Friday, March 18, 2011
A Child's Plea: 'Please No More Violence'
On this second Friday of Lent we remember the children in the small community of Palomas in the state of Chihuahua. The town, which is located directly across the border from Columbus, N.M., has suffered its share of the drug-related violence that has swept much of northern Mexico (and many places in the interior). The violence at times has hampered efforts to bring food and supplies to this mostly low-income community.
Yet, volunteers like Esperanza Lozoya, Guadalupe Otero and Victoria Tester continue their efforts. The above illustration was created by a child in Palomas with the plea "I ask you that there be no violence."
I also want to share a letter from Victoria Tester about the efforts of La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach in 2010 and now in 2011. Through this letter about the Palomas Outreach 2010 year, Tester--who is a U.S. coordinator for La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach-- hopes to inform you of extraordinary things accomplished on behalf of our suffering border town, where large numbers of people are living not only without safety, but without work, a daily meal, running water, electricity, or the ability to send their children to school.
La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach is a U.S. non-profit secular humanitarian aid organization operating for the past seven years on Buenaventura Street in Palomas, Chihuahua. They offer a daily meal program for seniors and the disabled, emergency family food distribution and community health services to destitute families of the border town of Palomas, Chihuahua. La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach is founded and directed by Mexican-American Esperanza Lozoya; it operates under the umbrella organization of the Andrew Sanchez Youth Center in Columbus, New Mexico, whose director Guadalupe Otero, Lozoya's sister, won a Robert Wood Johnson Award in 2003.
Click on the link below to read Victoria Tester's letter
2010 in Palomas, Chihuahua: A year spent aiding the poor of a Mexican border town
The Palomas Outreach pantry was down to its last few items, and only subsequent bean and rice donations to us from Diaz Farms in Deming saved many families in Palomas from starving.
Apart from that, winter donations remained very low. Bad went to worse when Carl Fox of Christian Faith International Ministries withdrew his monthly donation of one hundred pounds of beans and rice to the Outreach when he visited our building in Palomas. A visiting Anglican artist, by unanimous vote of the elderly Palomas residents the Outreach serves, had recently painted the Virgin of Guadalupe on the wall of the small chapel provided for them in the Outreach building complex.
Carl Fox told director Esperanza Lozoya: “Since you’re promoting the Roman Catholic faith, our donation will no longer be forthcoming!” She wept when she asked me: “How could a Christian deny food to others because of the Virgin of Guadalupe?”
Our goal at the Outreach is to serve the community without religious or racial discrimination. We are a rainbow of people at the Palomas Outreach, and we want to serve all the poor of the community.
Children of families in receipt of emergency food from the Outreach were asked to draw their days with and without food. It’s hard to look at what the children portray in bright crayon: themselves, frowning or crying at empty tables, or just sleeping, going to bed all day because there is nothing to eat. Posters were made and hung around Silver City, and e-mailed to those we hoped would be moved to help.
Ace Hardware in Silver City donated four bright red barrels for Outreach non-perishable food collection. Food Basket stores in Silver City and Bayard agreed to host our red barrels, thanks to their corporate leaders.
We want to serve the needs of Palomas children across the board. We know the evangelical Casa de Amor Para Ninos, the children’s shelter in Palomas, through their regular food and clothing distribution to Palomas’ Protestant ministers, serves those children who belong to Protestant congregations.
But what about the children of families living outside faith? And the huge numbers of Catholic children? And the Tarahumara children?
We donated crayons and paper and asked Father Antonio of the Catholic Church in Palomas to collect prayers from the children of his parish, and he did: “May I not lack food. May You send more food, more water. May it rain. May there be no more fighting. May You please send more food. May there be no more killings.”
We shared their prayers with as many as we could, and we carried letters from Father Antonio to parish priests in Silver City and Santa Clara to create more awareness about hunger in Palomas among their congregations. At St. Vincent de Paul Father Rod Nichols told the church workers to empty the entire kitchen’s cupboards for us. He invited me to speak to his large congregation during masses, and the children of Palomas’ drawings were set up near the altar.
