What is in this picture besides a US Congressman, Mexican and US officials and a bunch of volunteers? Three weeks
Three weeks ago two women and their kids including one with special needs needed help to get to their relatives in New York. The simple act required navigation through complex CBP process and understanding the various organizations that function at the border to help migrants find their way to safety.
Three weeks later, two of the three people involved in fundraising and assistance are now part of a 160 plus volunteer force which includes data scientists, translators, lawyers advocacy and housing reps and all sorts of other volunteers who help to coordinate and manage the what was nearly a 3,000 person refugee camp in Tijuana.
In the three weeks the group of 10 or so volunteers from various groups managed to create a QR code online registration and tracking system, create massive supply network of food, clothes and coordinate efforts with several government agencies and non-profits on both sides of the border.
In three weeks refugees grow from 30 a day to 1000 per day. Our group grew from 3 to 160 and volunteer force went from a dozen or so people to hundreds. The camp grew from 30 people at a bus station to 1500 in gyms and churches across Tijuana. What was done to deal with this? Dozens of churches galvanized from across the US to bring supplies. Hundreds of volunteers bring supplies. Dozens of WhatsApp and Telegram channels to coordinate. Online system to keep track of people who arrive. The camp includes clothes, kids play areas, lawyers who give advice, nightly sermons and even karaoke and concerts. There’s even Elon Musk’s Starlink for all web cruising needs!
You can get a coffee, hot borsh and delicious pilaf at night and tacos during the day. There is an entire pharmacy and medical unit and own security that works side by side with Mexican police, with background verification for volunteers.
At beginning of the week we were asking for UN and Red Cross to come and help. They said they couldn’t. Organizations with budgets in millions of dollars and decades of experience did not want to manage what a bunch of amateurs who took time off work were able to manage.
Why? Maybe it is because of some strange bureaucratic loop holes. Or perhaps because the entire idea of how a refugee camp should look. Because we didn’t wait for someone to give us systems, we created them. All the tools are there. What is needed to make it happen?
Some say what is there it’s because Ukrainians are white. But in fact, the Mexican government themselves said that they offered this group far less assistance than in any other migrant crisis. The tools we used are available to anyone: galvanizing of the diaspora to come to the aid of refugees, use of latest but ubiquitous technology to synchronize communication, use of google documents, Zoom, Telegram, and all other tools to coordinate supplies and people, and of course the use of the most basic of all tools: democracy. Simply calling and emailing elected leaders with the ask for help.
All these tools are available to anyone, anyone who chooses to act and help. We are happy to help any other group who would choose to help their people in this way.
We are not perfect. We have blundered and it wasn’t always honky dory in the camp or between volunteers. We have no intention of running this camp because we are tired and stressed. We really shouldn’t be there. But here we are, Ukrainians, Russians, Belorussians, Christians, Jews, and Atheists, supporting our people who ran from the war they didn’t start, who lost everything through no fault of their own.
In some ways, it would be nice to have government or professional NGO help, we would love to have their help and step away and we will certainly welcome it when it arrives as our resources and time and efforts are not endless. There are many things lacking every day and there are many emergencies and disasters every day as we have no idea what we are doing. But I think we would also lament the day that help comes.
We would lament it because it also feels gratifying that here we are, thousands of miles from the conflict, welcoming people from the conflict and showing Putin, Russia and the world the power ignoring fear at taking on a challenge, because we have faith in love, human cooperation and collaboration. With those ingredients, no problem is too difficult, no challenge is insurmountable.