Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thinking About Christmas

We've set the dates for our Christmas Mission (December 13-15) and are now walking around contemplating this mission trip.

I feel like the character in Marathon Man when I am asked, "Is it safe?" and am confused by the question. There is far less violence in the city of Acuna than in any major U.S. city. The over-reporting of 'cartel violence' by our news media includes the crime from the entire nation of Mexico since 2006. Eliminate those engaged in the drug trade and those smuggling people and there is very little violence in the entire nation.

Two years ago there was a police pursuit in broad daylight that ended in gunfire. As in almost 99% of fights between authorities and the bad guys, the bad guys won. That same year there was a murder of an alleged cartel supporter.

During that same time, in California there were innocent people injured at a McDonalds during a drive-by shooting. In fact, if you check the FBI reports on the internet, since 2006 we've had more murders than Mexico and we are not involved in military operations against drug lords.

I feel safe. I walk the streets at least twice a month and feel no danger.

We will have a good Christmas Mission. Our plan is to meet at the Ramada Inn, Del Rio, Texas, on Friday evening. We will have a breakfast meeting on Saturday at 7 a.m. and board our van for the 10 minute ride into Acuna, Mexico. We will pick up groceries to distribute as we walk door to door and visit families. Over the next two days we hope to visit a shelter for children, visit a shelter for the elderly, host a Christmas Fiesta, meet many severely challenged children and share time with old and new friends.

We have requests for us to visit from 10 different schools, hospitals and shelters. So I have choices to make and plans to complete.

Hopefully, I can accommodate requests from those signing up for the mission. Many have been here on other mission trips.

All I am certain of is that this will be a wonderful start of the Christmas Season. click for details and sign up

Saturday, October 5, 2013

It is not supposed to be easy . . .

We continue to accept the challenges presented to us as we walk the colonias. Lately, we have encountered many children with severe disabilities. We visited a school that serves many of the more severely challenged children.

Parents are depressed and most know very little about the potential of their children. Many are constantly consumed with putting beans and rice on the table while caring for their child. We've met mothers that carry their child everywhere. They have no wheelchairs; these children need pediatric wheelchairs. Some children can hardly communicate simple 'yes' and 'no' answers. Many are malnourished. School teachers have no training to teach children with special needs. Even the special education teachers have very limited training. There is no help for a blind child to learn to read Braille. Many of the mothers suffer from deep depression and anxiety.

It is too easy to say, "This is not my problem".

So, we move forward. We are already working with DREAMS to secure one pediatric wheelchair. We are working with teachers and with families. We are working to have families receive weekly psychological help. We are also developing a long-range plan.

We will 'find' the money. People will ask why we help in Mexico when we have so many similar situations in the USA. In the colonias, the situation is compounded by the extreme poverty. Families that live for a week on $6 worth of groceries and parents that skip meals so that there is enough for their children are financially crushed by the needs of a disabled child. They cannot afford the cost of transportation for their children to receive physical therapy. Some carry their child to the outhouse.

We will do what we can with what we have today.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Walking Around

Walking the streets remains the best way to help the people in real need. Visiting families in their homes and walking through the neighborhood brings us to many people with needs. Often a neighbor will tell us about a child two doors down that needs surgery or an elderly couple in need of food. We witness the need, verify the situation with neighbors and know that when we help we are good stewards of donations.

Seldom to people ask for our help. In fact, it sometimes takes several visits before we can discuss ideas for improving a situation. Sometimes it takes several visits to gently ask about needs. For example, we helped a family with the cost of transportation to Monterrey (a 5-hour bus ride) so that their child can receive chemotherapy for many weeks. We were finally told that the doctor scolded the family because their son was not eating enough nutritious meals and this caused him to become very, very ill after the chemotherapy. The parents simply nodded and kept their heads down as the doctor told them to feed their child better food. What the doctor fails to see is their home, their budget and their inability to provide better meals.

After bottled water, city water, electricity and local transportation is paid the family had $6.00 to spend for the week's groceries. Six dollars to feed a family of four for an entire week. On weeks when the father misses work to take his child to the hospital in Monterrey the family has $4 for the week's groceries.

