Tag Archives: volunteer opportunities in mexico

Modern Day Marias–Nicole the liberator

There is so much about Maria that we will never know. The snippets that were recorded leave out nearly everything important. However, we know something about her from how her children turned out. After all, a mother is a child’s first teacher. Maria’s firstborn son, the day he was elevated to manhood, chose the verse recorded at Luke 4:18 (The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised) as his personal creed. Maria must have been like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:20 “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy” just as today’s Modern Day Maria, Nicole, is.

I’m Nicole. I am originally from the northeast, lived in the deep south for six years where I worked as a federal public defender, and now I live in Baja California Norte near the U.S. border. I’m a human rights lawyer working with asylum seekers and deported persons who are trauma survivors. All of my cases are either low bono (meaning low fee) or pro bono (meaning free). I do contract work for other attorneys in the U.S. writing expert reports or serving as a mitigation consultant in federal criminal and immigration cases. Basically working one job to fund my non-paying dream job.

I’m still working on a website. Here is the Facebook page: Law Office of Nicole Ramos

Living in Mexico has changed me. I no longer take people or things for granted. I appreciate every little thing that I have because financially I have struggled here as I’ve been working to get my human rights project off the ground. I have spent many a night eating beans and tortilla, and have not bought a stitch of clothes in over a year until recently when I finally reached a point where I could buy two shirts. Yay. I am happy every day of my life, whereas I used to be sad most days before. Even when I get angry on some days, I am still incredibly happy over all. People’s compassion and resilience inspire me. Listening to live classical music or watching live dance inspires me, CBP angers me. A lot.

That's me with a child client who was seeking asylum and traveled throughout Mexico with other migrants by herself.

That’s me with a child client who was seeking asylum and traveled throughout Mexico with other migrants by herself.

Here I’ve also realized how precious family and relationships with friends and neighbors can be. Working with asylum seekers who have had to flee their homes, leaving behind all the people in their lives whom they love, I realize how lucky I am to live in a place where I can grow my personal relationships in safety, and not be forced to run and leave people behind. I cherish people in a way that I never imagined.

My belief system has not changed, but it has become stronger, even more of what it has been at its core for so long. Mexico has given me the chance to test how far I am willing to go and how much I will personally sacrifice for my beliefs — that the most vulnerable among us deserve justice and the quality of that justice should not be measured by a person’s ability to pay, even if that means that I must go without material things and creature comforts. Thus, I have become even more passionate, and more aggressive in righting wrongs for people whose rights have been violated. Because the border is a militarized zone and in order to protect my clients’ rights, I have to be as aggressive as the government agents who would seek to disregard those rights.

I had to learn Spanish. I was not raised speaking Spanish, and only spent 8 months living in Argentina following law school. My Spanish coming to Mexico was rudimentary. It was very overwhelming at first, and my Spanish will never be perfect but I work hard at it and have improved more than I thought possible. My single motivator is that in order to help my clients, they have to feel like I speak their language on some level, and not only speak through my translator and that I think unfettered communication is important enough to work hard to learn their language.

I have also learned how to use a comal (Mexican cast iron griddle), how to roast chiles on an open flame and do other cool things with food, and how to drive aggressively but safely. There are still so many things I have to learn but I’d really like to learn how to make candles and how to garden.

I struggle with the fact that I am trying to do the work of an organization as a solo practitioner. So I struggle with the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, and that my body needs sleep and food. I receive a never-ending stream of phone calls and emails and have no time that is my own from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.

I also struggle with the fact that I do not have a formal source of funding yet. This project unfolded organically, but very quickly over the last 10 months. So I have had to take contract work from other attorneys, writing expert reports and doing consulting work, in order to make money to pay the bills, while at the same time, working a second unpaid job of sorts with my pro bono asylum cases.

That's me and my partner. my biggest supporter.

That’s me and my partner. my biggest supporter.

Coffee and the unconditional support of my partner keep me going. My partner is with me every step of the way, helping to interview clients, to comfort them, to help me make sure I remember to sleep and eat, and never says no to me when it comes to helping people and sacrificing comforts in our own lives.

It isn’t a professional achievement per se, but I am most proud of losing my fear. I used to have really incredible anxiety. I would worry myself into a state of sadness. But since my move to Mexico, I can say I do not have fear anymore the way that I once did. I feel braver, even the moments when I am still a little afraid. I think my clients have given me this courage. They have been the bravest people I have ever met in my life, setting out through uncertain and hostile territories to get their families to safety. They have survived unimaginable horrors. But they keep going, refusing to be killed, refusing to lose their resilience. They make me want to be brave.

