Sister Maureen slams on the breaks of her beat-up, red pickup truck in front of a small, ramshackle home in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. She asks the young girl outside if her brother is home, and the girl goes inside to get him. A moppy-headed teenage boy emerges and tentatively approaches the car. He is one of the many children in the impoverished border town who is “sponsored” by a community member in Maureen’s home of Progreso, Texas, just across the Rio Grande.
“Where are your thank-you letters?” Maureen asks in her soft but distinctively Bostonian voice.
“Se me olvidé.” I forgot, said the young boy.
Maureen told him that she would return in a few days, and that he should have three letters written by then, one for each sponsor. “I’m gonna haunt you if you don’t,” she says only half-kiddingly as we pull away.
Sister Maureen visits Nuevo Progreso about four times a week. Accompanied by her friends Vicki and Ken, they roll through the community, stopping at different homes where they keep company with families, provide them with resources (food, clothes, medicine, etc.), and, of course, collect thank-you letters from the children. They have near-celebrity status, greeting and waving to almost everyone we pass as we bounce down the dusty gravel road that winds through the community.
Lately, Maureen has been experiencing problems with the Mexican aduana. Customs has been denying them entry when the back of the pickup is loaded with resources. On one occasion, they even threatened to confiscate Maureen’s truck. “That doesn’t stop us,” Maureen whispered defiantly. They came back the next day.
But the beginning of the school year was about two weeks out when we visited. School supplies would soon be in high demand.
Upon returning to Texas, we went straight to the store and loaded up two carts with pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, folders, backpacks, and other supplies that would equip the children of Nuevo Progreso with the tools they need to support their learning.
I’m sure that we’ll know the supplies have been delivered when we receive our thank-you letters in the mail.
Bill is a social studies teacher at Forest Lake Area High School, living in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. A native Minnesotan, Bill spent a year in Mexico, teaching English and becoming fluent in Spanish. The opportunity to make an impact on the issues happening on the southern border has been a time he’ll always cherish. When not in the classroom, petting his cats, or writing for his blog, you can find him in the wrestling ring as the Revolutionary Bill Williams.