April 9, 2009 Volume CXXV Issue 9

Students, staff leave water, hearts in desert

Staff Writer
A group of migrants rests at a No More Deaths campsite.

A group of migrants rests at a No More Deaths campsite.

“If you have to leave your land, and you meet your match on the burning sand, and someone lends a helping hand, who’s the criminal here?” These haunting words to one humanitarian rights activist’s song describe the plight of the many who enter the U.S. illegally in search of a job.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on a typical day in 2008, almost 3,000 people illegally present in America were apprehended, and those are just the people who were caught (cbp.gov). Sadly, there is another much more disturbing statistic. Economic problems in many Central and South American countries drive people to the hope of a job in America, dividing families across borders and costing many people their lives, as current border policy and the recently constructed walls in border towns force many into the unforgiving desert in an attempt to cross it. Since 1998, it is estimated that over 2,000 men, women and children have died crossing the desert in search of support for their families, but the number is likely much higher, maybe as high as 10 times that (nomoredeaths.org).

In 2008, the remains of 183 people were recovered from the desert, most of them unknowns with no name or age or place of origin to attach to them, with no family to contact. With this tragedy in mind, a group of eight of us from GC traveled to Arizona this Spring Break to work with a humanitarian aid organization called No More Deaths. Organized in 2004, No More Deaths has mapped hundreds of miles of frequently traveled migrant trails through the Sonoran desert just outside of Arivaca, Ariz. about 14 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border. Along these trails, volunteers like us drop food and water for traveling migrants, and provide firstaid and assistance to migrants they encounter, often people who are in trouble in the up to 105° June, July and August temperatures.

“We went to help the least of these,” says Daniel Henson, sophomore. “I think we all just had a burden on our hearts to do something about this problem. It’s a problem most people may not even know exists.” Campus Minister Bryan Langlands organized the trip and credits his interest in No More Deaths to a friend’s positive experiences and feedback about working with the organization. “I trusted that there would be some students who would be interested in going to the desert, learning about the stories of migrants and giving the thirsty out there something to drink as Jesus taught us to do,” Langlands says. There were. Six of us.

After a day-and-a-half of training about the law and No More Deaths protocol at Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church, we traveled out the nearly impassable ranch roads to a camp which one might describe generously as…rustic. We hiked on trails (and occasionally hiked off of trails) and carried with us first aid kits, food and gallons of water labeled with a GPS way point and a date-even messages of luck and safety-to place at drop spots where many people travel. One day, one of our groups came across six men. Henson was among those in the area with the men. “We got lost,” he said, “but they got found.” The men were lost, left behind by their group with little food, and had been drinking dirty water from the cattle ponds, a choice which might have cost them their lives. Our volunteers gave them food and clean water, and they came and spent the night in the first aid tent at our camp. They were hungry. They were dehydrated and tired. Their feet were blistered. They had been considering giving themselves up to la migra (the border patrol), fearing death more than deportation. But their humble dignity was evident even in the face of a 16-year-old migrant who joined us at the campfire that night. He spoke no English, but one of the volunteers sat next to him and chatted with him some in Spanish. When I caught his eye he looked down. I do not know what happened to those men when they left the relative safety of our camp the next evening, but I know that we probably saved their lives. At the very least we probably saved them from being streamlined and deported back to Mexico.

Volunteers left gallons of water atdrop spots where many people travel.

Volunteers left gallons of water atdrop spots where many people travel.

Camping in tents on the rocky Sonoran ground with no showers, no facilities, and no meat for five days was uncomfortable. The knowledge of that 16-year-old boy and all of the adults and children like him who walk through the desert every day is more uncomfortable.”There is great need,” sophomore Stephen Parker says. “A broken system is forcing people to risk their lives on the chance of an opportunity to support their families. “The work No More Deaths does, what we did, is saving lives every day, but it is not solving the problem. It is like putting a band-aid on a big, gaping wound.” However, the work that we did there was not just saving the lives of some migrants; it was transforming us as well. Dr. Homer White, math professor, traveled with us to Arizona. He sees the value of the work we did not only in terms of its life-saving impact on some migrants, but also in terms of altering our personal conception of the people we were trying to help. “The basic intent of No More Deaths is really very simple: to welcome the stranger among us,” he says. “In the case of immigrants from Latin America, No More Deaths helps us get beyond the usual stereotypes and to begin to see immigrants as real human persons, with all their complexity and inherent dignity.

