The caravan of Honduran migrants slowly trekking to the United States includes hundreds of children whose parents are ready to risk everything to give them a better future.
In the past five days alone – since the thousands of migrants crossed from Guatemala into Mexico – the children’s parents have exposed them to a stampede, a treacherous river crossing and searing heat.
Driven from Honduras by violence and poverty, they have little choice, they say.
Many of the mothers traveling in the caravan are barely 20 years old. But they tend to have one thing in common: they are fleeing Honduras to prevent gangs from killing or recruiting their sons, from kidnapping or raping their daughters, a fate that befell many of them.
In a journey fraught with danger, there are plenty of worries to keep a parent awake at night, despite the fatigue. First among them: losing a child in the human ocean.
“Help me grab this child!” one of the volunteers accompanying the caravan shouted at a recent stop, clinging to a 10-year-old boy who was trying to run off in search of his mother, who had lost him.
Ana Rivera, 27, meanwhile walked beside her two-year-old son, who was dressed only in a nappy, searching for her daughter in an improvised camp.
Nearby, an adolescent approached an ambulance to take a look at her three-year-old son, who was almost constantly vomiting water. She was told to come back later, when the queue had died down.
The caravan, which left Honduras on October 13, comprises more than 7,000 people, according to the United Nations. Humanitarian organizations say a quarter of them are babies and children.
On Friday, as the caravan amassed in the Guatemalan town of Tecun Uman looking to cross the bridge that separates it from the Mexican town of Ciudad Hidalgo, a multitude of migrants pressed up against a border gate that had been sealed by police.
Mexican riot police pushed back the migrants, but many children watched terrified as their parents, crushed against the gate, pleaded with authorities to let them through.
“We were at the front, against the fence, and when the police fired tear gas, the child curled up in my arms,” said Oscar Rodriguez, 22, while his 18-year-old wife, Ruth Fuentes, tried to calm a tearful Jasser, their toddler of 21 months.
At the border crossing, many migrants opted to try to navigate the Suchiate river in improvised rafts made of inner tubes with a wooden board on top.
Guadalupe Del Carmen, 29, was one of them. But her nine-year-old son got scared and started crying: “‘Mommy, take me back. Mommy, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ It was a very tense moment,” she said.
Her son, with skinny legs and big black eyes, listened intently to her story.
“I explained we can’t go back, that the situation in our country is too difficult and that’s why we had to run away,” said Del Carmen, who has been unable to sleep soundly since leaving Honduras due to the stress of looking after her son.
To distract him, Del Carmen was tickling him playfully, forgetting their surroundings amongst migrants with bloodied feet sleeping on wet and dirty pieces of cardboard.
Fleeing for Their Lives
Like a lot of the caravan kids, Jennifer Molina’s two children, aged three and five, regularly have a fever.
“I know it’s dangerous, I know we could be robbed, but we don’t have another option,” she said.
“The gangs wanted to force my husband to transport drugs and when he refused, they threatened to kill us all.”
When not crying either over the imposing mass of migrants or from seeing their parents beg for food, the children entertain themselves with improvised games.
They play at a future in which their parents’ American dream has become reality.
They “play as if they were already in the United States,” said Molina, “as if their grandmother had already bought them a car, that they have this, that and the other thing, because they know their grandmother is waiting for them there.”