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“I asked God for the strength to be able to continue”

Sunrise at the Suchiate River that runs between Guatemala and Mexico. Makeshift ferries like these ones transport people and goods back and forth across the river. Ferry operators are strongly discouraged from carrying migrants. This is a shallow point in the river where migrants often cross on foot. Photo: Alyssa Eisenstein/Oxfam

Six photos of perseverance. One journey for safety.

When 160 migrants and asylum-seekers laid down to rest one evening in early November, many did so on little more than an inflatable mattress. They were surrounded by their possessions in the Guatemalan town of Tecún Umán, a stone’s throw away from the border with Mexico.

For a moment, their journey north to the US escaping violence, hunger, and persecution had stopped. And thanks to the generosity of a local cooperative, they had a place to sleep for the night—the Casa de Migrante Cristianos Unidos shelter.

In honor of International Migrants Day we bring you a special collection of photos taken last month by Oxfam America staffer Alyssa Eisenstein. Through her lens, learn what brought these migrants to Tecún Umán that night, their hopes, and how you can make a huge difference in the lives of those on the move.

“I can't express the authenticity, the pure desire of the people I met to simply have a better life,” Alyssa wrote after her time there. “Good people with good hearts. Kind. Giving. Genuine.”

Alex left his home in El Salvador alone, escaping the gang violence all around him. His father was killed when he was six years old; one of his siblings lost his life a year ago. “Insecurity? All the time. They’ll assault you in any place: the buses, at the corner… everyone thinks you are a gang member just because you’re a young person. I saw how they would kill people. I don’t want that.”

“We just want people to know that all we want is a better future for our children,” this mother and father from Honduras told us. They are staying at the shelter where Oxfam has provided mattresses so people don’t have to sleep on the hard cement floor, water filters to improve access to clean drinking water, and kitchen equipment.

Days before this picture was taken, Salvadoran gang MS-13 showed up to Douglas’ house in El Salvador with a gun and grenade. "It was logical what would have happened to me if I would have stayed and not joined the gang. They always carry out their threats." He fled with his brother-in-law immediately. “I don’t want to be a gang member. Our lives were at risk.”

Alex spent 32 hours walking by himself to arrive in Tecún Umán. He is the oldest of six, with four sisters and one younger brother. In Honduras, he worked as a farmer and even worked an extra night job to try to make ends meet. His hope? A stable life in the US. “This journey of mine…” he began before trailing off. “I asked God for the strength to be able to continue on this journey alone. Now being with the group, there’s more security. I’m happier being with other people. And happy that I’m no longer alone.”

Volunteers like (from left) Benjamin Eliazar Cantoral, Consuelo Cristina Mendez Lara, and Edner Clinton Guzman at the shelter have helped house an average of 80 migrants and asylum-seekers every night. Cristina and Clinton first housed some of the migrants in their home before working through their Evangelical church to ask the local cooperative to donate the space. “The Bible says you should treat others as you wish to be treated. And that’s what we’re doing here. Trying to improve people’s lives is a just cause,” Clinton says.

Alejandro Orozco, Oxfam field coordinator, distributes an inflatable mattress to a man who arrived at the migrant shelter. Oxfam and our local partners have been providing hygiene kits; hot meals of eggs, plantains, refried beans, and tortillas; as well as food packages for children, including snacks and drinks fortified with electrolytes and vitamins. We have also distributed information and contacts to help migrants report violence and human trafficking.

People like you made that last photo possible. Make a donation today to help Oxfam save more lives in disasters, hold the powerful accountable, and help more people build better futures for themselves and their families.

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