Today was our first day working at La Posada in San Benito, TX. As it states on their website, La Posada “is an emergency shelter for men, women, and families who flee to the United States due to political oppression, natural disaster, and other life-threatening actions in their native countries”. This May term a group of 16 (15 women and 1 man) students had an opportunity to partner with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) to build a protective fence for La Posada. A huge part of this course is having flexibility and being open to changes in education and our daily schedule. One of those changes being waking up earlier than planned to beat the Texas heat. This morning we all woke up around 5:30, prepared our lunch, ate our breakfast, one of the students in our group presented a devotional, and then we began our day.
As we arrived at La Posada we awaited instructions to start our day. Believe it or not, most, or dare I say none of us had ever built a fence before. However, with some guidance from our lovely MDS volunteers (Larry and Roger) we began the feat of building a ≈ 2,200 foot fence surrounding the perimeter of La Posada to give the guests, staff, and volunteers more protection and security. In the first day we were able to insert the fence posts for 300 feet! Quite quickly we all fell into a grove and began to learn things we had never learned before and it was really cool that we were all able to learn together and get so much accomplished in just one day.
I had the opportunity to be a concrete mixer. I joke that my days working for the grounds department at Goshen College had prepared me for it, but I have honestly never mixed concrete. Starting out it was difficult but we all worked together really well and found what we were best at to help move the job along.
Since the bottleneck of the fencing project was putting in the poles, which required an exact science of lining up the pole with our guiding orange string lines (pictured), some of us had the opportunity to step away from fencing and help around the grounds at La Posada. So, after our first break six students went to work on the community garden in La Posada. La Posada offers an array of activities and talents/hobbies for volunteers and guests staying at La Posada to learn. Some of those being composting, gardening, fishing, cooking, English as a second language (ESL), and currency management. Aiding those who stay with them in any way they can, with preparation into entering an unknown area and making guests feel as confident as possible.
I continued working on the fence for the rest of the morning and by lunch time we were already half way done with the portion we had begun working on at the beginning of the morning! We were able to take lunch around 11 and as a major bonus, got to spend some time with the animals at La Posada: Ginger the cat and Brownie the dog.
Both animals that not only aided me in being a destresser from the morning but are also very helpful to the guests at La Posada. Animals are very helpful for individuals who have experienced traumatic and high stress situations. Animal interaction helps to cope and decompress, feeling a sense of comfort and bonding with the animals and allowing guests to begin to digest their emotions while being comforted by one of the great animals at La Posada.
After the lunch break I traded positions with one of the girls working in the garden. I transitioned to pulling weeds from one of the garden patches to prepare it to plant radishes that would be used by the guests and the cooks at La Posada. I also had the opportunity to meet George, the head of general maintenance at La Posada. George knew how to garden, do plumbing, framing, painting, and so much more. He was very talented and eager to strike up a conversation. He was always excited to share what he knew and was open to learning anything you had to share in return. George told us he never graduated high school but was able to learn from peers and trial and error and had now become a master in many trades.
Using some of your hobbies and teaching others, learning from others, and building relationships is a huge part of La Posada’s culture. Which are all things we are also experiencing through this course. There is so much I have already been exposed to and I’m excited to learn more from the Rio Grande Valley throughout the rest of the course.
-Hannah Guthrie, Goshen College Class of ’23 Sustainability Studies major