Latin American migrants are settling in Kentucky and making a life here, so the border is, in a sense, right here at home, not just in Arizona.” I, for one, simply cannot imagine the circumstances which would force a person to decide that they have no better choice than to walk across a desert and break the law. But should that law be broken? Sophomore Coran Stewart was inspired to travel to Arizona for a very simple reason. “The current border policy is wrong,” he says. “Policy purposefully pushes migrants into a life-threatening situation. They are expected to fend for themselves and make it through the desert, and people like No More Deaths volunteers are being arrested and prosecuted trying to help them. You can’t carry enough food and water to make it across the desert. People die. That is wrong.”

One thing I think we can all agree on is just that; people should not have to die in the desert. The eight of us were definitely struck with this conviction, and the experience of not only meeting some of these people but of being involved in something that could change the way things are for them was a powerful feeling for me. “I can’t not do anything,” Henson said. “If I do nothing, I am as guilty as the people and the system that cause these migrants’ deaths.” I do not see how I can do nothing either, knowing what I now know about what is happening even today at our border. The same activist’s song which challenges the law ends by challenging us. “I can shut my eyes and turn away, shut my mouth, nothing to say, if someone dies in my desert today, who’s the criminal here?”

Musical workshop definitely not Op-tional

Contributing Writer

Tonight concludes the two-night run of the Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop 2009. In all the Lyric Theatre Society will perform 10 scenes from such musicals as “The Producers” and “Guys and Dolls” and operas including “Wuthering Heights” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Many roles have been double-cast so that every student singer has a chance to star. But according to Music professor Heather Hunnicutt, there are two graduating seniors not to miss at 7 p.m. this evening in John L. Hill Chapel. “Ryland Pope and Jessie Rose Pennington have been exceptional leaders and talents here and they both have musical careers ahead of them,” said Hunnicutt, Coordinator of Vocal Studies and director of these Op Shop performances.

With only their senior recitals to come, this will be a public bidding adieu to the LTS’s president and vice president, respectively. Junior Cate Kilgore, who will take over as LTS president this fall, will miss their positive influence. “Two years ago, Jessie took me under her wing while we were in ‘Grease.’ She made me feel at home in a place so far from home,” said Cate, who will sing the part of Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” on Thursday (April 9), the same part Jessie has the previous night. “And, I will definitely have some big shoes to fill [when Ryland graduates].”

A Lexington native, Pennington has been taking voice lessons since age 12, dance lessons since age three, and acting lessons since age eight. She is excited about Op Shop because it has “stretched her voice to be more versatile.” She does not have much experience in opera, so it required a lot of concentration and work on her part. Pennington believes the audience will love the show because there are a “wide variety of scenes…comedic, dramatic and beautiful costumes.” She is specifically excited about the song “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” which she sang Wednesday night. After graduating in May, Pennington will play Laurey in “Oklahoma!” at the Woodford County Theatre and directly following that, she will be playing Jeanie in “Stephen Foster: The Musical” in Bardstown. Pennington is currently working on a country album, in which she has already cut the first single, “Best Arms.”

Pope is excited about the two evenings of Op Shop because it’s the only chance he will have to perform opera this semester. Gaining more experience on the stage is “so vital towards a career in performance,” said the Harlan native, who will also sing the part of King Arthur in a number from the musical “Camelot” on Thursday night (April 9). “Ryland’s enthusiasm is infectious ….he’s one of the nicest and most eager to learn students I’ve ever known,” said George McGee, who directed him in “She Loves Me.” But, Pope also loves opera — most likely his future — because it showed him “how crazy you have to be to do an opera!” and has been doing Op Shop performances for the past three years. Pope hopes to attend graduate school in the future. But, in the meantime he plans to sing and perform. Most importantly, he wants to keep learning about his art form. Hunnicutt said she believes that Pope has the marketable opera singer package to get to the next level — “a beautiful, well-produced voice, excellent acting abilities, and marketable look.”


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