Obviously we cannot simply buy vegetables and meat for the one child that receives chemotherapy. We must supplement the diet for the other child, also. So helping a child to fight cancer involves bus tickets and groceries. We would never know this except for the regular home visits and building a friendship that allowed the parents to tell us that they were 'bad parents' because they cannot even provide good meals for their children. They were so very ashamed an we did all we could to tell them that they were good parents who did everything possible for their children.

Walking the streets and simply being friends is probably the best thing that we do.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

School Begins

Yes, school has started. It is 102 degrees inside this classroom as the teachers teach and the children learn. Like their parents and grandparents, the children don't say much about the heat. They have a job to do.

Sometimes a child faints during class, but this is usually due to being undernourished and hungry. We don't see this situation where we provide meals for the children.

Today I am just outside of Acuna, in the farming and ranching colonias where the poverty is stark. The little school only has 65 children and one employee. He serves as the director, teacher and janitor. He lives in a very dilapidated one room house on the school grounds. There is no plumbing in the house and a garden hose from the school is his shower.

The children arrive hungry and most remain hungry throughout the school day. Parents sell meals at cost. They are prepared on a two burner hot-plate and served in an empty building. Many children cannot afford the meals, even though the price only includes the cost of ingredients. The teacher would help, but he has not been paid since June. His pay is always late and there are always excuses.

We want to take on this school and three similar schools as part of our free cafeteria program. We are meeting with politicians and parents at the schools and will help if the government does its part - including the timely pay for this poor teacher. Our past experience has been that the government will respond when we get involved with the people. Of course we invite the media.

The challenge will be new donors. $20 a month would do the trick.

Friday, June 14, 2013

An Update

Between January and May of 2013 I frequently saw the new State Police Special Team in Acuna. Dressed in black in black trucks, armored vehicles and carrying heavy weapons this police unit engaged in regular gun-battles with the Zeta Cartel. Some of their activities made the news in Mexico; many did not.

The local hotels were threatened if they continue to house this unit and local restaurants were threatened if they fed them. The unit eventually set up a camp and bought in their own food. Most people told me that this unit hunted down and killed 9 alleged cartel members each month.

The PRI party is now in charge and the quality and quantity of food that they subsidize at school cafeterias (including ours) has been lowered. We are supplementing the food and continue to feed thousands of hungry children.

Five schools in the ranching/farming community just outside of Acuna have asked us for help. Their primary need is food for the children. We are working on that project.

The DIVINE PROVIDENCE nursing home is under new management. We told the new board members that we would like to help, but they must take specific actions before we could approve regular help. "Fire the existing staff. They mistreat the elderly and siphon off the money. Organize some fundraisers and use your own money to begin repairs."  Within 4-weeks a new staff was hired. Nurses are on site 24/7. Charts that track each patient's medicine are now used. The roof has been repaired, windows have been repaired and the place is immaculate. Fundraisers and generous donations from the new board of directors made this possible. As on June 1, 2013 we are now sending $1,000 per month to help this wonderful place.

Sam's Park opened. When Sam Wiegman passed away last Easter his mother requested donations be made to Paper Houses instead of flowers, so that a playground could be built in the colonias. Christine and her husband visited the playground and were overjoyed at seeing the children playing on the toys. Christine delivered tiles that were made by friends and relatives and they will be incorporated into the concrete sign that honors Sam.

Little Lilliana is now 4 years old and we scheduled additional surgery for this child. She suffers with  only weighs 20 pounds, suffers from cleft-palette, and eye and ear problems.

The picture to the left was taken during one of our earlier meetings with Lilliana and her family. Surgery improved the infant's condition (see next photo with Bob), but now she is ready for more surgery to help with her cleft-palette, vision and hearing problems.

After the surgeries we will work closely with her family and a local pediatrician .

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nuevo Laredo

The news of the discovered bodies in Neuvo Laredo prompted a quick trip to the colonias and shelters of that city. My initial belief that these latest murder victims were involved in cartel activities was disputed by the local people. The heads and feet were hacked off and law enforcement only speculates about these victims. Many locals think that they might have been migrants and not even from this area. All that seem obvious is that the bodies were dumped to intimidate and to lay claim to the area.

The cartels and the U.S. media share the goal of publicizing horrific stories. I appreciate our free pres reporting these types of stories; it is the over reporting and repeated rehashing of the story that is disturbing. It is the reference to other murders that sometimes occured months ago and a thousand miles distant that I find disturbing. But, the cartels love the way the U.S. media strngthens their image.

