Victor and Teresa (not pictured here to protect their safety) are refugees in Juarez, Mexico, along with their three children, ages 7, 3, and 1. They came to the border with the clothes on their backs and $36 in their pockets. When they first arrived, they didn’t have a place to stay, so they lived in a tent. Wind, rain, and dropping temperatures led their youngest to begin to shake nonstop from the cold.
“An angel came,” Teresa said—someone who came upon their family in their tent. They offered them food and shelter out of the rain and cold.
Victor and Teresa moved their family to a nearby church-turned-shelter for refugee families. Here they could finally be warm—out of the wind and rain and cold. Their kids could run around the gated courtyard. Meals were served regularly. Their family could be safe.
Thousands of refugees have fled violence and poverty and are now stuck waiting at the border in Juarez, their resources exhausted. It is estimated more than 90% of these refugees will be denied asylum by US courts. They’re trapped between the violence they fled and a border that is closed to them.
Border towns are over capacity, and unrest has begun to grow. In Juarez, violence is at an all-time high. Homicides have skyrocketed.
Fear of violence forces people—adults and children alike—to stay inside shelters day and night, regardless of weather. Regardless of the conditions of the shelter.
During the long summer days, temperatures in Juarez reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Despite the heat, shelters were forced to shut off electricity regularly due to the cost of powering lights, fans, and appliances for hundreds of people.
So this summer, we piloted a project at one shelter to provide sustainable power and keep residents more comfortable. Since Juarez gets so much sun, we installed solar panels on the shelter roof. The shelter’s electric bill has been $0 in recent weeks. The panels also generate energy that can be fed back into the power grid, potentially earning a little extra revenue for the shelter. The money saved from the bill and earned back can be used toward rent and to feed and care for residents.
As families waited for months on end to cross the border, solar panels provided crucial energy to power air conditioning units and fans. And now, that energy is able to also power heaters during the cold months.
Juarez is not immune to cold weather. Daily temperatures sometimes dip below freezing and the very dry cold leaves skin and lips chapped, and the health of the most vulnerable—babies, the elderly, and those already sick—is put in jeopardy.
Solar panels are changing that.
The panels, all necessary supplies, and labor for the initial project were locally sourced—boosting the local economy and labor force. This shelter continues to reap the benefits of your precious gift. And we are ready to provide more solar panels to other shelters as well.
But we don’t want shelters to just be cool in the summer or warm in the winter. We want them to be comfortable, to be safe. Some shelters are literally falling in around the residents, with whole rooms unusable because of falling ceilings, leaky roofs, and crumbling walls.
We want to renovate shelters, allowing asylum seekers to earn a wage in helping fix the shelter, and buying resources locally to support the economy. We can buy bunk beds built right in Juarez, along with mattresses and blankets, so asylum seekers don’t have to sleep crowded to mats on the floor.
Shelter residents love to fix meals for each other, sharing recipes from back home and eating together. We can fix a kitchen, putting in new countertops and electrical wiring, creating a place for community and meals.
So much is unknown and uncertain about the time our friends are staying at the border. But you can provide something known, something constant. The certainty that they will be in a comfortable, safe space. The assurance that they are loved, no matter who they are or where they come from.
You are upholding the rights and dignity of our friends at the US-Mexico border. When the world sees politics, you see people.
In one of the most dangerous and desperate places in the world, your love is creating space for hope to grow.