Charmaine Andrews of the St Joseph Parish Ministry to Migrants and Refugees reports on their work.
The St Joseph Parish Ministry to Migrants and Refugees (PMMR) was formally launched on Sunday, September 9, 2018 with a liturgical ceremony conducted by parish priest Fr Matthew d’Hereaux, in the parish church. Many migrants attended. Among those present was Leela Ramdeen, chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, and the Archdiocesan Ministry to Migrants and Refugees.
The core group consists of nine female parishioners at the moment. Our vision is a world where all our brothers and sisters will be able to live in equality and peace, and where no-one will be hungry or go naked, or lack provision for the journey.
Our Mission is to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees.
Shortly after we formed the group, we created two databases. The first consisted of names of parishioners and the various ways in which they could support our group by assisting migrants. The second was a listing of migrants’ names, telephone numbers, and needs. The information has enabled us to respond to the migrants’ needs in relevant and critical ways.
Our first attempt to fill this need saw us contacting individual parishioners who had indicated on the data collection form that they would donate groceries. The drive took place over three days and as a result we filled over 30 hampers.
There was a second mini-drive which we conducted in order to fill the specific requests of some migrants. This time we called fewer parishioners.
Our third request for groceries was made at weekend Masses. This time we filled fewer hampers than after our first request, but were grateful to the people of St Joseph.
Our last drive for groceries was during Holy Week 2019. Our parish priest, from the pulpit, asked everyone to donate groceries at the Holy Thursday Mass. Our parish hall was awash with groceries the day after!
We were also able to send hampers to migrants in other parishes. Members continue to supply groceries to individuals and families from their own pockets. We will have another drive soon, once we can construct storage cabinets in the parish hall.
Assisting pregnant migrants
Early this year we met many vulnerable pregnant women through distributing Pennywise vouchers funded by UNHCR. We met women in various stages of pregnancy with many needs. We contacted other groups which responded with donations of baby supplies and clothing. Among the donors were parents and students of Newtown Girls’ RC. Many parishioners throughout Trinidad heard our cry for help as well and we are very grateful.
We’ve also donated cribs, strollers, car seats and a changing table.
We have accompanied pregnant mothers to hospital and mothers with sick babies to hospital, and back home afterwards.
We’ve arranged for about seven babies born in Trinidad of migrant mothers to be baptised on September 21.
We have succeeded in engaging Trinis and migrants in a symbiotic relationship: Trinis want persons to maintain their homes and surroundings and the migrants want to work and obtain payment. It is as if we’re running an employment agency!
Part of our role has been to plead successfully with landlords to shave off hundreds of dollars from rent so that the migrants can afford their rooms or apartments. In this regard, we have seen the best of Trinidadians whose hearts have been moved by the migrants’ plight.
St Joseph parishioners have also supported our ministry by donating a brand new stove with a gas tank, and a bed and mattress to a single migrant mother. When she saw the stove, she was so happy that she immediately photographed it so that she could send the photo to her family back home.
We have also collected and donated clothing to families. During the registration exercise for Venezuelans in June, our PMMR, led by Fr Matthew, went to the Oval and distributed water, juice, sandwiches, and snacks.
English-Spanish Language Classes
Two of our group members spearheaded and coordinated this project; parishioners volunteered to teach. The first class was held on March 3 at 3 p.m. in the parish hall; 40 migrants attended and expressed their gratitude.
After about four weeks attendance declined significantly. The coordinators learnt that since rents had increased many of the migrants had to work on Sundays and so had to stop attending classes which ended before the eighth week. The coordinators plan to resume classes soon.
Working with migrants is all-consuming. It is difficult for our members to close their hearts to their daily needs. We’ve encountered women who are victims of rape and domestic violence; teenaged mothers; at least one young man who has skin cancer, but continues to work outdoors. There’s another man who was badly beaten on account of his sexual orientation, but still rescued two other migrant men from the streets.
This ministry is a blessing. I can attest that God has opened doors for these migrants. I have seen Him work miracles in their lives. How else can one explain how a woman with a young baby whose husband often brutally beat her, and even threatened to kill her, was able to find a job, move into an apartment close to where she works and get a babysitter within walking distance of her new home?
I also cannot fathom the generosity of some landlords and employers. I cannot explain how my own heart has grown and expanded to love all these vulnerable brothers and sisters from foreign lands.
We are grateful for all the help that we have received. Most of all we thank God.