The Intake Team of SFR: How the team has changed within one year

“The Intake team began working on the street without equipment and tools and now we have a secure location where the intake team can help migrants start their lives in the United States.”

On June 21, 2022 SAMU First Response in Washington, D.C. welcomed the very first bus at Union Station from Texas carrying 28 migrants. The arrival of the buses from Texas and Arizona started off by dropping off asylum seekers at Union Station, which is the heart of public transportation in D. C. It is located a mere 500 feet from the United States Capitol building, which is where the U.S. congress meets to write the laws of the nation and where every single U.S president was inaugurated into their position of power.

The buses would arrive anywhere from 5:00 am to 11:00pm and each week the timing varied.  In the very beginning, the team relied on five individuals dedicated to coordinating the operation, alongside the assistance of four volunteers from Spain that aided in additional support. Eventually the intake team was able to grow to eight dedicated team members. The intake job is to meet and welcome each bus and provide the basic needs of food, water, and clothing while talking to each individual and family to determine what is their plan and final destination within the United States.

Over the next 11 months the team operated out of the food court in Union Station and several generous churches that provided them space. This meant that with each bus that arrived supplies had to be gathered, counted, and stored in the personal vehicles of some of the team members. Once the buses arrived, the team would unload the items and bring them into the dedicated locations where they would be able to serve the buses and hope that the public wifi would be working that day. Amrine Obermueller, who has worked on the intake team since July 2022 recalls, “Every weekend we would greet the buses at the food court in Union Station. There were times when safety and security were in question, as it is a public space, and it was out of our control who would arrive to the space or attempt to speak to the migrants as they were taking moments of rest and waiting for our team to process travel.”

Today, the Intake team is a much more robust operation with 11 individuals dedicated to the arrival of the buses and walk-ins. With the growth and expansion of the Intake Team and the opening of the new D.C. respite location, the team is now able to welcome incoming migrants in a secure and safe location with a dedicated area to rest, facilities to store cold water or hot coffee, kitchen to prepare hot meals, clothing options and a secure place to change, and a dedicated play area for children to have an imagination again. With these positive changes, the intake team has been able to flourish even more in their positions and the resources they are able to provide for incoming migrants.

Marisela Castillo, Intake and Outreach Manager, has been able to witness the change of the Intake team and the way that they have been able to adapt over time with the resources provided. She says, “The Intake department from June 2022 to now has changed a lot. Intake began working on the street, outside bus stations, and without equipment or tools. We used tables from food courts as desks and carts as our storage. This team has always had plenty of commitment and love for the work. Now, the intake team has grown and evolved. We have people who speak French, English, and Spanish. We can now receive migrants, register and interview them, determine their needs and help them reach their final destination by providing them a safe place to rest and locate resources so that they can start their lives in the United States.”

Within a year the operation has changed immensely and Derick Alegria, who is the Lead Intake Specialist and has been a part of the Intake Team since June 2022, says that “Already a year has passed and there are so many stories to tell, but the most wonderful thing has been to witness how the intake team has grown. There used to be only four of us at Union Station receiving a bus from Texas at 6:00am and now we are 11 wonderful individuals on the team receiving buses in a secure location (with walk-in services), which I would have never imagined a year ago.”

As of today, the Intake Team has welcomed 230 buses from Texas and Arizona with over 10,000 migrants. Each member of the intake team is very proud to be part of such a dedicated and hard-working team while being able to aid in the journey of individuals trying to find a better life. “I believe that as an organization we have built something extremely successful from scratch. The preparation and execution of the process that we have been developing throughout this time has been very effective.” said Derick Alegria. As the organization grows and develops more resources in the future, the Intake team is excited to be part of the change and development to help every migrant arriving in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Power of Trust

Trust is foundational to what non-profit organizations do. It matters in every aspect of operations, beginning with the interpersonal relationships required when building teams. Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, writes, “A team is not a group of people who work together. It is a group of people who trust each other.” 

