
Because of COVID-19, at the end of February, all Voices volunteers made the decision to stop crossing, still with a hopeful ‘wait and see’ attitude. Around the first week of March, all programs that help migrants in Nogales, Sonora, as well as shelters, stopped accepting volunteers.
In late March, with the Coronavirus starting to spread, and the lack of proper PPE’s - Personal Protective Equipment - Pancho made the very difficult decision, encouraged and supported by his volunteers/friends - to stop attending to people on the streets. At that point he’d been attending to migrants with coughs and fevers, in close proximity to them, so he quarantined. And, like for the rest of us, weeks have turned into months.
On March 20, the Trump administration announced it would stop formally processing asylum claims and began summarily deporting all migrants crossing the border. So the asylum seekers who were still waiting in Nogales got stuck - in shelters and in rentals. The situation got worse, because many of those who were able to work, lost their jobs due to COVID.
By mid-April, Pancho developed a system to continue his and our support, virtually. Working from home and using WhatsApp and the OXXO stores to transfer money to migrants, he’s continued to be able to help all those he had been helping before, as well as new arrivals and deportees.
Our monthly budget of $1200 is being spent on financially supporting these families and deportees. Their needs include:
Some migrants - those from Mexico or who have Mexican work permits - are starting to be able to find work, as businesses and the Maquilas are opening again. Our transitionary housing gives them the time and space they need to get on their feet and become self-sustaining. It also allows them to be able to enroll their kids in school, which is virtual for now. Lessons are being broadcast on TV by the Mexican government and then supported by the local teachers virtually.
Voices is also financially supporting some migrants and their extended families whom we met in Nogales and who are currently living in the U.S. awaiting their asylum hearings, which have also been delayed. Your contributions support them with monies for food, rent, and other necessities.
Another part of our mission is to educate not just those in our local southern Arizona communities, but to also disseminate accurate information about the true experiences of life on the border to our national community.
We support and promote speakers, authors, art, and theater, as a means to educate and create a more holistic understanding of life at the US/Mexico border.