We also contacted the Catholic Bishop of the Las Cruces Diocese, and through the Bishop made contact with Catholic Charities, who expressed their solidarity with our work for the poor, gave us many ideas, and began to work for a Palomas Outreach share in a huge flour donation expected in the fall.
Mother’s Day in May saw the first musical benefit in a benefit series we started specifically on behalf of the children. Four musical benefits were held in 2010, at the Unitarian Church, at A.I.R. Coffee Company in Bayard, and at the Silco Theater in downtown Silver City.
We wanted to implement a summer meal program for the children of Palomas. But we needed even more food, or the money to buy it.
Then in May, the dreaded month we knew school would end and a majority of children in Palomas would lose their only daily meal, there was thankfully a turning point in awareness about the widespread hunger in Palomas when KVIA/ABC-7 in El Paso, Texas contacted us for a story about our efforts to feed the town’s children. We accompanied Tom Scott and reporter Jill Galus into Palomas, under police escort in the town’s only old police car, and when that old wreck was apparently needed by authorities to go investigate an incident, we continued on in Palomas’ only ambulance, which the Outreach had restored from a gutted, vandalized shell and even operated for a while.
The atmosphere was very tense as we crossed the border, walked and then drove through the small town with the large television camera. We found next to no one on the streets outside the rosy rectangle set up for tourists near the border gate.
The town looked strangely, utterly empty. It was not the Palomas of the often playful street scenes I once photographed. Then we found the people. Huddled in their homes. Unsmiling children sat on old sofas set directly on dirt floors, without a single book, or toy to play with. Opened refrigerators and cupboards were completely devoid of food. People, we were told, were afraid to leave their houses. Most people had no regular daily meal. One child considered his family lucky because his mother had a small bowl of eggs in an otherwise empty refrigerator. At his aunts’ and uncles’ houses, he said, they had absolutely nothing.
The El Paso news broadcast made a difference. More calls and donations to the Outreach came in than before. Still, we knew it wouldn’t be enough to feed all the children who were going to lose their daily meal when school ended on both sides of the border. We estimated that number to be at between 2,500 and 3,000 children.
Hunger in Palomas is mostly a problem of child hunger, as there are only between 4,000 and 5,000 people remaining in the town, and we estimate that at least three-fifths of these are children.
We needed more help if we were to have a larger lunch program. And it came. The first phase of the Palomas Outreach summer lunch program ran from mid-June 14 through mid-July. Prepared sack lunches were driven across the border and distributed directly to 1,000 to 1,500 Palomas children at three locations: closest to the border gate, the Palomas Outreach building itself on Buenaventura Street; further in at the Main Plaza, where the Catholic Church is situated; and thirdly, further on, at the plaza where the Ford Elementary school is, commonly called the Pancho Villa Plaza. This was for the convenience of the children and their families, so that children would not be discouraged by the need to walk long distances to pick up their meals.
(Read about benefit concert in July),
During the second phase of the program, which started mid-July, seven to fifteen thousand pounds of food arrived a week, thanks to the growing awareness and concerted efforts by churches, ministries, individuals and entities across New Mexico and in El Paso. This massive food distribution continued into early fall.
The distribution of all this food inside Palomas was an immense labor of love, only made possible by Outreach director Esperanza Lozoya’s abilities as an organizer long integrated into the community as someone working on behalf of its poor, and by the teams of ready Outreach volunteers, hardy, courageous women from the Palomas community, who contributed long hours.
July, there was another wonderful turning point when we acquired, through the generosity of a church in Silver City, a Palomas Outreach office space in Columbus, which also serves as a liaison office for the underserved Catholic parish of Palomas, for those who wish to donate specifically to it, or to meet with the Palomas priest on the U.S. side of the border. Our donor church prefers to remain anonymous so all visitors and donors will feel equally welcome. We now have air conditioning and a refrigerator and freezer, and no longer have to meet donors (who sometimes drive in from as far away as Santa Fe) on a bench in the Columbus town park! Our hours at the Columbus Palomas Outreach office are by appointment.
The Southwest monthly Desert Exposure published “Hope on the Border” a May 2010 recorded interview with Palomas Outreach founder and director Esperanza Lozoya. It introduced the voice and work of an extraordinary woman to a wider range of people on the U.S. side of the border. More calls came in. Also in August, the Silver City U.S. mail carriers held a Food Drive for Palomas on behalf of the Outreach.