Employees need to trust their leadership to forward the mission and prevent turnover. Similarly, when volunteers trust an organization, they will go out of their way to support their work. Trust also matters when seeking financial support. Every dollar or in-kind donation that is given to an organization is born of trust. In fact, in a publication titled, The Future of Trust, the international professional services company Deloitte reported that “trustworthy companies outperform non-trustworthy companies by 2.5 times.” 

But there is perhaps no place more critical for trust to exist than in the creation of strategic partnerships. 

SAMU has a long history of forging such relationships, including with fellow NGO, Project HOPE. Harley Jones is Project HOPE’s Senior Manager of Domestic Operations. He oversees the organization’s programming in the United States. 

“Trust is essential in our work because we are not selling products. We are organizations that are made up of humanitarians and good people, focused on alleviating human suffering at the worst times of their lives,” Jones said.

With two decades of experience in this field, Jones has seen partnerships that work, and others that fail. “There are a number of organizations that don’t like collaborating because it takes attention away [from them],” He said. But that’s just one of several factors that can lead to failure. Sometimes, Jones explained, the values and mission of the partners are just too different. Motives get questioned, and the lack of trust becomes an obstacle. “At the end of the day,” Jones said, “Mission is important,” explaining that – when values and mission align – it creates the perfect environment for a partnership to flourish. 

“You build that trust internally,” He said. “You know when you face a barrier, that other organization is often going to view it in the same way you do. That creates the opportunity to work together in other areas because you can go into it with that understanding without having to work around it. It’s that place where your values converge with your approach, your compassion and your focus on mission.”  

The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship

A mutual partner introduced SAMU to Project HOPE in 2017. The similarities between the organizations were evident immediately. “As two globally-based NGOs,” Harley Jones said, “Our focus has been on various places around the world, supporting vulnerable populations fleeing armed conflict or natural disaster.” 

SAMU and Project HOPE began looking for ways they might partner. It didn’t take long to identify an opportunity. In November of 2018, Juan González de Escalada Álvarez, Grupo SAMU’s Director of Operations Grupo Samu’s and Director of SAMU School, headed to Venezuela on what would become the first of many joint operations.

“I was asked to enter Venezuela with them to ascertain the Venezuelan Migrant Crisis,” He said. “We spent several days around Cúcuta in Colombia and the Venezuelan region of El Táchira.” The teams were exploring whether SAMU could provide Health Emergencies Training to local humanitarian organizations managing a large influx of displaced Venezuelans. 

That venture led to a significant partnership toward the end of 2020 in Honduras. The country was reeling from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic when Tropical Storm Eta hit, followed closely by Hurricane Iota. The Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) activated Emergency Medical Teams to assist with the resulting crisis. SAMU joined that mission, with Project Hope partnering to provide the financial support that allowed SAMU’s team to meet the needs of nearly 1,200 patients. 

Most recently, Project HOPE supported SAMU in Moldova and Romania, where our teams on the ground provided support to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. During this joint mission, the teams were able to provide three and a half months of care for migrants affected by the crisis. Project HOPE provided 60 percent of the funding necessary for SAMU to perform more than 2000 medical consultations.  

Jones explained that the relationship between Project Hope and SAMU was a natural fit because of how well the strengths of the organizations align. Jean Oelwang, president and founding CEO of Virgin Unite, describes in her book, Partnering, how that alignment cultivates something she calls “Deep Connections.”

“Deep Connections are relationships of purpose that make us who we are,” She writes. “They are the enduring ‘got your back’ friendships found in all aspects of our lives. These relationships help us become our best selves and multiply the impact we make in the world.”

On Mission Every Day

Project HOPE’s mission is simple, but critically important: Empower frontline health care workers. Prior to the pandemic, the organization’s main focus had been geared toward vulnerable populations in the developing world. Covid travel restrictions rendered that work nearly impossible, requiring the organization to pivot toward domestic assistance. 

