Notes from the field

Volunteer Moments in Reynosa: The Joy of Briefly Being Part of my Patient’s Story

by Michael Felber, Nurse and volunteer with GRM



Over the past year, I have done several volunteer rotations with GRM in Reynosa, Northern Mexico.  Hopefully, this blog will give you an idea of what to expect and to share a few of my memorable moments.

Days begin with a short drive from McAllen, Texas to the border, past an obtrusive stretch of border wall – tucked beyond typical US-style stores and warehouses –  forcing an artificial divide in the landscape as helicopters patrol the border, criss-crossing above us.

We cross the Rio Grande, sharing the international bridge with that morning’s deportees as they silently trudge in a single file back to Mexico in unfastened shoes – laces are confiscated by US immigrations officers – clutching plastic bags containing their few belongings and documents.  Their clothes are still muddy from their recent attempt to enter the US.

Reynosa feels different; it requires situational awareness as organized crime groups monitor the border. I don’t feel afraid or unsafe, but vulnerable. Using a buddy system, always being aware of exits, and being mindful of people around me quickly becomes second nature.

GRM rotates around different clinics in Reynosa, all of them hot, crowded, and noisy.  The local team in Mexico are made up of an impressive bunch of doctors, nurses, logisticians and translators, some of whom are themselves asylum seekers, volunteering in the clinic to put their skills to use whilst waiting for permission to enter the US.  They are skilled and dedicated with limitless positivity, despite the desperate conditions facing their patients.

A local provider once said something that is never far from my mind: “the story of migrants is long, but their truth is short”. That truth, as I see it, is their constant struggle for basic necessities such as safety, shelter, food, and dignity.   But in the long lines of patients at the Reynosa clinic, each patient with a different medical problem, they all have their own stories.

As a bilingual nurse a lot of my day is spent assessing patients, triaging, and interpreting for doctors. Just like any Emergency room at home, patients present with problems ranging in complication and urgency.  Often, the presenting complaint is just the tip of the iceberg.

One day, a young Guatemalan woman was carried into the clinic, unable to catch her breath.  I helped her onto an exam table doing my best to calm her down until she was able to talk. She had been having episodes of hyperventilating, feeling pressure and pain in her chest, and losing sensation in her arms and legs. Apart from some dehydration her medical exam was normal, although she looked terrified.

As we talked, she told me that she had been kidnapped shortly after arriving in Reynosa and held until her family could pay the ransom to free her. While she was held captive she had been repeatedly raped and threatened with death. Once freed, she began suffering from headaches and insomnia with difficulty eating, drinking, and concentrating.

She worried that she was losing her mind and that these debilitating symptoms would prevent her from parenting her young son. As we talked, I explained that feeling vulnerable, apprehensive and hypervigilant were common responses to trauma, and how the confines of her tent during the night might be especially difficult.

I reassured her that it wasn’t her fault and that the wounds she felt in her mind and spirit were as real as wounds to her physical body, and that like physical wounds they could also get better.  She identified a friend who slept near her, and we agreed she could be part of her support system, staying close when she was anxious.

I referred her to Doctors Without Borders, the mental health workers who could treat her acute stress and panic attacks.  A few days later, I saw her waiting calmly for her appointment, with her son on her lap. My job as a nurse is to assess and treat patients, to help them connect to other health resources, and to advocate for their well being.  However, with limited resources, I hoped that I had helped her as best I could.

Volunteer medical work isn’t especially glamorous or exciting. Sometimes I reflect on that after sweating through the day. But working with that young woman reminded me of what a privilege it is to be part of another person’s story, even briefly.

KEYWORDS: Michael Felber, Nurse, Volunteer, Mexico, Reynosa, migration

TOPICS: Volunteer stories, Mexico, Migration


Notes from the field

What GRM Looks Like to our Longest Serving Local Staff Member in the Mexico Team

by Benito Zambrano.

For me, it has been a great experience and whole-hearted pleasure to be able to help people in need in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  This time, I saw many people from Haiti who were on their journey to the United States.  I have seen the suffering, crying, and pain suffered by each of them and their families.  But at the same time, I witnessed their strength, the way that they tolerate awful conditions that life has thrown at them, which are even worse during this cold time of year.  I see them living in their tents, without bathrooms or kitchens as they stay focussed on their destination of being granted asylum.

I recently was working in Senda de Vida, where I saw various migrants from countries such as Haiti, Russia, Honduras and El Salvador to name just a few, all coming together to help each other and going about their days, quietly and calmly, as if the various conflicts in their home countries did not exist.  It meant a lot to me to see them in that way.

Every day, GRM’s volunteers, together with local doctors from Reynosa, showed strength and determination to give the best possible care, treating the patients with love, integrity, concern, giving each one the care and time needed to treat them.