But we knew the children were now facing another huge dilemma: lack of school registration fees, supplies and uniforms. School registration is only nominally free in Mexico, and school enrollments in Palomas, low even in good times, were at an all-time low. We hoped the food aid provided by the Outreach would make it easier for many to enroll their children in school, but during the huge summer family food distributions, we asked families registered with the Outreach who were certain they would not be able to enroll their children for the 2010-11 school year to sign up for possible help to do so. The Outreach registered 350 children in need of assistance for school attendance. With the Palomas Child Education Project, through which we raised funds, school supplies and uniforms, dozens of children in Palomas were able to attend school.
We were once again back to little emergency food to distribute to Palomas’ destitute families. October and November, the time of the elections, were unfortunately necessarily quiet though not peaceful months for the Outreach, though there was some emergency food distribution and the daily meal for seniors and the disabled continued. Because of the huge amount of Outreach food distribution to between 350-700 Palomas families made possible by massive donations coming in throughout the summer of 2010, we were, ironically, in the fall, facing more difficulties than before in Palomas. But huge, loyal public expressions of support by those families the Outreach serves sustained us.
As does the personal commitment of director Esperanza Lozoya to the poor. The Palomas Outreach remains deeply committed to serving the ongoing crisis of need in Palomas.
We held a Palomas Holiday Food Drive. The Diaz family of Diaz Farms in Deming donated a large amount of holiday food --including eight turkeys; two departments at NMSU sent food donations, and a concerned professor at NMSU promised regular help in 2011; also Silver City individuals pitched in generously with ingredients for tamales and bizcochos and piñata parties.
But donations did not meet the widespread need in Palomas at Christmas. We had to give the holiday food away by special Christmas lottery, rather than choose who would and would not receive it among our many registered families.
Late December brought, like a Christmas present, the long awaited 4,600 pound brown and white flour donation organized through Catholic Charities. Esperanza Lozoya, with Outreach volunteers, repackaged and distributed the flour to 500 families in Palomas families on December 23rd
The very last day of 2010 brought us a generous donation from the brother of a dear friend who passed on in October.
That last day donation, and the memory of all the efforts of every single one of you who came forward in large numbers as individuals, ministries, churches and secular organizations to help us help Palomas in any way in 2010, gave us the heart and the strength to go into the New Year.
Winter donations are, again, low. Only a few days ago the Outreach pantry reported it was down to a last bag of beans and a few cans. But now two thousand pounds of beans have been directed our way by a donor in Colorado.
Our most basic needs are beans, rice, flour, dry or canned milk, non-perishable sources of vitamin C, and essential hygiene products. We are also in special need of baby food, and infant formula for mothers who cannot breastfeed their infants. We’d also welcome help with starting a clinic at the Outreach building complex, or any efforts on behalf of a child immunization clinic. Outreach promotoras are trained and qualified to administer injections.
We are also in need of and would deeply welcome your letters of spiritual support. The Palomas Outreach website, maintained from the Mexico interior, is running months behind. More recent information is available by contacting me, coordinator in the U.S., by email at email@example.com, or at 575-536-9726, or the Director, Esperanza Lozoya, in Mexico, at Palomas_Outreach@yahoo.com, or 011-521-656-341-4195.
La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach is not the only humanitarian aid organization operating programs in Palomas. Though they are in no way responsible for the information or opinions expressed in this letter, I would like to list them and their websites here so you can find out about the wonderful things they are doing.
They are, to my knowledge, and in alphabetical order:
Border Partners (Read about their breakfast burrito program. They also helped sponsor a business created by a group of women in Palomas to sell oilcloths).
La Cooperativa de la Frontera
U.S. Coordinator for La Luz de La Esperanza Palomas Outreach
Victoria Tester is a poet and playwright who spent several years working quietly in Palomas as an independent photographer, and whose book Miracles of Sainted Earth(University of New Mexico Press) won the nationally recognized WILLA Literary Award, in honor of its portrayal of the lives of women in the Southwest.