I miss my family. I miss being able to hug my mom more than the amount of hugs that I can get in during one visit a year. I miss some of the foods, like arroz y gandules and tostones. I miss the art museums in Philadelphia and New York, and the big leafy green parks. I miss walking through the woods in the Wissahickon Park.

I used to have a killer designer wardrobe. Even though I was a federal public defender, I was still well compensated for a non-profit sector attorney so I could afford to shop big. And while I still appreciate fashion, I’m just never going to be able to afford it again and that’s okay. I have no free time. I would love to have just a week of laying on a beach reading books and sleeping. In another life, I enjoyed museums, live music, dancing all night in clubs, and weird performance art.

I would say that the defining moment in my life here in Mexico was when my cat was killed by people who broke into my home (albeit likely accidentally but it still sucked). She was a kitten, not more than 18 months, and she was my favorite. She sat on my lap all day while I worked. I cried for a week. I did not shower. My hair got so matted I looked like I was in the early stage of dreadlocks. I couldn’t eat. I’m fairly certain I smelled bad. But I got to the point where I realized I could not sit around in my own pain all day because even though I had lost someone very special to me in a violent way, others had lost so much more and that I had to get off the couch and stop behaving like my pain was so special and tragic.

That's part of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That’s part of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. It reads “In heaven, there are no borders.”

My current goal is to incorporate my now unfunded project, The Border Rights Clinic, into a formal nonprofit. This will require me to register in both the U.S. and Mexico. I need funds for start-up costs such as registering an organization and other associated costs, i.e. notary costs, as well as funds for things like paper and toner. People can donate to the Border Rights Clinic at borderrightsclinic@paypal.com. The clinic is based in Baja California Norte and represents individuals seeking asylum in the United States. All proceeds go toward funding the project’s monthly legal clinics which it is hosts in partnership with other community organizations in Tijuana, and also funds the pro bono legal representation of low-income asylum seekers from the moment they try to present themselves to CBP through their subsequent detention and the process of applying for asylum in the U.S., including their representation in court.

I am also always in need of qualified volunteer interpreters and document translation. I also need help building the website. If you can volunteer in any way or know of someone who would benefit from services that I can offer, please contact me through my Facebook page.




Filed under Getting Legal, Guest Blogger Adventures, Safety and Security

Claudia’s San Pancho Marine Turtle Adventure–The First Day


The next day I was directed to the Costa Verde Ecological group found on America Latina Street between India Street and China Street. Entering I was found by millions of mosquitos waiting for someone with hot blood to arrive. I recommend taking a good mosquito repellant and covering all exposed skin.


After I knocked several times I woke someone up, a volunteer named Sally, who told me everyone had gone on an excursion to the ocean to see turtles and dolphins mating. I almost cried because I did not arrive in time for that, but I said I would be back at 5 to find them, so I did and they were. Joslin, another volunteer, met me in the afternoon. She spoke more Spanish than Sally. She told me Frank (the group’s director) was asleep but maybe would not be long in coming down. After waiting a few hours Frank finally came down and greeted me. I was ashamed because I felt that maybe my English pronunciation would be deficient and because he hardly spoke any Spanish, but he managed to make it clear who he was. (Claudia has been studying English with me for about 2 years on an irregular basis. Her English is better than she thinks.)

Frank was a little serious, I guess it’s because of his age but he was very friendly. He showed me around the place. I also met Season, an 18-year-old volunteer who was also friendly and understood a little Spanish. She helped me understand better certain things Frank said. She showed me a basket with newborn baby turtles. I got all emotional because they were so cute and took pictures of them. Joslin came back right then and asked if they were ready to be released and insisted I take pictures with the baby turtles to prove that I had been there. She took the camera and took 3 photos with one of the turtles in my hands. She told me that I just needed to find a mother turtle nest to earn my Team Tortuga Tattoo.


Frank told me to come back at 7 pm to free the baby turtles into the ocean. A friend of mine knew I was visiting. I suggested he come and experience the release since he had no idea this organization even existed. Unfortunately, because he was in a hurry, he fell down the stairs of his house which slowed us down and meant we missed part of the release. Frank suggested that we attend the 1:00 am guard shift which would be a safe time to see the turtles on the beach.

My friend had some more bad luck. We failed to see any turtle moms on our 2-hour walking guard shift. We only saw a few small crabs peeking out of their holes in the sand. Frank dodged them with the Buggie (vehicle). We saw a lightning storm out to sea. We listened to Frank tell the story of how he got there, what people do with the turtles and their eggs, what the group does with people in the community to encourage the preservation of the sea turtles that arrive at its beaches, the difficulties with poachers, police, government and hotel owners. The lights confuse the mother and baby turtles. They think it is the moon that will guide them back to the ocean. Babies and moms are stranded for hours until someone finds them and helps them or a poacher gets them.


