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Associate Professor Jodi Berger Cardoso Leads Students on Visit to the U.S.-Mexico Border

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On July 26-28, 2019 GCSW student Natasha Prosperi accompanied Associate Professor, Jodi Berger Cardoso and a group of nine other MSW students and a professor from the University of Texas on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to Dr. Berger Cardoso, the trip expanded students' knowledge about the situation on the border as well increased their ability to respond empathically with children and families in crisis. They gained experience with social work skills and values, including self-regulation of emotions and stress during crisis intervention.

Further, Dr. Berger Cardoso shares, "volunteering and working with families in crisis does not include therapy. It includes washing mattresses, assisting with concrete needs, and helping children and families anticipate their next steps."

She plans to take more bilingual students interested in volunteering on trips to the border soon. Dr. Berger Cardoso hopes social workers will take an active role in finding real solutions to the ongoing crisis at the border and in the communities of reception.

In the Q&A below, GCSW student Natasha Prosperi shares her experiences on the trip.

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Name: Natasha Prosperi

Expected Year of Graduation from the GCSW and Concentration area:

May 2020, Clinical Concentration, Trauma Fellow

Was this your first time being involved with immigration and migrant rights issues? If no, please share details on other experiences.

No, as an immigrant myself, I have been involved in demonstrations and rallies in favor of immigrants rights and against family separation policies. Also, my first-year field placement was at The Alliance, which is a non-profit organization that works with immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. I worked at the Wellness Center, giving counseling sessions to mostly Spanish speakers clients. I was also placed at Liberty H.S—through Alliance—which is a newcomer High School in Houston ISD. The student population at this school speaks mostly Spanish (90%). For my second-year field placement, I am staying at the same agency, so I will keep working with the immigrant population.

Why was it important for you to volunteer on this trip?

The immigration policies that this administration is putting in place are detrimental to the mental health of the families that are already fleeing their country of origin due to violence and danger. We are creating even more trauma to this population. I wanted to help, not only as a budding clinician but as a citizen. This was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. And despite the fact that this trip was hard and emotional demanding, I am grateful that I got to participate in it.

Who or what inspired you?

I am an immigrant, now US citizen. I am from Venezuela, and the political and economic situation there is forcing a big part of the population to migrate. I wanted to go to the border to see first hand the situation of the people arriving on the border. I was surprised when I saw that one third of the families wanted to cross from Mexico to the USA were from Venezuela. I work day in and day out with the immigrant population and being able to see what they are exposed to, helpedi me understand better their experience.

Have you volunteered with any organizations on other social justice issues?

I am a CASA volunteer, and I used to volunteer at Child Advocates of Fort Bend before I started the MSW program.

During this trip, were you able to draw upon or relate any social work skills you have learned/or learning at the GCSW?

Yes, I went with Dr. Berger Cardoso and Dr. Faulkner to ProBAR—they offer volunteer attorneys to asylum seekers in South Texas—to help in a presentation about working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault for the attorneys. We also did a processing group for them and talked about self-care and how to help children regulate when they are interviewing them about their stories.
At the bus station in McAllen, we helped Angry Tias and Abuelas to orient asylum seekers that were starting their trip to their final destination in the US. We made sure they knew what number to call to find out their court date. We highlighted resources for them in their final destination. We gave them supplies for the trip, like diapers, wipes, clothes, and games for the children.
We also crossed the international bridge to Matamoros, Mexico, and we gave supplies to the immigrants that were waiting for their turn to pass. There we actively listened to the stories of their journey to the ones that wanted to talk.

Tell me about your role on the trip.

My role was like any other volunteer that was on the trip. We cleaned mats at the shelter; we distributed supplies, talked to people, and made ourselves as useful as we could. It was humbling seeing the two professors that went with us doing the same.

What has been the most valuable lesson you learned about social justice while a student at the GCSW?

The most valuable lesson has been that we need to speak up when we see injustice. That many voices together can make a lot of noise.

Who is your personal social justice inspiration?

Tarana Burke and the #metoo movement. Slowly, they are working in breaking the silence, changing the victim-blaming vocabulary and taking away the shame that surrounds sexual abuse and assault.

What advice would you give to other students who want to work on this social justice issue?

My first advice would be to contact an organization that works in this issue and volunteer with them. In the Houston area, they are several organizations that work on behalf of immigrants and asylum seekers.

The idea that Dr. Berger Cardoso and I have is to organize a group of students from UH and make a couple of trips to the border per year. I would invite any student that is interested in this issue to contact Dr. Berger Cardoso or me so we can bring this idea to reality. It requires a significant effort in organizing and coordinating this kind of activity. This time we went with Girasol—Girasol is housed in the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin. They work with community partners to support immigrants by providing services to women and children both during and post-detention, educate service providers and students on migration and trauma, and connect community members with resource—but we want to complement and help with what they are doing. The GCSW has a large population of bilingual students that could help in this kind of trips.

Please share anything else you feel would be of value to other social work students and anyone interested in working to achieve social justice.

As social workers, we have the responsibility to fight for social justice, even if we are clinical social workers. A clinical intervention is difficult to put in place when the population we are working with is being actively oppressed. Some people have the erroneous idea that if we go in the clinical route, we don’t have to deal with macro issues. That is not true; we can all contribute to having a more justice society.

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