Roadrunner cares for Central American refugee children

News student activism

Across the globe, political turmoil ranging from Arab Spring- borne civil wars, to anti-colonial resistance, debt strikes, mass exoduses , emigration of asylum seekers, and beyond has generated a new crop of activists and a wave of global uprisings. From the vantage point of people living in San Antonio, it may appear that these energetic ruptures of people against hardship is strictly foreign fare and that the U.S., Texas and San Antonio have been skipped over by a very tumultuous world. As students at a university, the feeling of standing still and the stasis attitude is probably even more compounded by our hectic lives and many responsibilities; The next party hopefully after the next test, significant others, the tenth email to the email-deluged professor, and other endless significant and vapid stresses. The general rule in such a cluttered head is that politics is relegated to a casual, non-committal category of afterthoughts. As such, special mind should be paid to those who transcend inaction and manage to squeeze in any level of participation in defining local affairs and bettering the lives of others. Right now, student activists all over the world are changing the landscape of their societies: people such as Joshua Wong, the teenage leader of the Hong Kong based anti-colonial education reform movement known as “Scholarism” ; Tawakkol Karmen, a Yemini based democratic activist nicknamed “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” by fellow Yeminis for her leadership in the National Council, the coalition seeking the sovereignty and self -determination after the country’s government – the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh – was ousted in 2012; and Francisco Tapia, a Chilean based artist and student responsible for incinerating the paperwork tied to 500 million dollars of federally held student debt, are all mounting their own resistance. From this plethora of activity, it’s abundantly clear that youth activism is not in paralysis. UTSA is no exception. Meet senior anthropology major Vikoria Zerda, whose own magnanimity and compassion for strangers lead her to work last summer with hundreds of refugee children as droves of them arrived in San Antonio seeking political asylum, fleeing Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Guatemala, countries plagued with gang violence and deeply entrenched “official” corruption. Working with the non-profit Family Endeavors, contracted by the Emergency Services sect of the USGOV on Lackland Airforce Base, Zerda acted as a direct care provider for unaccompanied minors. Her job consisted of interacting first hand with the children brought to live at the facility. Some of them were motherless and sick, with nightmarish stories describing their journey. Many had personal strife to impart, several mentioning experiences of “La Bestia” Spanish for “the beast”, a network of infamous physically endangering freight trains traveling North from Central America to the U.S. Despite all this commonplace horror, Zerda ensured that the bare essentials for the children in an unfamiliar world were met as best as she could offering her graciousness and individual attention. Faced suddenly with a visceral definition of “need,” Zerda saw to it that the children, even if only temporarily in her custody, received teaching in English and were given her company as withdrawn despondency became a common risk among them. Zerda would wake up every morning at 4AM to get to Lackland often times before sunrise, with her work cut out for her when she arrived. “Many of the kids were very ill ; there was Tuberculosis, chicken pox, and some cases of H1N1” she shared. While describing the state of health in most of the children, she stresses that “There’s a lot of misconceptions about these minors as ‘disease carries,’” highlighting that “ the push back fails to take into account that these are kids, who by that virtue are already the most susceptible, to contracting diseases from their long journeys across several countries with changing environments and a sustained lack of medical attention, not something that’s intrinsic to their country or personhood.” Once the children were placed under her responsibility, she would coordinate medical care, psychological services -necessary to assuage PTSD symptoms- and made sure that they were clothed and fed. She took them to legal appointments while helping console their anguish in what was frequently a harsh judicial process of status determination. She also made them laugh and smile, distracting them from their trauma. Seeing depressed, taciturn, and suicidal kids at the detention centers is what Zerda says is the “reality of immigration,” a subject she’s been politicized by for “a long time.” Eventually she transitioned into an administrative position on the job where she raised issues addressing the intersection of medicine, culture, and legal status, something she says, “not a lot of the professionals understood,” even recommending bringing on board anthropologists to make care more comprehensive. From May to August of last year, UTSA Senior Viktoria Zerda was the invisible hero, waking up at 4AM to supply the “spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down” to countless emotionally exhausted children. Activism represents a range of behavior from radicalism to kindness in a world that is tumultuous belligerent, and rough. Students all over the planet, found in places such as Yemen, Chile, Hong Kong, and even Texas, including those of UTSA, are responding to the political callousness experienced in their communities by rebelling, organizing, and strategizing, but not without helping, listening, and caring. Are we taking notes?