What if you were suddenly forced to flee widespread violence, discrimination, poverty and inequality? What if you and your family had to make the enormous decision to trek north in search of a safer life?
What would you take with you?
For many children and their families this is a reality.
For weeks, crowds of people from Central America trekked north starting first from Honduras into Guatemala and then on to Mexico with the hope of crossing the United States border to start a new life.
Many of the children and families who joined the caravan are fleeing gang and gender-based violence, extortion, poverty and limited access to quality education and social services in their home countries in northern Central America.
Sadly, these conditions are part of daily life for millions of children in the region. Each day, families facing these harsh conditions make the painful decision to leave their homes, communities and countries in search of safety and a more hopeful future.
We asked some of the families making the gruelling journey what they had brought with them. The items they carried were varied, but all were a reminder of one thing: that whether children are migrants or refugees, first and foremost a child is a child.
A Toy Giraffe
Maylin*, 15, came to Mexico with the caravan after fleeing family problems at home in Honduras. She brought with her a stuffed toy giraffe that she carried the entire way to a shelter for unaccompanied migrant adolescents in Tijuana, Mexico.
"When I was on the caravan, it was difficult to get my period because there was no privacy but girls would cover each other when we had to manage our menstruation,” she says.
“The walking was hard but I met people from all over with the same goals and that was a very beautiful thing for me."
Maylin wants to be an artist or be a police officer in the US where she has family friends.
Mariza, 38, brought a bible along with her. She says she prays with it every day for her daughters.
“The bible has always given me great comfort during hard times,” Mariza says.
She is one of the more than 12,000 people who have crossed from Tucu Uman, Guatemala to Tapachula, Mexico, since January.
A Pair of Earrings
It might seem odd, packing a pair of earrings in a moment of rush and horror, but for 17-year-old Keyli, this butterfly earrings are so much more than a piece of jewelry.
Her grandmother gave them to her before she left for America. At only 17, Keyli is now staying at a UNICEF-supported shelter for unaccompanied migrant girls in Mexico.
Before she left for America, Odely, 16, was gifted this ring by her boyfriend.
A Dance T-Shirt
“I brought this t-shirt because it is a good memory for me,” Kylie*, 15 says.
“I was walking to a dance competition with my friends and we fell in the mud – the t-shirt is still muddy but it reminds me of my friends.”
Kylie wants to be psychologist because her friends say she is a good listener.
Ethan* came with the caravan with his older brother who told him two nights ago he would cross the border and hasn’t heard from him since.
In El Salvador, Ethan’s neighborhood was operated by a gang. A competing gang from a different neighbourhood extorted him for money to continue going to school. His neighborhood gang believed he had joined the competitor and he began receiving threats from both gangs.
“I had to leave to find safety, to find my freedom. I would rather end up in a detention center inAmerica than go back to El Salvador,” he says.
“Going back to El Salvador would be a death sentence. I wish I could change places with people that are afraid of us, so they can see what my life is like. We are not criminals. People work hard and do the right thing and innocent people still get killed for no reason. I would prefer to immigrate legally but I’ll do whatever it takes to get to safety.”
Reno* brought a leopard print blanket his mother bought for him to carry as they travelled on the caravan together. He tried cross the border to the US with his mother in the middle of the night but the Customs and Border Protection unit caught him and threatened him with a taser. His mother kept running and he has not heard from her since.
A migration officer told him his mother might be in a detention center in Washington state but he can’t say for sure where she is or what happened to her.
Reno and his mum were heading to meet his stepfather in the US but he doesn’t know where they were meant to be going as his mother had all the numbers and addresses.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
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