Healing Resources for a Vulnerable Community – Borders of Hope/Fronteras de Esperanza
By Rosa Bramble Weed, LCSW-R

In the days and months following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, between 18,000 and 35,000 people worked or volunteered in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. Clean up workers constituted a large number of workers in the area: cleaning office buildings, schools and debris. The majority of the clean up workers of ground zero were first generation immigrants from Latin America-Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia Mexico and the other countries.

Latinos provided countless hours of clean-up work at Ground Zero. Latino immigrants suffered disproportionately from health hazard and post traumatic stress disorder as a result of lack of occupational safety measures by employers and long term exposure to toxins and witnessing human disaster.

Currently they suffer from both mental anguish such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Anxiety, compounded by medical consequences such as extrinsic asthma, chronic sinusitis, GERD and development of various cancers. These medical and psychological conditions incapacitate women and men to work and sustain their families. Latino immigrants have multiple needs some of which are served in the larger hospitals, the psycho-emotional needs remained unaddressed and community based programs are better equipped to serve the population:

  • Physical needs: Latinos exposed to toxins in ground zero are in need of medical monitoring due to medical conditions such as gastrointestinal, upper and lower respiratory complications, skin infections, chronic asthma and various forms of cancer.
  • Psycho-emotional needs: Latino continue to suffer from depression, anxiety PTSD symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, nightmares compounded by previous trauma exposure.
  • Social systems needs: Latino immigrants experienced diminished income due to diminished work as a consequence of health and emotional challenges. They continue to struggle in navigating workers’ compensation and, after more than 10 years, many have not received monetary compensation. The results are unemployment, evictions, and increased sense of desperation. Multiple losses of health, work, and financial stability have lead to increased isolation, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and substance abuse.

Many of these problems are not addressed due to limitations in access to appropriate health care, disability and compensation benefits, and vocational rehabilitation services.

Latinos have been disproportionately affected because, as a group, they worked for the longest period of time at ground zero. Ongoing pressures to remain economically productive compel many Latino immigrants to continue working in stressful, physically demanding and hazardous jobs despite their physical and psychological illnesses.

Many Latino immigrants do not access to healthcare and other services because the heightened activities of immigration services have generated fear of deportation.

Latina women: The needs of Latina women differ from those of male counterparts at ground zero. Latina women constituted the largest group of women at ground zero, primarily as office workers but also as asbestos clean-up crews. Most of these women were not union members and were ineligible for union protections and benefits.

Latinas experience challenges related to the burden of single parent households, increased depression, and isolation. Many women faced increase incidences of intimate partner violence whereby partners extort their compensation money by threatening to expose them to deportation. Many undocumented Latinas who are unable to work are forced to stay in violent situations because they depended on partners for housing and financial support.

Borders of Hope/Fronteras de Esperanza, a volunteer community program, provides a safe place for immigrants to be supportive with each other and, through their strengths, to make transitions of empowerment in their lives. Borders of Hope assists to the undocumented Latino community regarding with housing, community services and linkages to healthcare. Borders of Hope is a resource for community providers and receives referrals from local hospitals, schools, providers, consulates and community networks.

For the 9/11 clean up workers, Borders of Hope provides ongoing supportive psycho educational groups on PTSD, which has proven to be helpful for workers who would otherwise not receive this knowledge and support.

Coherent Breathing is integrated into support groups. Rosa Bramble provides guidance and instruction for Coherent Breathing in Spanish to members of the Latino community who then practice in a safe group setting. Many members have benefited from Dr. Brown’s workshops and the recommended CD for pacing the breath. Coherent Breathing to help heal from not only emotional trauma but also headaches and sleeping disorders has proven to be of great benefit to the 9/11 clean up worker community. On September 13th, Borders of Hope will hold a special support group meeting. Rosa will provide a group class and teach basic coherent breathing in Spanish to clean up workers and will lead activities for remembrance and healing.

Rosa Bramble, LCSW‐R
Breath~Body~Mind Level‐1 Teacher

Bio Sketch

Ms. Rosa Bramble Weed is a native of Venezuela. A New York Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she has a private practice with a focus on trauma informed care, consultation and training. She is also an Academic Advisor at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Ms. Bramble Weed has completed post graduate studies in family therapy and advanced trauma studies, and trained in sensorimotor psychotherapy Level 1 and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Level II. She has extensive experience in the field of HIV/AIDS, recovery and maternal child health.

Since 2006 she was actively involved in the outreach efforts to engage and provide treatment to the WTC undocumented workers. By 2010, funding for mental health services and community services throughout NYC were closed. Latino workers did not have a place to go to in their communities and contacted Ms. Bramble Weed for help in finding a place to meet for support. Coming from an immigrant family, Ms. Bramble Weed understands, from first hand experiences, the struggles and obstacles immigrants overcome in order to fulfill their dreams. She felt compelled and committed to helping this group who felt forgotten and founded Borders of Hope/Fronteras de Esperanza.

Breath~Body~Mind focuses on breathing and movement as vehicles of healing from trauma. For the 9/11 community their bodies have become their enemies. Due to illness, primarily in the chest, lungs, and throat, breathing is challenging. The gentle B~B~M approach, listening to chimes while just laying down comfortably helps to begin to reconnect with your body, to befriend your breathing so that it is working with you and not against you. Many clients complain of their breathing, “If I breathe deeply I cough, or get asthma… I can’t breathe.” But, by learning to pace the breathing with the help of chimes, they feel relief as they learn a different way to experience their breath and their bodies. This brings them new hope, healing and recovery.