A small child cuddles a stuffed shark at a respite shelter in New Mexico.
The reality of the situation at the southern border is hard to accept, heartbreaking and sometimes feels too complicated to understand, let alone work in. Despite all that’s happening, the opportunity to deploy from our nation’s capital as an emergency responder to Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces in New Mexico was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Every day served as a reminder that the work our 100-year-old nonprofit leads makes an incredible difference each and every day and changes lives as a result.
I spent 19 days in New Mexico and one of the tasks my team and I were responsible for was sorting and inventorying boxes of gift-in-kind, generously donated to kids and families affected by the border crisis from partners. Imagine our surprise when we unboxed large 2.5 foot stuffed sharks in a landlocked state – we didn’t know how the children would respond.
Pushing our initial thoughts aside, we happily unloaded, counted, and helped hospitality shelters distribute the massive sharks – standing taller than most 3 and 4 year olds that we were serving with our child-centric programs.
Yet, we didn’t fully grasp the power a simple stuffed shark contained. As I write this, tears start drifting to my eyes as I remember first seeing the sharks’ debut into the hospitality shelters.
The kids’ eyes grew two sizes larger seeing these sharks. They became the local celebrities of the shelters. The kids carried the sharks by the flipper behind them and chased their new friends around the shelter with them. The oversized cots all of sudden looked cozy as the kids held the sharks next to them as they slept and made sure to tuck their shark in for bed. The sharks ended up making the best pillows – a new friend and comfort for each and every child.
Most of the families Save the Children served in New Mexico are seeking asylum in the U.S. They would stop at the humanitarian hospitality shelters on their way to their sponsor’s home, which could be located anywhere inside the United States. Every day, we’d watch families come and go, hopping on buses, waving goodbye as they were off to their new destinations – via bus or plane, another step in an incredibly long and difficult journey.
Fast forward to my way to the airport to head back to D.C. I realized I hadn’t yet stopped to fully comprehend the impact of our work It wasn’t until I was standing in the security line that it finally came to me. I looked around at those going through the line with me and out of the blue, I saw one stuffed shark bob its head through the line. And then another. And then another.
I picked up my bag after it made its way through the x-ray machine and saw yet another stuffed shark, held by the fin, as it was dragged to an airport gate – on its way to its new sponsor home with a child. I saw a family of four, now six with two big fuzzy gray and white sharks!
Right then, right there, it hit me. The work we do is so important. The spreadsheets, the donor relations, the articles, the meetings, and even the most miscellaneous of tasks lead to that moment there in the airport. Thank you for bringing comfort and joy kids affected by the border crisis in the form of…sharks!
Editor’s Note: This blog is the third blog of a 4-part series around Save the Children’s work at the border. See below to learn and read more about Save the Children’s work at the border.