Jones said that, during this time, the NGO leaned heavily on their robust emergency response capability to help provide surge staffing to support frontline workers in some of the hardest hit areas, including Chicago/Cook County, Harris County in Texas and within the Navajo Nation. A strong supply chain allowed the organization to provide more than 18 million pieces of PPE across 15 countries in 2021 alone.    “We know enough about the work that we do to know that it has to be needs-based and it has to be fast,” Jones said. Other organizations are not that nimble, he explained, which is why Project HOPE was so drawn to partnering with SAMU. The migrant crisis in Washington, D.C., is a prime example. Although SAMU was in the United States hoping to open the organization’s first unaccompanied minor shelter on American soil, the teams on the ground were able to change gears quickly to tackle a new mission: Meeting the needs of thousands of migrants being bussed to the Nation’s capitol from the border of Mexico.

Meeting Crisis Head-On … Together

As SAMU First Response transitioned into a leadership role in addressing Washington, D.C.’s unfolding migrant crisis – which Mayor, Muriel Bowser, later would declare a state of emergency – one of the first calls made was to Project HOPE. Jones remembers that call, and the very direct and clear asks that were made.

“We need some capacity-building and support around logistics,” Jones remembers the SAMU team saying, which he shares is Project HOPE’s specialty – particularly when it comes to government funding. The organization runs $10 Million in programming with the federal government and has extensive experience with the reporting and documentation necessary when managing federal dollars.

SAMU First Response’s Respite Manager, Jeisson Cartagena, adds that the procurement process also presented a challenge for the growing team. “I didn’t have that much information on how to navigate government funding,” He said. “Project HOPE had that experience and was able to send someone to work with our team to help us better understand the process.” 

Jones recalls SAMU’s second ask: “We need some training around the stress, mental health and resiliency of our staff. We need tools that can help them take care of themselves and the people they are serving.” Project HOPE responded, providing classes on a variety of topics, from psychological first aid and gender-based violence, to sexual exploitation and de-escalation.

Cartagena remembers the resiliency training provided by Project HOPE as being extremely impactful for the staff. Migrants staying in SAMU’s respite center had been sharing stories of the violence, including sexual, experienced during their journey. 

“It created so much pressure for the staff,” He said. “Just hearing the stories… they did not know how to answer. We were hearing this information and keeping it to ourselves. That was the worst part of this work. It was really, really hard for our team.”

The resiliency workshop coupled with the psychological first aid training helped the SAMU team begin to understand the psychological process guests in their were experiencing. Cartagena said it shed light on why they might act a certain way and how to address issues as they arose. 

“That was important,” He explains, “Because it gave us the tools for how to handle this process. It is something we cannot change, but we can listen and put ourselves in their shoes. Just listening is the best way that we can help them. Now we are able to better care for our guests, and separate what is happening at work from our home lives.”

The final ask was perhaps the most critical, as buses previously bound for Union Station – a transportation hub in the heart of the city – began dropping migrants near the Naval Observatory and private residence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. The immediate surrounding area is largely unpopulated and migrants dropped without notice struggled to know where to go for assistance upon arrival. Jones remembers SAMU’s request around this challenge distinctly: “We need a large vehicle that can move people.”

In less time than than anyone would believe, the keys to a 14-passenger van were being handed to Cartagena. “Project HOPE was really focused on getting us the best possible option,” He said, adding that, suddenly, the weight of trying to arrange reliable transportation was lifted. Picking people up from wherever they were dropped off was no longer an issue, but that gift provided so much more. 

We can now take people to medical appointments. We can take them to Baltimore to change their address with ICE,” Cartagena said. “I was feeling like it was helping me to do my job better every day. I was feeling like it was for me, even though it was for SAMU. [Project HOPE] told me something like, ‘I hope this helps to make your job easier.’ And definitely it did.”

Jones says that partnering in this space has only increased the organization’s interest in further supporting SAMU’s work. As the trust between the NGOs grows, so does the value of the partnership between SAMU and Project HOPE. 

“It has made it even stronger,” Jones said. “Our relationship and trust were built on years of working together around the world. We have [now] shown that we can continue to work together in the United States. As SAMU looks to increase and expand their work here, Project HOPE stands ready, willing and able to support that work in any way we can.

