Meet the Abara Team
Keisha was born and raised in Petersburg, Virginia. Growing up in a low income community, Keisha strived to ensure she would make an impact in the lives of those in marginalized populations.
Gustavo was born and raised in El Paso, TX. He is the current youth program assistant for middle school and high school programs in Ciudad Nueva in addition to serving as part of the Abara team.
Sami’s desire to engage border issues through Abara has emerged out of 15 years of neighborhood-based work with youth and families at Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach. He lives and works with his family in the Rio Grande District, a beautiful community in the heart of El Paso, Texas where most of his neighbors have recently moved from Mexico and are striving to acclimate and pursue their dreams. Given the strategic location of the neighborhood, and the challenges facing the border region Sami felt compelled to help people come together across boundaries to learn from each other, understand border realities and address some of the most challenging needs on the frontier.
Born to American parents in the country of Jordan, Sami spent the majority of his childhood and young adult years in the Middle East – living in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt and then India – before completing college in the United States. He holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. He has spent the last eighteen years immersed in refugee and immigrant communities in the U.S., working in refugee resettlement with World Relief in the greater Chicago area prior to joining Ciudad Nueva and then starting Abara.
Sami serves on the international board of directors of Micah Global and on the global connections committee of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) – networks striving for flourishing communities free from poverty and injustice. He has helped form a number of local and regional groups focused on poverty alleviation and bridge-building in the business, community development and faith sectors. Sami’s driving motivation is to join others, close and far, in bridging divides and moving toward reconciliation with God, his neighbors and the rest of creation.
Sami loves to learn more about his neighbors and the border region, walk across the border into Ciudad Juarez for tacos, go on backpacking trips into the mountains, visit the small farm that he and his wife are long-distance partners in, dream up new entrepreneurial and job-creation schemes, help lead trips to the Middle East, or discover back alley coffee/tea shops in unfamiliar cities across the world.
Keisha was born and raised in Petersburg, Virginia. Growing up in a low income community, Keisha strived to ensure she would make an impact in the lives of those marginalized and with the same background as her, in hopes that those who believe they cannot reach certain goals because of their circumstances are motivated to try. These experiences encouraged Keisha to pursue an education in Sociology.
Keisha graduated in May 2016 from Marymount University just outside of Washington, D.C. with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in Gender Studies. In college, Keisha spent a summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as part of a Campus Crusade for Christ mission trip. There, she worked at a daycare for low income families and participated in Christian community development and evangelism in inner-city Milwaukee. Two years later, she studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland and interned at a refugee center for over 40 children seeking asylum, from countries such as Syria, Thailand, Romania, the Congo, and Afghanistan. Throughout the rest of her time in college, Keisha led the Campus Crusade for Christ movement at Marymount, mentored other college students, volunteered, and did independent research on gentrification and racial injustice in and around Washington, D.C.
Understanding and studying injustice, inequality and social exclusion, Keisha’s passion for immigration, refugees, and loving those who are marginalized grew. She is excited to work with those populations as part of the Abara team. After a year in the Border Fellows Program, Keisha has decided to continue working with Ciudad Nueva and St. Clement’s Parish School, and now we are please to have her on the Abara team.
Blanca Castillo was born in Honduras and immigrated to the United States at the age of three, where she became a naturalized citizen through her parents. Upon arrival in the US, her family worked steadfastly in creating and growing their own small trucking business to meet the ever growing needs of raising six children.
Growing up, she felt a deep attachment to immigration and how it impacted the lives of those in her diverse immigrant community in Richmond, Virginia and those beyond the borders of the U.S. In college, Blanca studied Government with a concentration in western legal traditions and minored in Spanish.
She was heavily involved in the multicultural student advocacy center, served on student senate, volunteered as a language partner for the international student office, and served with a variety of non-profit organizations specializing in the support of immigrant communities. Midway through her college career, she completed an internship at an immigration legal clinic with the Commonwealth Catholic Charities of Virginia. It was there that she got her first look at the unfortunate realities of the U.S. immigration system and the crucial impact it has on the lives of families fleeing dangerous situations in their homelands.
This experience led her to move to El Paso, TX after graduation to partake in a post-graduate fellowship program with Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach called Border Fellows. Through the program, Blanca gained extensive experience studying the migrant crisis along the border and the impact of immigration on a city like El Paso. She volunteered with and researched the various Christian and non-profit shelters that had opened their arms to migrants in spite of the ever-shifting immigration policies of the Trump administration. She also worked as a legal intake volunteer with a local immigrant advocacy center, connecting with various Mexican governmental groups along the way.
Her passion to connect with and support the shelters in Juarez is what drives her work with Abara as a shelter connector. Her greatest hope is to educate as many individuals as possible on the crisis at our borders and bring back the human aspect of immigration.
Gustavo De Los Rios
Gustavo was born and raised in El Paso, TX. He is the current youth program assistant for middle school and high school programs in Ciudad Nueva in addition to serving as part of the Abara team. Gustavo attended all three core Ciudad Nueva programs, which included Launch Pad (Elementary), Kids Create (Middle School) and then eventually attending Young Life (High School) which have provided him with many great experiences and has helped him gain many qualities you find in a leader. Gustavo has always lived in the neighborhood which has helped him better understand and relate to kids in the neighborhood that attend Kids Create and Young Life. When he attended high school when he started volunteering at Ciudad Nueva in 2013 he did that all the way up to his senior year of high school. In 2015 he got offered an internship that lasted for a year where he would be specifically volunteering at Kids Create (Middle School).
After he graduated he started attending the University of Texas at El Paso in 2016 where he started a degree in social work. After his internship he joined the Ciudad Nueva staff part time and would be assigned to be the youth program assistant for both Kids Create (Middle school) and Young Life (High School) programs.