Editor’s Note: Judith Sudilovsky is participating in an Egan Fellowship awarded by Catholic Relief Services.
By Judith Sudilovsky
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — I scroll down my Facebook feed trying to decompress after an intense first day in Honduras.
Some of the interviews we have had today as CRS Eileen Egan Fellows have been emotionally draining for me.
This morning Catholic journalist Janeth Lagos of Fides described a visit to the Guatemalan-Honduran border 2 years ago to meet a busload of returning migrants sent back by the Mexican government, never having made it across the border to the U.S. She made it a point to explain that she does not use the word “deported” in order to protect the dignity and self-esteem of those migrants who are sent back to their country of origin. Among those on the bus who made the 20-hour-ride from the U.S.-Mexican border, across Guatemala to the Honduran border was a little boy — she put his age at 3 years old — curled up alone on one of the seats sleeping from exhaustion. He was dressed in a little white T-shirt. Next to him, she said, was the bag with a water bottle and sandwich distributed to the migrants for the ride.
No adult took responsibility for the child. There was no way of knowing who he was, if his mother or father died along the way as they sought a better life, or if he was sent by grandparents or other relatives with a “coyote” smuggler to join his parents in the U.S. But what was clear was that someone along the Mexican border dealing with migrants thought it was OK to put this boy on the bus alone.
The image of that boy curled up, abandoned, in his seat haunts me as, later in the day, we went into one of the sprawling “colonias” that have invaded the city, spreading up the sides of the mountains surrounding the capital city of Tegucigalpa, to interview participants in one of the CRS-sponsored programs.
Details about the program, about the location and about the people will for now not be shared because CRS wants to protect the people interviewed. There will be no pictures of people, either, for the same reason. And there are no pictures of the shantytown because it was too dangerous to take the camera out, even from the car window — which we had to keep rolled down to make sure we were not suspected of being police and to also assure that there was no case of mistaken identity by any possible gunman on motorcycles.
Last month here one young woman and her family found themselves diving for the floor of their house as a neighbor was gunned down in a gangland murder. It was the fourth such murder in her neighborhood that month.
A young woman has not seen her father since he left for the United States when she was 1. Every month he sends back money allowing her to study. She has given up on believing his promise that he will come back to see her.
Another young mother, now also a widow, tries to comes to terms with the separate grizzly murders of her brother-in-law and husband. Sometimes gangs — known as “maras” here — carry out reprisal attacks of unspeakable torture ending in murder because of something a family member did or did not do, or there have been cases of people being killed in a case of mistaken identity.
Last month another 19-year-old student, from the established, normative part of town who had gone out on his first job, disappeared and was found the next day with his hands and feet cut off. The case has already been closed by police for lack of evidence, and the family has been left helpless and stunned at the murder of the young man.
As I scroll through Facebook, one of the first images I see is the bloody face of a young Syrian girl who was taken to a hospital following a bombardment in Aleppo. Another post is a rerun of a 1952 episode of the reality show “It’s Your Life.” It is about the life of a Holocaust survivor who came to the U.S. as a refugee after the war and later married, uniting her with her brother she had not seen since before they were sent to Auschwitz.
So for me at the moment there is no escape from the images of human suffering and destruction caused by poverty, crime and war which exist today just as they existed in the past. But today more than ever, it is too hard to say “We didn’t know.”