'We're all responsible': Surrey teacher says visit to migrant caravan in Mexico offered 'startling' insights

Violette Baillargeon was in Mexico City for a union conference when she decided to visit the stadium where the caravan of nearly 3,000 travellers was staying for a few days of rest. Baillargeon had been tracking the caravan with students in her Spanish 11 class for several weeks before her visit.

'When they come and seek opportunities and a way to feed their children, they are all of our responsibility'

Migrants who have been on the road for weeks get haircuts in Mexico City. (Violette Baillargeon)

A Surrey, B.C., teacher says she saw scenes of kindness, understanding and hope when she visited the Central American migrant and refugee caravan on a recent trip to Mexico. 

Violette Baillargeon was in Mexico City for a union conference when she and some colleagues decided to visit the stadium where the caravan of nearly 3,000 travellers was staying for a few days of rest.

Baillargeon had been tracking the caravan with students in her Spanish 11 class for several weeks before her visit. She hopes her trip can help her create more understanding about divisive politics, the impact of climate change and how to help those in need.

"What was really startling and beautiful to see, and what we really took a lot of pictures of, was the people who were there to help," Baillargeon told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

Aid workers in Mexico City help people from the migrant caravan. (Violette Baillargeon)

The Spanish teacher and B.C. Teachers' Federation activist saw dentists, doctors and barbers as well as people offering psychological help to the people in the migrant caravan.

'Needing support and understanding'

The migrants — most of whom are from Honduras — have been travelling north toward the U.S. border for more than a month. Their journey has become highly politicized, especially by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has called the migrants "thugs" and "gang members" and has mobilized troops to the border in response to the caravan.

Baillargeon said what she saw of the migrant caravan did not match the rhetoric that has been coming from American anti-immigration pundits.

She said she saw young people travelling alone, mothers with children in strollers, people pushing wheelchairs and carrying tarps and blankets.

"They were people who generally looked like they'd been on the road for a long time and who were needing a little bit of support and understanding," she said.

Violette Baillargeon with students who she visited at a school in Mendoza, Veracruz. (Violette Baillargeon)

Climate refugees

Baillargeon said she understands the concerns of people who live in U.S. border towns about the possibility of absorbing thousands of immigrants who wish to enter the country but she also said the world needs to come to terms with the fact that this massive migration of people is due to climate change.

"A third of them are farmers. And what they reported is that the rains didn't come … that the weather patterns have been shifting. And that's something we're all responsible for, and not just those people," she said.

"So when they come and seek opportunities and a way to feed their children, they are all of our responsibility."

Since her return to B.C. last week, she has been talking with her students about her visit and discussing ways they might be able to help.

"What we've been talking about in my classroom and among the people that I know is denouncing divisive politics, the kinds of politics that make us fear the other rather than come together to each others' aid," she said.

Listen to the full interview:

Surrey Spanish teacher Violette Baillargeon was in Mexico City for a union conference when she decided to visit the migrant caravan so that she could bring back some of their personal stories to her students. 8:54

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast