“More Than Words”: an update from the border

This August, CWS Durham case manager Krista Camp was deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border for ten weeks to support a shelter for asylum-seekers leaving detention. You can read her first update here. Read on for a story of friendship that crosses borders:

As adults, we often get caught up in the differences between other people and ourselves. Whether you call it innocence or a fundamental need to belong, children tend to focus on the similarities in an attempt to find common ground with other children.

Over the past couple of days, I had the pleasure of watching a beautiful friendship blossom between two young boys, A and J. A is a 12 year-old-boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who was afraid to accompany his mother to the shelter when she first started working here because he couldn’t communicate with the guests. J is a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala seeking asylum here in the U.S. alongside his mother and older brother. A only speaks English and J only Spanish, but this language barrier meant nothing to them because they both spoke the language of pillow fights. And these were no ordinary pillow fights: fortresses were constructed out of air mattresses and multiple pillows were used to inflict the most destruction. It’s amazing how the creativity of children shines through when they cannot rely on words to communicate. Laughter filled the shelter with a sense of ease that, conceivably, the majority of these families had not felt since embarking on their journey to the U.S. The simple act of a pillow fight allowed J to forget for just a few hours, all the uncertainty of his future and just be a 14-year-old boy.

A and J pose for a picture together at the shelter. Photo edited for confidentiality.

When J’s family first arrived to us from immigration, we had difficulty contacting their family here in the United States, resulting in the family staying with us for 3 nights instead of the more common, single day/night. While it was anxiety inducing for the mother when we couldn’t get in touch with her family on the first day, it gave the two boys the time to build up the courage to approach one another. I truly believe that these boys were meant to be friends and the community this shelter creates allowed their friendship to happen. On the day of their departure, all traces of the anxiety that plagued the mother on her first day were gone, and only tears remained. This goodbye was harder than anyone imagined it would be. Often families are ready to go and be reunited with their families as they await their immigration court dates. This family was no different in that regard, but their hearts were heavy, as they had to leave the shelter, the only place that had welcomed them since their arrival in the U.S. The emotions uncovered during those goodbye hugs were more than any words could convey and it’s hard to put into words what I felt in that moment. While some friendships are only meant to exist for a moment in time, this was not one of them. This friendship was too important. These boys have created a lasting bond that will continue through the letters they will send each other as pen pals. One will write in English and the other in Spanish, and each letter will diminish that language barrier until it no longer exists.

People often say actions speak louder than words, so it shouldn’t matter if we cannot communicate through a common language; acts of kindness go a long way. Especially for someone who is new to this country and just trying to find his or her way. If a 12 and 14 year old with seemingly nothing in common but their youth can find a way to communicate and foster a relationship, shouldn’t we be able to do the same as adults?

Stay tuned for more updates from Krista in the coming weeks. If you would like to support the work of CWS Durham, explore our website to learn how you can get involved or donate today at https://cwsrdu.org/give/.