What Children in Detention Can Teach Us about Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Elena Gaffney

Esta Página en Español

Every Thursday morning, I sit down to my computer and log on to Zoom calls with minors at ORR detention facilities in Maryland. I normally start the meetings with a simple question, “How are you doing right now?”

In just over two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered and upended our reality. As people lose their jobs or lose their lives, it can be difficult to retain a positive perspective about our new normal, as most of us remain in quarantine and every day feels like Groundhog Day. Through the monotony and uncertainty of it all, it can be hard to see our current situation through a different lens, and begin to feel like we will make it through. The children I work with have taught me invaluable lessons about optimism and resilience, but never more so than during this pandemic.

On a recent Zoom call, I spoke with a minor who has been detained since January. He had a medical mask on and could not leave his room. He had all meals and homework materials brought to him and spent much of the day alone, trying to get his homework done and looking out the window. When I began the call and asked him how he was doing, I expected to hear about feelings of sadness and loneliness, maybe a sense of frustration at not being able to leave his room and move about freely. He sat up in his chair and said in Spanish, “Sometimes it feels hard, but I am grateful to be here. I am so grateful that you call me every few weeks.” He went on to explain that after walking for hours on end without food over the three months that he travelled alone from his native Guatemala to the U.S., he was just grateful to be here and to have help with his immigration case. He was grateful that our team was speaking with him, and wanted to know his story. As we ended our call he said, “Thank you for what you are doing. I know that God is watching over you.”

Kids in immigration detention can teach you a lot. Many of them travel for months to come to the U.S., and then spend months in detention centers awaiting their reunification or release. Many of them flee violence or persecution in their home countries, and leave family members and friends behind. They go through so much, and I am consistently in awe of their kindness, patience and gratitude. At a time when most of us are quarantining in isolation, afraid of the path ahead, these minors remain as brave, gracious and resilient as ever.  As I hung up our call, I sat for a moment and let what this minor said resonate with me. This is something we can do during the pandemic: imagine how our perspective can shift when we cultivate gratitude and resilience. 

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