SAMU teams working at the frontlines of COVID19

More than 64,000 people have tested positive, there are over 4,000 in ICU and over 4,800 have died. Those were the numbers of COVID-19 in Spain as of February 27. Numbers that will tragically continue to grow. Madrid is one of the regions mostly affected in the country by the epidemic. More than half of the diseased nationwide are from this area. To this, there is a growing number of healthcare professionals infected and under quarantine. With over 10,000 workers affected, hospitals have experienced an important shortage in the times of crisis. To this end and following a call from the health department of the Junta de Andalucía, SAMU is working to provide support to the province of Malaga as well as in mobilizing special units to the Comunidad de Madrid. 

SAMU has mobilized three intensive surveillance units, a high capacity vehicle and four units of volunteers with over twenty medical professionals to support operations in Madrid in order to safely move a group of senior citizens that have tested positive to COVID-19 to treatment centers throughout the area. This is a highly demanding job, both physically and emotionally because it forces medical teams to work with protective gear which distances them from patients and are extremely uncomfortable. To add to the arduous routine, the personnel has to follow strict guidelines to disinfect and change after each shift. “Taking care of you to be able to take care of others” is as Juan Gonzales de Escalada, SAMU’s Chief of Operations describes it. 

At the same time, SAMU is working on the transfer of 28 COVID patients from a senior residence in Alacala del Valle in the province of Cadiz. This mission, authorized by the Junta de Andalucia, has been set in motion as a virus outbreak had been identified in the residence, affecting both residents and their supportive personnel. Originally, a group of six health professionals from SAMU were mobilized to the residence. The team was composed of one doctor, one nurse, two emergency technicians and two nurse assistants. The team was led by Andres Rodrigues, a nurse, who conducted a survey of the situation, analyzed the conditions of the elderly and recommended their transfer to a temporary hospital that SAMU had set in the Residencia El Burgo, located in La Linea de la Concepcion. After this, the medical team proceeded to a full disinfecting cleanup of the residency. 

For the transfer of the patients, SAMU provided one bus, six ambulances and two special support ambulances. The transfer counted with a caravan from the national police. During this time, a team of other five professionals were setting up the temporary hospital in La Linea. A day after the transfer, a large number of agents from security and health services from the state sounded sirens in honor of the elderly at the doors of the temporary hospital. Sirens and applauses were followed by SAMU’s team, who showed their solidarity and gratefulness with applauses from inside the premises. Neighbors from the municipality held a large sign that read “You are also our grandparents”. 

Today, 24 SAMU professionals are caring for a total of 28 patients. The security measures are high and all personnel count with the proper PPE. 

“This is a hard and pure humanitarian action, as says our boss Carlos Alvarez Leiva, it’s a textbook crisis” Says Andres Rodrigues, supervisor of the temporary hospital in La Linea. “I am very surprised. I have been to many humanitarian missions in places like Siria and Libia, but I never imagined to be living such a situation in this part of Europe”.

On another front, SAMU continues to provide services in Malaga, where it moves between three to four patients on a daily basis. In addition, the Empresa Publica de Emergencias Sanitarias has requested that SAMU presents a contingency plan of up to 150 workers ready to support all stages of the crisis. Fortunately SAMU’s personnel has received training on the use of PPE and are used to working in high risk areas including working under areas of viral infections. According to Gonzalez de Escalada “its about taking the most extreme precautions”. 

At the closing of SAMU’s march magazine edition, we are still in action helping in all fronts of the crisis with a plan of action and a series of projects to support the local authorities such as the set up of homeless shelters in Madrid and Seville, and the opening of a temporary hospital in the hotel Aljarafe in Seville, aimed at treatment of the elder population. SAMU’s General Director, Carlos Gonzales de Escalada has put his entire organization and resources to the disposal of local authorities and the society in general to contribute to its maximum capacity in the solution of the current health crisis. 

Close to 600 children under the protection of SAMU

The massive arrival of immigrants in small boats to the Andalusian coast in recent years has put all the social entities involved in this phenomenon on alert, among them the SAMU Foundation, which currently hosts about 560 minors who have arrived clandestinely to Spain without being accompanied by an adult. These are distributed among the 16 different centers available to the organization. On the one hand, the so-called Temporary Emergency Accommodation Units or Immediate Care centers, and, on the other, the Basic Residential Care centers. Most of them come from Morocco, although there are also children from Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.

