Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vision and Perspective

Our charity is more than the number of people we helped, the number of children we fed and the accounting we provide for every dollar we spend as a charity. Paper Houses is an advanced charity. It is a grown-up and it is a difficult charity.

Although we list our many accomplishments and account for every dollar, Paper Houses Across the Border is serving more than those lists. Our charity is a commitment and a sacred trust. Our help is not conditional and is certainly not affected by the dangers of the cartels in Acuna or the impact of the economy on our personal lives. Our commitment to sacrifice and service to the poor of the colonias is not based upon the shifting sands of safety and the economy. Changing conditions only means that we work harder to keep our sacred promises and commitments.

We do not honor Paper Houses Across the Border, but we honor the people Paper Houses serves. We strive to be worthy of the example of the people we serve. We strive to be worthy of Juan Pedro and Ambar - both very young children who smile, laugh and play in spite of the fact that they each lost a leg before their 10th birthday. We strive to be worthy of every working family that remain living in terrible poverty and who are surrounded by violence.

We are all broken and living lives of imperfection. With all of our great wealth, and we have all been blessed with great wealth, we still feel lacking in some ways. We honor the people of the colonias who give us time to reflect and to put our own difficulties into perspective. They give us opportunities to fill the voids in our lives. We honor these people as they give us many opportunities to fix something - right now! We feel frustrated because we cannot fix the economy, the unemployment, the mounting national debt and we cannot end hunger or prevent the injustice of amputations and poor health. The children and people of the colonias give us some things we can fix - right now. We can provide medicine that heals a few children and they do not need to undergo amputations. We can provide prosthetic limbs, surgery that prevent blindness and we can feed a child. We can walk into a child's life and say, "Here! I can buy you a good meal every day at school. It only cost me $3 a month!" Although we may fill their little bellies, they fill our souls!

Our time and our money are blessings entrusted to us and we are expected to invest both wisely. We honor the children of the colonias for the opportunity they provide for us to do so in an awareness of our physical mortality and our spiritual immortality.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Juanita - Surgery and Cancer in the colonias

Paper Houses Across the Border assists families in the impoverished colonias of Mexico and that assistance includes helping children with cancer. The children of the poor in Mexico have little chance for help when cancer strikes.

Many of the poor in Mexico are illiterate. Many accept the belief that they were born poor for a reason and that they will remain poor. Many are superstitious and many believe that when a child is stricken with cancer it is God's punishment for the family. There is often a stigma attached to having a child with cancer and some families are reluctant to admit their child has cancer.

Many seek help.

Hospitals that offer chemotherapy, radiation therapy and cancer surgery are concentrated in large cities. Travel to those hospitals is expensive and not covered by the public health insurance available to the poor. Travel expenses from Acuña, Mexico to Monterrey - the closest large city offering cancer treatments, is about $300. The average family that we help has a monthly take-home pay of $200. To put it another way, although health insurance greatly reduces the cost of treatment, most children are doomed because their families cannot even afford to travel to the cancer hospitals.

If a family can get to a large treatment hospital, they would still not be able to pay their portion of the costs for cancer treatments. Our experience has been that the co-pay for each treatment is 10 times the amount of monthly income for the poor.

However, the real health problems of many children in Mexico have some underlying factors. They begin at birth.

First, there are the maquilas. These foreign owned factories employ millions of Mexicans and produce everything from seat-belts to electronics. Corporations admit that they outsource jobs to these factories because labor is inexpensive. (We recognize that the slave wages are so low that many factory workers live in squalor. Families squat on unoccupied land, build houses from scraps of lumber and cardboard, and lack access to water, electricity, plumbing, roads and health care). Although these factories contribute money to shelters, parks, and charities they pay little or no taxes.

There are no scientific studies and there seems to be nothing in writing but another reason the companies relocate may be that they are not prosecuted for the pollution of the air and water in these communities. In some cases, their acts of pollution are not even illegal. Put another way, they are 'just doing what everyone else is doing' so that makes it OK. It is far too easy for us to walk the streets and find children with birth defects.

So the children of the poor begin with polluted water and air. They also begin with a substandard diet that lacks sufficient vitamins. Again, we cannot find scientific research. However, our experiences in the colonias certainly suggest significant nutritional problems among the poor children.

For example, in 2002 when we interviewed individual teachers at primary schools, every teacher said that their number one need was help to provide the children with nutritious meals. We expected the teachers to ask for school materials, computers, new classrooms, or building repairs. We were stunned when every teacher said that their number one need was for the children to have at least one nutritious meal. Teachers told stories about little girls and boys who fainted during class because of poor nutrition.

Then, we began hearing about nutrition at the private hospital.

A little boy named Sergio stepped on a nail. He was treated at the public hospital, where the poor must go if they have no insurance. The mother returned to the hospital with the child because the wound on the foot was swelling and turning dark. The doctor prescribed pain medication. (We later learned that doctors often do not prescribe the powerful antibiotics needed to halt infection because the poor cannot afford such medicine). When we found the little boy he was in bed because it was too painful for him to stand. The foot was swollen and the wound smelled of infection. We feared gangrene. The doctors at the public hospital said that the foot needed to be amputated. The good news was that amputations is covered by the public health insurance.

At the private hospital, Dr. De la Fuentes said that he could save the foot, but we would need to act quickly. "First, we must admit him to the hospital for a week so we can give him vitamins and build up his strength to withstand the operation." During the following years we've heard this many times. Before a surgery we need to build up their systems by providing vitamins and wholesome meals.
Mexican doctors are very aware of the problem as is the government. According to their own studies as many as 1/3 of the children being treated for cancer suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies .

It is easy to say that this is Mexico's problem and that the Mexican government, the Mexican churches and the Mexican people must help these children. Although the people, government, churches and charities of Mexico help thousands and thousands of children and are working to improve nutrition and health - the scope of the problem exceeds their capacity to keep little boys like Sergio from having a foot amputated and little girls like Juanita from dying from cancer on her liver.

The argument that we can't help these children because we must help Americans first is only true if we've given so much to charities and hospitals in America that we are without money to go to the movies, enjoy cable TV, and can never afford a nice meal in a restaurant. Most people that hide behind "America first" when it comes to charity seldom have done without a single luxury because they are helping American children. We know this because almost all of our supporters also help with charities that are focused on the Untied States.

Furthermore, the argument that we must only help at home is not with me or Paper Houses. It is with the son of a carpenter. He was often criticized for helping the untouchables and foreigners. Why did He heal a child of a tax collector, a servant of a hated Roman Centurion, a foreigner at a well? It is often said that He taught by example.

The argument is with Sergio who can now walk. It is with Juanita as she lays on the operating table, today.