Patti Kremer: Not your average Mexican vacation
I just returned from a 17-day journey to Mexico to help teach a reading, writing and math class and help build fiber-cement toilets. I went to Mexico to work with the organization "Caminamos Juntos Para Salud Y Desarrollo" (Walking Together for H...
I just returned from a 17-day journey to Mexico to help teach a reading, writing and math class and help build fiber-cement toilets.
I went to Mexico to work with the organization "Caminamos Juntos Para Salud Y Desarrollo" (Walking Together for Health and Development). The objective of the organization is to help provide better access to medical treatment and safe, clean water for a small mountain village called Tlamacapaza in the state of Guerrero. We all called the place Tlama (ta-lama) for short.
For 10 days I helped teach women from Tlama ranging in age from 17 to 42. Caminamos Juntos is the brainchild of a woman named Susan Smith from Calgary. The women stayed at Susan's house in Cuernavaca for the duration of the class, and each morning at 9 a.m. I and four other women would come to the house prepared for a full day of teaching and interacting with the women.
In Tlama, houses are not built with wood and siding, but with cement and stick walls and tar-paper roofs. There are no paved roads in Tlama; some require a major effort just to walk up. Most babies are born without any medical assistance.
People travel more than two miles each way to get two clay pots of water, if they are lucky enough to be allowed to use the water wells. Some people sleep in lines next to the wells all night just to get enough water for a couple of days. Tlama has 9,000 people and four toilets, all of which Caminamos Juntos built. One of them I helped build while I was there.
Alcoholism is the largest social problem in the village. The majority of males in the village drink to excess, which leads to spousal abuse and wasting money otherwise intended for food and resources for the family. And harshly enough, kids are dying from such horrid diseases as worms in their stomachs.
Susan told us a story about a parent who brought his child to her asking for help for his sick daughter. Susan put her hand on the girl's stomach and could actually feel the worms moving inside. They gave the girl medicine which cleansed her body of the worms. But most children are not fortunate enough to get the medicine they need. One 7-year-old girl died because the worms crawled up her throat and suffocated her to death.
With all our modern medicines in the United States, it is difficult to recognize that much of the rest of the world is living with no medical assistance at all. Meanwhile, we moan about having to feed the dog and not having a Mercedes in our driveway.
And even though these women from Tlama have grown up in this harsh environment, each one of them smiled and laughed every day. Each one showed more love to us and each other than most of the people I know in the United States. Each one was so beautiful and unique and had so much to give. They were completely "normal" people. They had goals and dreams. They had senses of humor and sensitive spirits. Yet none of them had an education that matched their age. They've never been taught. Ninety-nine percent of Mexico hasn't been taught.
Only 1 percent of Mexicans can actually read a newspaper. One of our most amazing accomplishments was to teach a 42-year-old woman named Victoria how to write her name for the first time in her entire life. Can you imagine going through 42 years of life not knowing how to read the alphabet and how to add 12 and 6? I can't. We taught women, who didn't even have an idea what the symbol for a 3 was, how to write and recognize numbers and how to add these numbers.
We also tried to teach these women how to talk about their lives and feelings, how to communicate with others. We tried to let them know that they have value. They were beautiful, as individuals and moreso as a group.
To represent this, during the first day's closing we gave each woman a fresh flower. Each flower was different in species and color. We all sat in chairs in a circle. Each woman was asked to tell one thing about herself, and then place her flower in the vase in the middle of the circle. After each one placed their individual flowers in the vase, a beautiful bouquet was born.
We tried to teach them as a group they are strong. They can continue teaching and helping one another long after we are gone from Mexico. Together they can grow.
The other project we worked on for betterment of Tlama was developing fiber-cement outhouses. The idea is to develop and build sanitation systems which are more affordable than the present toilet options. Because Mexicans in Tlama can't afford toilets, they don't use them.
The present minimum wage in Mexico is 40 pesos a day, or $4 U.S. a day. No joke.
The concept behind using fiber-cement (cement mixed with recycled paper) is utilizing paper waste to cut costs when making the cement. The cement is not water repellent, but after building it and stuccoing it, the structures created with it are just as strong as using traditional cement.
Because of the research and development by Caminamos Juntos volunteers, Tlama might have a foreseeable solution to its immense sanitation problems. It's difficult to think of now, at this early stage in the development, but maybe, just maybe in 20 years, everyone in Tlama will have a bathroom in their backyard. If we value our bathroom time, just think how valuable a private outhouse would be to people in Tlama.
I learned much more about Mexico and the world we live in than I would have ever expected to on this trip. It was truly an eye-opening experience.
Patti Kremer is a graphic designer for Murphy McGinnis Newspapers. for more information about Caminamos Juntos, contact her at the Budgeteer News at 723-1207.