After we finished our guard duty, we returned to the group. Frank said that he was sorry that we didn’t see any turtles, but that happens sometimes. My friend still thanked him for the experience. Frank showed him where the eggs were stored and explained the rescue process a little more. He also referred him to the group’s website for more information. Finally, we all went to sleep hoping that the next night we would find turtles.


Al día siguiente me dirigí al Grupo Ecológico de Costa Verde, que se encuentra en la calle América Latina, entre las calles India y China. Al entrar al lugar no había nadie más que miles de mosquitos esperando a que algún sangre caliente llegara, así que lleven un buen repelente porque que saldrán con poca sangre de ahí y no olviden cubrir bien todas partes porque se dirigen al lugar dónde no hayas colocado repelente.
Después de que toqué varias veces desperté a alguien, a una voluntaria llamada Sally, quien me comentó que habían salido a una excursión al océano para ver tortugas apareándose y delfines. Casi lloro porque no llegué a tiempo para eso, pero me indicó regresar a las 5 para poder encontrarlos, eso hice y así fue. Quién me recibió en la tarde fue Joslin, otra voluntaria del lugar, era quién hablaba más y mejor español; me dijo que Frank (el director del grupo) estaba dormido pero que tal vez ya no tardaba en bajar. Después de esperar algunas horas por fin bajó Frank y me saludó yo me sentía penosa porque que tal vez mi pronunciación sería deficiente y más porque casi no hablaba nada en español, pero logré comunicarme con él y decirle quién era.
Frank es una persona un poco seria, me imagino que es por su edad pero es muy amable; él me mostró el lugar y también conocí en ese momento a Season, una voluntaria joven de 18, también era amable y entendía un poco más el español, ella me ayudaba a entender ciertas cosas que decía Frank y llevo una canastilla con tortugas bebé que habían nacido en esos días, sentí mucha emoción porque todas se movían y eran tan tiernas y tomé fotos de ellas. En ese momento llegó Joslin de nuevo y me dijo: “¿Lista para liberarlas?, ¡Pero debes tomarte la foto con ellas! Así podrás demostrar que viniste” Tomó la cámara por mí y saco 3 fotos con una de las tortugas en mis manos. “Bien ahora, sólo te falta encontrar una mamá tortuga con su nido para ganarte tu Team Turtle Tattoo”.
Frank me indicó regresar al lugar a las 7 de la noche para liberar a las tortugas bebé al océano pero no pude liberar esa noche el grupo de tortuguitas; un amigo conocido de Vallarta supo de mi visita, le comenté sobre el grupo y le sugerí venir para que viviera la experiencia ya que él no tenía idea de que eso existiera por ahí cerca, pero por andar a prisa tuvo un pequeño accidente cayendo por las escaleras de su casa y eso hizo que nos perdiéramos de la parte de la liberación, así que Frank me sugirió asistir a la guardia de la 1:00 am, ya que era una hora segura para ver tortugas en la playa.
Para mala suerte de mi amigo, al hacer nuestra guardia pasamos al menos dos horas y media paseando en la playa y no logramos ver a ninguna tortuga mamá en la playa, sólo varios cangrejos pequeños que se asomaban y escondían en sus agujeros en la arena y que Frank esquivaba con el Boogie car para no atropellarlos; una tormenta con varios rayos a lo lejos sobre el mar y la historia de cómo Frank llegó ahí, lo que las personas hacen con las tortugas y sus huevos, lo que el grupo hace con las personas de las comunidades para fomentar la preservación de las tortugas marinas que llegan a sus playas y las dificultades que tienen con los ladrones, la policía, el gobierno y los dueños de los hoteles ya que las luces de tales confunden a las tortugas mamá y bebés, pues piensan que es la luna y su luz es quien las guía de vuelta al océano. Varios bebés mueren al quedar atrapados en otros lugares y las mamás quedan atrapadas en otros lugares por varias horas hasta que alguien pueda encontrarlos y ayudarlos, si es que un ladrón no las encuentra antes.
Después de terminada nuestra guardia, regresamos al grupo y Frank dijo que sentía que no hubiéramos podido ver tortugas esa noche, pero que a veces así pasaba y mi amigo aun así le agradeció la experiencia y la historia, pero por mostrar interés Frank le mostró también el lugar donde almacenan los huevos y le explicó un poco más. También le sugirió visitar la página: Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, A.C. y que ahí podía encontrar más información y finalmente cada quién se fue a dormir para esperar si a la noche siguiente hubiera tortugas.



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Filed under Guest Blogger Adventures, Tourist Sites in Mexico