by Benjamin deLeeuwerk
I recently interviewed Rachna B. She is a mother of two who resides in Colorado. She has been volunteering her time as an agent of kindness for several years for the benefit of humanity in need, with an international focus. Most recently, she has effectively managed fundraisers to help with post- detainment care and forward movement for immigrant mothers held in detention. Rachna’s interest in helping stems from herself being an immigrant several times over, and a deep belief that she carries the ability to make a difference, with the ignitor often being a story about the plight of another human’s life: a story of a Syrian boy being washed up on a beach, the tragedy of the Myanmar genocide, and an account of an 18 month old baby being ripped from her mother’s arms. A more recent story — one of her own — lights a spark for all of us who want to take steps toward making a difference.
Since April, with the onset of family separation, Rachna’s inner fire to make a difference in the world has been burning fervently. She was recently contacted about an opportunity to meet with two mothers who had just been bonded out from the Aurora, Colorado ICE holding facility, and were eager to reunite with their separated children. At the last minute, Rachna canceled her plans for the day in order to bring her daughters to meet with these mothers for lunch.
Rachna had the opportunity to show compassion and care for these two mothers and learned about some of their experiences in detention. She discovered that upon being separated, one of the mothers would ask the agents at the detention center each day, “Where is my son — is he okay?” They chose not to give her any information, and instead told her to fill out some forms. This was a regular response, and several weeks of this went by before she was able to learn the whereabouts of her son.
Rachna describes this woman as small in stature, but ever so large in faith and toughness. Even in the sadness of her experience and speaking about being separated from the child she birthed, she maintained a large, beaming smile. “So vulnerable, yet brave, in what they had to endure,” Rachna says. “When you see a fellow mom having gone through the unthinkable, all you can do is to hug and try to take that pain away.”
The other woman Rachna shared lunch with was a younger mother with a much younger child who had been taken away from her. She had no other family and, with the trauma of having her only offspring abducted from her, she was so heartbroken that she was unable to eat for the following nine days, causing significant weight loss and more health complications to develop. Throughout her time in detention, she was unable to keep any food down. Upon asking for medical assistance, her blood pressure would be checked and she would be told she was fine. She was not treated for her illness.
While enduring this, her child of tender age who had been taken from her was put into foster care. Her child suffered abuse and was beaten by another kid, and the foster mom placed under investigation for neglect.
Upon seeing and hugging Rachna and her daughters, this young crushed mother broke down into tears. Rachna so desperately wanted to take her pain away, but she realized that she couldn’t. The only thing that would relieve her pain was getting her child back.
I think the lovely thing about humanity is often in the small shareable moments. This young woman had had a birthday several days earlier so a cake with blue icing was brought to her. They sang happy birthday to her and all ate cake together. The blue icing had quite a lasting effect. It was making teeth, and lips, and tongues blue. Everyone had blue icing on their faces. Rachna says it is really hard to cry with blue icing all over your face. And it was in this brief moment that a different tone was set and everyone present was able to feel joy and laughter for a few positive moments.
Rachna further explained, “When I see these moms, I see myself in them. All they want is a better future for their children. To keep them safe. Because they are fleeing death threats, or have lost family members. I would do the same thing as a parent trying to seek safety for my children. And yet, they come to the U.S., the land of freedom and equal rights. And they are treated so poorly. Like they are less than human.”
Rachna shared with these two mothers that not all Americans are in accordance with the practice of confinement without ethical due process. That not all Americans think it is right or acceptable to treat immigrants with indignity and disregard. I think back to my own childhood. I think about my own mother. Considering any other possible situation I could have been born into, I cannot imagine how devastating a separation like this would be for me as a child and my development. I can’t imagine how detrimental of an effect it would have on my mother. I think this is a crucial opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves some serious questions.
Do we want to treat people as criminals without evidence of such? Is this how we want future generations to see American during this very important era? Can you ask yourself these questions with an open mind? If you find yourself in agreement that humans are worthy of respect and quality of care, what small thing can you do to ensure that kindness and compassion are common practice? Rachna found herself calling, emailing, and mailing letters to every elected official who could have any kind of impact. Rachna took action because she wants every individual to have a fair chance, regardless of circumstances.
It is easy to convince ourselves that our one voice couldn’t possibly make any worthwhile difference. However, it is also easy to see how one small step can lead to another, and how a conversation with a friend can lead to a conversation with a community. What if you started with just one call, or wrote one email, or one letter to just one elected official in your own district?