Sonia Nazario admirably tells her story without offering many moral judgments, and yet she does seems to be particularly impressed by The Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepard, which she visited for two weeks during her research. A noble institution devoted to migrants who have been severely injured by the train, the Shelter is worth understanding on its own terms, since it stands as a symbol of both the mercy and the danger that migrants face during their incredible journey north.
Located in Tapachula, Mexico, the shelter was founded by Olga Sánchez Martínez over twenty years ago. Most migrants who arrive at the shelter have lost limbs to the train. Nazario’s Red Cross sources estimate that every two days, a migrant loses a limb to the train. This does not include the migrants who are killed while traveling.
Migrants fall from the train for several reasons - some fall asleep and tumble off the sides, while others are thrown by gangsters, or bandits. Some fall while trying to board, and are usually dragged under the wheels. Sometimes, the train makes a sharp turn that cause migrants to fall off. Low branches can also strike migrants.
Many of these injuries are treated by Mexican hospitals, but due to limited space and funding, patients are released before their treatment is complete. This is why institutions like The Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd are so important; they offer a temporary home for those tragically mauled by the trains. The shelter provides a place to stay and heal, and to find the strength to keep living. Because she faces so much skepticism over her noble purpose, Olga frequently tells her own story of how God saved her life and emboldened her to help others.
When Olga was diagnosed with cancer in 1990, she begged God to help her, promising she would devote her life to others if He did. Her cancer proved benign, and soon afterwards, she welcomed a young, legless Salvadoran boy into her home. She taught herself to wash and dress wounds, and eventually began to care for several other migrants whom the hospitals had rejected. Eventually, Olga, her husband, and volunteers were able to open the shelter. Over time, it has aided over 1,500 migrants.
To keep the migrants motivated, Olga and staff offer professional training sessions in English, computer skills, sewing, and other craft workshops. Most of the migrants were traveling to the U.S. to find work. Now they feel lost and ashamed, and do not want to return to their home countries despite injuries that will prohibit reaching the U.S. Olga and staff encourage patients to accept the conditions of their new life, and to find ways to go on. She sees her purpose as not just physical, but spiritual.
One of her main physical goals is locating prosthetic limbs. Since the shelter is run almost entirely through donations, it is difficult to pay for prosthetics, which can cost up to $2,000. Olga's tirelessness does yield dividends, however, and she has helped many limbless migrants.
To raise money for prosthetics, medicine, and institutional support, Olga and volunteers sell used clothing and baked goods. Although the shelter receives more migrants each year, its finances are not secure. The shelter relies heavily on donations. The cost of food, electricity, water, daily medical care, and upkeep is growing. As long as migrants ride the trains north, there will be injuries and a need for medical care.
To donate, visit The Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd’s website at: http://www.alberguebuenpastor.org.mx/index.php/en/donations .