EL PASO – The Annunciation House tries to help people that have been affected by violence or suffer from poverty by supporting them and spreading awareness of these issues throughout the El Paso community.
Annunciation House started in February 1978, when a group of individuals sought to connect more with poverty-stricken individuals and the Gospel. With weekly meetings and very little direction, they were able to come up with a plan of how to help people – whether refugees, immigrants or homeless – who were struggling with poverty, unemployment, abandonment, injustice or oppression.
Annunciation House has opened their doors to many individuals who have all suffered in one form or another, whether it is losing their family and leaving them homeless or being subjected to the violence surrounding the drug cartels.
Many families go to Annunciation House as refugees after escaping the violence that corrupted their homes in Juárez, as in the case of one family who requested to stay anonymous.
“After leaving work, I left to pick up my wife from her work. The Federal Police stopped me and took away my money and car. I went to human resources and the Federal Police to sue,” one family member said. “Two months later, my wife, my son and I were kidnapped by the Federal Police.”
After being taken away from their home, the family was beaten, suffered asphyxiation and received death threats while facing a gun at point-blank range. They were told to withdraw the complaint and collect 15,000 pesos for their freedom.
“They stuck needles in my nipples and gave me electrical shocks while they took my wife from bank to bank to collect the money,” he said. “They told us they would take us to the Federal Police the next day so we could drop the complaint.”
The anonymous family dropped the complaint and was let go soon after. However, the fear of being terrorized by the government was still strong, so they fled to El Paso and went to the Annunciation House for refuge.
“We asked for political asylum and the only support that we felt that we got was through Annunciation House. Our lives were destroyed and we cannot return to our country, we cannot see our families,” he said. “We are afraid that the policemen will one day find us here – we live in daily fright.”
Like this family, individuals are faced with torture and violence from their own government. They often find themselves lost and abandoned.
“I worked at the Annunciation House for 20 years,” said Mary Harding, a Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) member. “Some years as a volunteer living with the tenants, other years as a member of the director committee, and other years were spent as a friend and neighbor.”
However, TASSC helps individuals and families find safety and reestablish their lives.
“The coalition organization was funded by Sister Diana (Ortiz), who was tortured in Guatemala. The torture is specific to governments who are not stable and for those who do not have a democracy,” Harding said.
“Many torture survivors are coming from the African continent, specifically from Ethiopia.”
The coalition organization, like the Annunciation House, helps individuals who are poverty stricken and have suffered from violence or have been exiled from their own country. They assist with food and transportation, and are also sent to conferences about human trafficking and violence.
“We have learned that these conferences have impacted the lives of the survivors,” Harding said. “Many survivors have verbalized that the reason why they have left their countries is to seek freedom. People who have been tortured – immigrants and victims of genocide – are all one.”
Editor’s note: This story was previously published on The Prospector on May 3, 2012.