Thousands of undocumented minors and young families have relocated into the Oakland area during the past year or so after fleeing from Central America. In order to be released from detention, they needed to have attorneys and housing with relatives or friends. They need much support and services, although they are not currently eligible for refugee services.
Inspired by Reverend Deborah Lee’s talk on immigration issues and the new sanctuary movement at the Passover Seder, Kehilla member Lili Shidlovski and I organized a team of seven people to welcome and accompany these youth and families. Kehilla is one of nine East Bay congregations that have formed accompaniment teams. The organization Nueva Esperanza, part of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, has provided several trainings on cultural issues and needs of these families and youth, including issues related to the trauma the newcomers have suffered. They have also matched teenagers and needy young families with teams and are providing some support in terms oft available resources.
Our team, which is now called “Paz”(peace), has been matched with two teenagers from Guatamala. Both are Mam people. The Mam are indigenous people descended from the Mayans who primarily have lived in the mountains in Guatemala, as well as some in Mexico. The history of oppression of the Mam people goes back to pre-Mayan times when they were first enslaved. The oppression continues today as the Mam are being violently thrown off their land, which is being taken over by agribusiness.
The Mam youth assigned to our team both speak the Mam language primarily and some Spanish as their second language. They are beginning to learn some English. Our team has been able to provide some support to assist with school and health care enrollment, as well as giving them paid work in our yards. They are very economically stressed and need more work opportunities for themselves, and for other family members. Please contact me if you have work opportunities for these teenagers or their families. Most would need assistance with transportation to your home initially, as they are brand-new to making use of public transportation, and have difficulty leaving their homes because of trauma history and being recently dropped into such a completely different world. Garden work, painting, manual labor and house cleaning jobs are all eagerly sought.
Last week, several of us took the two youth on their first walk in the redwoods. It was delightful to see them enjoying a few hours of peace, excitedly spotting birds,and holding hands and singing as they walked.
After the teams, which are initially acting as a pilot project, have become more established, Nueva Esperanza will be seeking to establish more accompaniment teams. If you are interested in forming a second Kehilla accompaniment team, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.