But when the COVID-19 pandemic placed the world on lockdown in the early months of 2020, it quickly became apparent that the summer’s domestic and international trips would not proceed as usual. Caroline Browne '21, who was signed up for the 2020 Kino Border Initiative (KBI) experience, didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to learn about the complex issues of immigration that happen at the U.S.-Mexico border. And so, instead of packing for a trip that would take her to Nogales, Arizona, and across the border into Mexico, she instead proposed a virtual service experience.
“The youth population are the future of our world and will soon be at the forefront of this humanitarian issue,” says Browne. “While unfortunate circumstances prevented us from getting to experience this trip in person, the virtual experience still allowed us to make connections between people.”
Supporting students in their desire to make the best of an unprecedented situation, Campus Minister Mr. Lyle Baier took the virtual idea to Kino, which fully embraced the creative plan. Before the virtual experience began at the end of May, participating students prepared for their unconventional trip by researching and presenting topics for education and enrichment. Topics included how to become a U.S. citizen; family separation—Obama vs. Trump; public charge; DACA and the Supreme Court; and migrants and immigrants.
“It was important to connect virtually because we were still able to help by donating and by learning more about immigration policies and legislation,” notes Stephanie Ovalle ’21, who participated in the virtual experience. “It is especially important that Loyola continues to offer experiences like this because it has enlightened me and the others who have gone on this trip to continue the fight for immigration and also to educate others.”
On Monday, May 25, students gathered via Zoom for an orientation delivered by Fr. Pete Neeley, SJ, who assists the director of education and advocacy in coordinating the educational programs offered by the KBI. Fr. Pete is responsible for the development and delivery of curricula that are attentive to both the Catholic social tradition and the contemporary realities of border and migration policies.
The next day, students virtually toured the comedor, a soup kitchen in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, with Education Coordinator Tracey Horan. Later, they partook in a virtual desert walk experience with KBI’s Director of Communications Katie Sharar, who coordinates the organization's social media accounts and manages the content of the monthly newsletter. Even through a screen, the desert walk proved to be an impactful experience, highlighting items left behind by individuals making the treacherous journey to enter the United States: baby bottles, children’s shoes and a Bible were just a few examples among the countless personal artifacts.
On Wednesday, May 27, Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams led students through another virtual encounter at comedor and Fr. Pete led a conversation on diverse perspectives.
The following day, students again met with Sharar, who led a reflection on operation streamline, and Williams, who delivered a presentation on immigration context.
The weeklong experience ended on Friday, May 29, with a discussion with a migrant living in the United States and a forward-looking plan for students to plot out the next steps as they continue their education and support for the border communities. Ideas include organizing a school-wide immigrant awareness and education day, an art gallery focusing on immigration, exploring additional volunteer opportunities and letter writing to congressional representatives.
“All of our Ramblers were committed to fully participating in this experience,” says Campus Ministry Administrative Assistant Jean Buckley, who is a veteran summer service chaperone. “Each of them brought special gifts, their deep insights into the immigration challenges and their personal investment to be the change.”
Although Buckley has been a part of many trips over the years, none was quite like the 2020 virtual Kino Border Initiative experience. “I was completely impressed with this program—I hope to be able to attend in Summer 2021.”
While the virtual format was not without its challenges, Edwin Navarrete ’21 shares a number of positive outcomes. “An unexpected benefit was the amount of time we had to reflect on what we heard and saw. Another benefit was quickly sharing with my family.”
For Caroline Browne, who led the effort to continue the trip virtually, the best part of the experience was speaking to the migrants and hearing their stories. “It really humanized these people,” she says. “They are not statistics, numbers, or measures; they are people with stories.”
Loyola students who participated in this unique experience included rising seniors Caroline Browne, Nicole Cleland, Ashley Perez, Betsy Regan, Step Flanagan, Jamila Jusino, Edwin Navarrete, Sarah Nelson, Stephanie Ovalle and Patrick Reilly. The experience was chaperoned by Mrs. Jean Buckley and Mr. Lyle Baier of Campus Ministry. The Kino Border Initiative (KBI) is a binational organization that works in the area of migration and is located in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Its vision is to help make humane, just, workable migration between the U.S. and Mexico a reality. It promotes US-Mexico border and immigration policies that affirm the dignity of the human person and a spirit of binational solidarity. Learn more at https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org.