Many, dare I say most, Americans view Mexico as an unsafe, violent country where the streets run wil blood. Few Americans envision that children playing and going to school or the millions of people that go to work every day. Few are aware of the thousands of U.S. citizens that cross the border to go to work in the factories aong the Mexican side of the border. This is the direct result of the way the U.S. media reported the violence in Mexico during the last decade.

In Acuna, Mexico I witnessed store closures and the complete decimation of the tourist industry as a direct result of that media onslaught. I know what you are thinking, "the drug violence was responsible for crushing tourism" and I understand why you would think so. The media. Here is a fact that might rock you: four years BEFORE even one person was injured by a cartel member in Acuna, the tourism came to a halt. Americans were afraid to cross the border at any point because of the misrepresentations in the US media. Acuan enjoyed a zero percent homicide rate and yet Americans from places like San Antonio, Houston, Detroit and other cities were terrified to enter Acuna.

Nuevo Laredo experiences frequent and unexpected violence. There seems to be no pattern in the location, time or day that violence will erupt. I would not take my daughters or their children into Nuevo Laredo. However, every charity and church group that no longer visits can still send financial help to what they used to describe as their 'friends'.  Many of the orphanages and shelters have an interesting opinion.

"For years they came on mission trips with rice and beans. They set up Bible Studies and many required us to attend their church service to get the rice and beans. They took many photographs of the children and our little houses. We are not stupid. They went home, displayed those photos and collected huge amount of money for their next mission trip to help us. They returned and gave us rice and beans. Now they cannot get people to come because of the violence. So they abandoned us and are apparently too afraid to mail a check to the orphanages. Instead, they go to other places for their mission trips. Their trips are more about making money than helping. If not, why can't they at least send a small check to some of the churches and orphanages that they used to claim as friends, On their websites they described the many contacts and close relationships they had with local churches and charities. Many of these groups were simply here to raise money, not to help."

I don't know if the suspicions of the people are true, but I understand their thinking. We have not and will not abandon them. We have no money worries because we remain an organization of volunteers. The money we receive reaches those in need.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sam, We Will Keep You in our Thoughts

Sam Wiegman, 16 year old son of Christine and younger brother of Cordero, went home to his heavenly father on Easter.

Sam was in the 2nd grade when he first came to the colonias and he immediately had a heart for the people. Sam was polite and listened during our 'orientation' before the trip, but it was Sam's nature to experience things for himself. Sam learned much in the real world and he learned things that many of us failed to learn.

Watching him in the colonias was like watching boys seeking adventure in any strange environment, but Sam took risks that most of us never took. He risked rejection and risked appearing foolish when he immediately began playing with the kids of the colonias. During the early years, Sam knew no Spanish. He came from a life and place so different from the colonias that it was a marvel that he jumped right in to relationships with these children.

Sam made many trips to the colonias, every year. When on formal mission trips, he and Cordero were quick to find ways to help. They carried groceries, nailed walls, packed trucks with food for distribution and helped with the games and activities during fiestas. Sam and his brother experienced things denied to most children in the USA. They experienced befriending a little boy named Oscar who was dying of cancer. They visited a wonderful little girl named Lucinda who was dying of  progeria, an extremely rare genetic condition wherein symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at an early age. He experienced unselfish giving.

Most of us give from our abundance. Sam asked his mother, "Mom, instead of us getting presents for Christmas, can we get presents for Oscar and his family?" 

Christine once reminded Sam that his birthday fell on the day of a mission trip. She asked if he would like to have a birthday party at home instead of returning to the colonias for another trip. Sam did not hesitate. He told her, "I want to spend my birthday with my Mexican friends." Sam frequently visited the colonias, but this put aside any doubt that he loved the colonias and hes Mexican friends.

Sam's heart and soul were in the activities of life. If we had asked Sam why he sacrifices his time to be in the colonias, he would not have understood the question. To him the colonias were life.

My future walks in the colonias will be filled with Sam. I will walk the places he loved the best and will also search for new friends in new places. My visit next week will be to locate a place where we can honor Sam with a new playground for the children of the colonias.