I worked with a volunteer doctor called Matt as he attended to a high-risk, pregnant patient.  The team came together to immediately identify her needs and work to give her the best possible help that they could.

At the same time, the local doctors were taking part in an ultrasound course which I helped to translate, over the course of a few days.  They worked with a boundless desire to learn, reviewing the pregnant patients and providing such joy when the patients found out the sex of their baby and that the pregnancy was going well.

I have always appreciated the efforts that GRM’s volunteers make to leave their homes to come and help all kinds of patients from those who only need a painkiller for a headache to those whose lives are in danger.  This service and dedication of each of them is amazing.

I am not sharing much of the work that GRM does, but I am totally convinced in my heart and mind that what GRM has done and continues to do is marvelous and they are helping those who are in need.

On a personal note, I am so proud to be part of GRM because it has given me the opportunity to be able to help a little and to be able to smile.

About Benny:
Benny is one of our longest serving members of the team in Mexico, having served for 2.5 years.  He was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in Mexico.  He is the second youngest in his family of 10.


Mi nombre es Benito Zambrano,me gustaría compartir la experiencia que tuve las semanas pasadas que estuve en Reynosa.

Para mí fue una gran experiencia y un placer de todo corazón lo digo de poder ayudar a las personas en necesidad.  Está vez que estuve allá miré muchos migrantes de Haití que van en su travesía rumbo a los Estados Unidos.

He visto el sufrimiento, llanto , y dolor que sufre cada uno de ellos y sus familias, he visto de la misma la manera como sacan fuerza y soportan las condiciones de vida que están pasando,en este tiempo con frío, condiciones de vivienda en carpas, sin baños,si tener donde cocinar y todos con el enfoque de llegar a su destino.

Me tocó estar un día en Senda de vida,me tocó ver migrantes de varios países como Haiti, Rusia, Honduras,El Salvador entre muchos más, todos con un mismo pensamiento, ayudándose entre sí, no importando los conflictos que tienen los que están en el poder, cada uno de ellos mirándose como seres humanos y platicando tranquilamente. Me gusto mucho ver eso en cada uno de ellos.

El equipo de voluntarios que estuvieron estás semanas en Reynosa tantos ellos como el equipo local de doctores, cada uno de ellos esforzándose cada día más y mejor para dar la atención lo mejor posible, tratando a pacientes con amor, integridad, preocupación, dándole el tiempo al paciente y profesionalismo por cada uno de los pacientes en necesidad.

Tuve la experiencia de estar presente cuando el Doctor Matt atendió a una paciente embarazada con mucho riesgo, inmediatamente identificó la necesidad y tanto él como el equipo hicieron lo posible para brindarle lo necesario y ayudarla lo cual se pudo lograr.

Los doctores locales esta vez estuvieron en un curso de ultrasonido y me tocó estar con ellos un par de días y como siempre con la mejor disposición de aprender cada día más, estuvieron revisando pacientes embarazadas y mire la alergia en ellas cuando les decían que sexo es el bebé y que el embarazo estaba bien.

Me ha llamado siempre la atención el esfuerzo de cada uno de los voluntarios de dejar sus comodidades para venir ayudar a un paciente que quizá solo necesita una pastilla para dolor de cabeza hasta para un paciente que está en riesgo su vida. Esa entrega y dedicación de cada uno de ellos es asombrosa.

No es mucho lo que comparto pero sí estoy convencido en mi mente y corazón lo que ha hecho y sigue está maravillosa organización Grm para ayudar aquellos en necesidad, mostrando el anhelo y preocupación para el necesitado.

En lo personal me enorgullece ser parte de Grm porque me da la oportunidad para poder ayudar un poco y poder lograr una sonrisa.

Benito Zambrano ha estado en nuestro equipo en México durante 2 años y medio.  Nació en la ciudad de Matamoros Tamaulipas México, soy el segundo menor de una familia de 10, también predicó la palabra de Dios.


We are in Gaza and Ukraine.

Yesterday, GRM founder Pete Reed and was killed in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

Yesterday, GRM founder Pete Reed was killed in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Pete was the bedrock of GRM, serving as Board President for 4 years. In January, Pete stepped away from GRM to work with Global Outreach Doctors on their Ukraine mission and was killed while rendering aid.

This is a stark reminder of the perils rescue and aid workers face in conflict zones as they serve citizens caught in the crossfire. Pete was just 33 years old, but lived a life in service of others, first as a decorated US Marine and then in humanitarian aid. GRM will strive to honor his legacy and the selfless service he practiced.

We fully support Pete’s family, friends, and colleagues during this devastating time.