Three volunteers to recount El Paso experience

PENN YAN —Three Penn Yan residents will share their recent two-week Border Awareness education and refugee volunteer work in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico in a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Penn Yan United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 173 Main St.


Inspired by their friend, Anne Meyer-Wilbur, and her experience as a volunteer one year ago with a refugee resettlement organization in Texas, Debby Koop and Peggy Soule joined Anne on her return trip in November 2019. The trio spent two weeks volunteering at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. They will describe the week of education on border issues and the current system of processing immigration and refugee applications, their experience at a “Remain in Mexico” refugee camp in Juarez, and their week of work as volunteers in El Paso.


“Our experience was a real eye-opener to the seriousness of the refugee problem,” says Koop. “The situation is worse than we ever imagined and we saw and learned things that we have never seen reported in the press.”


The talk is non-partisan, intended to document what the three women learned, saw and experienced during their intense two weeks in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.


“We thought it would be so simple,” says Soule, describing the confusing changes to the refugee process which was complicated even for them as English-speakers. “It’s tough for us to understand,” says Meyer-Wilbur, adding that the procedures had totally changed since her last trip, and has changed again just since December. They also describe the deplorable conditions families are living with in the refugee camps they visited in Mexico.


“It doesn’t have to be like this. There are solutions,” says Koop. “There needs to be a comprehensive immigration plan.” Invitations have been sent to Congressman Tom Reed, N.Y. State Senator Tom O’Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, local legislators, and farmers who depend on immigrant workers.


Sponsored by the Penn Yan Action Coalition, Meyer-Wilbur will introduce the one-hour talk, followed by a half hour of questions. Koop will speak on the issues of farming and the danger posed by drug cartels in Central America. Soule will speak about the ongoing changes in policies and procedures for immigration and refugees. Meyer-Wilbur will conclude their journey as volunteers at Annunciation House.


Last March, Meyer-Wilbur’s talk on her first volunteer mission to Annunciation House was a sell-out event. A retired teacher from Midlakes and a former Peace Corps Volunteer, she fit well with Annunciation House, which was founded to serve the poorest of the poor in the El Paso-Juarez border community.