Irregular immigration has more than doubled so far this year compared to the figures of 2017, which were alarming then. Spain is already the main access route to Europe, surpassing Italy. Up to the 15th of July, the irregular immigrants who had entered this year in Spain, mostly by sea and on the coast of Andalusia, already numbered 15,686, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior —the European agency Frontex raises this to 18,016 for the same period—, 114% more than in 2017, when the figure had already increased by 170%.

Many of these immigrants are unaccompanied foreign minors. In the first seven months of 2018, some 3,200 unaccompanied foreign minors came to Andalusia through its shores, a thousand of them in July alone, compared to 2,855 in all of last year, according to data from the Andalusian Government.

This year, the SAMU Foundation, by order of the Board, has opened, as of yet, 11 new resources aimed at this group. Two of them are Basic Residential Care centers, and the rest are Immediate Care centers.

The last two emergency temporary shelter resources were opened in August in Guillena (Seville) and Jimena (Cádiz). In addition to these, there are two more in the province of Cádiz open this year and two more in 2017, two in the province of Almeria, and three in that of Granada, all of them active from this year.

In terms of Basic Residential Care resources, which allow minors to remain at the center until children reach legal adulthood, SAMU has three resources in Seville, Granada and Cadiz. The last of them was set up in El Bosque, in the province of Cádiz, at the end of May. It was born from a need of the General Direction of Childhood and Families of the Board to address the needs of minors who arrived in Spain during the year 2017 and were still being cared for in Immediate Care centers. There are 13 people who work here, among them psychologists, social workers, educators, teachers, and edudational technical assistants.

“The key objective of the Basic Residential Care centers is to insert these children into society. Our role is one of social and professional guidance that starts with the task of documenting the minors, placing them in educational centers or in different courses and working with them towards their future emancipation,” indicates Nicolas Torres, director of SAMU minors.

All these resources add up to two more instruments in Motril (Granada), a Center of Social/ Professional Orientation, opened in 2013, and a floor for children who have been under the guardianship of SAMU and who have already reached legal age.

La Caixa Foundation donates € 10,000 TO SAMU Foundation to assist in their reconstruction mission in Nepal

La Caixa Social Work has donated € 10,000 to the SAMU Foundation, contributing to SAMU’s mission in Nepal. They have been present at the signing of Insausti July D. Bono, Director of the Business Center of the Caixa and Dr. Carlos Alvarez Leiva, President of SAMU, who thanked Caixa for their support of the SAMU Foundation.

This donation will help rebuild an orphanage and create an assistance campaign for children of the orphanage and for populations in the surrounding areas. Therefore, SAMU will create an advanced medical area to help those in need. 

On May 11, the first team of SAMU health professionals left for Kathmandu with 300 kg in humanitarian necessities. 
With 5,500 units donated by Menarini Group analgesics of Spain and 300 kg of medical equipment, the SAMU team will help the wounded and the refugees of the recent earthquakes in Nepal.

International Meeting Crisis Management and Disaster in Curitiba, Brazil

Samu International in association with The Chains Group held the day 6-8 February in Curitiba: “The International Meeting on Crisis and Disaster Management”.

The aim is to encourage debate about the importance of prior organization to crises and disasters. This meeting will feature lectures, theoretical and practical courses, also will be launched in the Brazilian country in the second edition of the book by Dr. Carlos Alvarez Leiva: “Atendimento de Saúde em to Multiple Frames vitimas and Disasters”.

Dr. Alvarez Leiva made two free and open to the public about the book and the management structure of global crisis brought to Brazil for the event talks.

The course content will include: Risk Management, a systematic view, introduction to crisis management, health teams in events and disasters, the role of universities in scientific research on disasters and major events, disaster medicine, hospital and disasters and crisis cabinet and SCI.

About the World Cup, the president of Samu stressed the ability to mobilize the Brazilian people. “The people of this country is prestativa solidarity and an event with these proportions is the opportunity to improve the care and services they need to integrate and prioritize an organization and efficient logistics.