Francisco Olachea “Pancho” Martin is a street nurse in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and works with Voices from the Border to support migrants waiting for their asylum hearings.
“We try to change the moment, we’re not trying to change their life just the moment. And we hope that moment lasts a lifetime, where they can be a better person and they don’t lose the hope. When other ones come from behind and they have escalated in a better position, they must remember how they were helped to help others. So that’s a part of our goal.
This is Nogales Sonora, so we are focusing to the very extreme poverty. When you help the extreme poor, you’re helping people not to migrate. We don’t want them to be crossing the wall.
We have a lot of migrants that are very traumatized. The families have been through violence. They get raped. They all have one thing in common. They left everything they own, just trying to make it through this wall. No matter how you look at it. Some are educated, some are not. But they gave everything up, just trying to make it over this wall.
So, one of our goals is that they have human dignity. Not to let them lose their hope.”
“I went back to school when I was 48. I graduated as a nurse when I was 54.
I joined the Red Cross for over a year, and there is a title that they give you like a paramedics helper.
And when I started with the migrants, there was so much discrimination. Even the authorities here, they used to tell me, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” And I go, “Well, why aren’t you doing it? You don’t want me to do it, but you don’t want to do it either.”
What’s the point? You just don’t like these people, that’s fine. You don’t like them. I don’t mind. So, I said, okay, I’ll [become a nurse] as fast as I can. No matter how long it takes. It took four years to graduate.
Every time I heard somebody say something negative, I said, “Look, I got my horse [blinders] on. I can only see forward.””
“I don’t expect to see what it’s going to show on the future. For example, we have kids now, the Voices and I have helped, they’ve gone through school the whole year. Are they going to be lawyers? We don’t know. But we know one thing, we changed their moment and they were able to go to school all year long. So, that moment, it will last a lifetime. It’s one more step to survival. And that’s what we are about. We don’t wait. We’re just changing your moment. Our goal is that they’re capable to be a good citizen.
But I don’t need to see it. I’m just passing through. I don’t need to see it as long as they look behind and they help others if they make it. I mean, I made it and I had all the odds against me. I slept in the graveyard. I lived in the Red Cross for the whole year. I used to leave just a couple hours and come back, when the other [shift] would come in, so nobody would know that I was there. I was actually living there. So I suffered a lot, but I knew that a little bit of help can change your moment.”
“No matter how big the trouble is, just try to find a solution to a problem and you’ll have peace.
You grieve the problem, you yell at the problem, then you accept you have a problem. Then you find the solution to the problem, and you work on it until you solve it.
They do that when people die, you know? So you follow those steps, no matter what problem it is. You grieve it, you accept it, you analyze it, and then you solve it, no matter. You learn to relax, and apply it accordingly. And that’s the best peace.”
“Some of them [migrants] can be in very deep trouble trying to cross. Cartels control the Mexican border. If you go 10 miles from here, just to stand by the wall will cost you. Whether you cross or you don’t. They will charge you to be near the border. Otherwise you got to get out of there.
It all depends on what migrants are willing to do. That’s why some of them keep going further and further to the desert. And it can be pretty dangerous. I mean, we’re not in danger because we help migrants. But I would be in danger if I would tell a migrant I’m going to help you cross.
That’s their business. You don’t get involved with their business. Or if you tell a migrant, “Hey, look, your brother wants to send you money. I’ll put it in my name. I’ll go get it.”
That’s not your job. Your job is, they don’t have any money, feed them. Take them to the doctor. That’s fine.
I mean, I’ve been doing this 12 years. I know them [the cartel.] I know when they’re come around and like I said, we don’t interfere. So, we try to help them [the migrants] enough to buy food, to buy the things they need little by little. I’m not gonna give him 2000 pesos. The last thing I want to know is that these 2000 pesos…next thing I’m going to read on the paper that migrant was found on the desert dead because he used them to pay some coyote. See? So we are very, very careful also how we distribute the help.
We have cartels and they make you feel helpless. You want to do something for somebody and you can’t, because if they’re watching you. If that migrant was already in trouble for X reason, all you can do is just let them be. So there is a lot of things that we don’t like, but we have to accept how it is. In order to help others. Sometimes you have to accept that you cannot save them all.
If I go against the cartel to help you, then I won’t be able to help her. So if you’re in trouble with the cartel, we just kind of have to have a blinder on and say, “I didn’t see anything.”
So when that happens, sometimes it makes me cry or I feel sad. But then I look. I go there. They’ll keep coming. And so you know that you want to keep helping. You know, some things you cannot help and you just have to let them be and accept our reality.”
“One of my best friends just passed away. She brought a lot of students all year long and she used to tell me, “Why do you like to do it?” I said, “I like to help them because they chose my country and they want to know about it.” So I do that gladly. I just supplied the knowledge, and when it comes to reporters, this is the same thing. You go out there and you teach people. And if you find one person that likes it, we’re winners.
Before this interview, there was none. So everything becomes a success story when you increase that. It’s okay if they come. It’s okay if they want to donate, to help some of these families who have completely lost or gave everything to be on the other side. Thanks to Voices and Samaritans all over the world, who put in a little grain of goodness. That’s the only way that it can be done is people like you, they come and you do an interview and you share it somewhere. And I go, “Okay.”
The problem is very big. I can’t solve it. I just feel good about putting the little grain. Don’t worry about you’re not going to solve it. You’re changing someone’s moment. That’s good enough.
When you publish this thing, if we can have one person that will call and say, “Hey, look, I got $20 for you. I wanna help you.” Then we got it because before your interview, there was none. So you gotta look positive. But even if I found a million dollars, it’s still not gonna solve the border problem.
You can’t let the negative attack you. I know why I’m doing it. I can feed a guy. There is a solution for all the problems, no matter what it is. That’s all we can do, you know? And if it fills up your heart, then that’s the greatest thing. There is no money. The greatest pay is the satisfaction that you’ve done what it was in your heart.
I’m a friend of Jesus Christ. I’m a little servant of the Lord and I don’t have to be preaching. I just have to show you. I just need to help people. Because giving is receiving.”
-What does Pancho mean when he says they are trying to “change the moment?” How does that alter your understanding of the issue of migration?
-Do you agree with his statement that addressing extreme poverty can impact levels of migration?
-Pancho graduated from nursing school at 54 years old. When have you been determined to complete a challenging goal and why?
-Are you motivated by seeing the end result or by taking the immediate action?
-Pancho relates problem solving to the process of grieving. Can you relate?
-Talk about the complexities of the work Pancho is doing under the eye of the cartels. What sacrifices and compromises must he make?
-When have you found your ability to help constrained?
-What is the reality you need to accept?
-What is the one little grain you are able to offer in response to the world’s large problems?
After interviewing Pancho, we encountered a group of asylum seekers who protested along the southern edge of the border, demanding that their cases be heard.