The Raramuris peoples lives in isolated communities in the Sierra Tarahumara in the mountains of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. For those of us who live in New Mexico and western Texas, Chihuahua is our immediate neighbor to the south, and the Sierra Tarahumara is just a stone's throw away from El Paso and Tucson.
Perhaps if you've taken the Copper Canyon train from the city of Chihuahua to the Mexican west coast, you might have encountered some members of the Raramuris selling arts and crafts at the stations in Creel and other communities in the mountains. But for the most part, the members of these indigenous communities are out of sight and out of mind, not only for us but for most Mexicans.
Hunger is a very real problem in this area, and the situation has worsened in many of these communities because of drought. Climate change can have devastating effects on subsistence agriculture, and by some accounts, local corn production was down about 20,000 tons in 2011. Most of the time, we hear about these statistics after the fact.
One of those "after-the-fact" accounts has created shock waves in Mexico. This weekend, a video was released on YouTube quoting the secretary of the community of Carichi, who was appealing for help for the Raramuris people. In the video, the secretary not only mentioned problems with widespread hunger in 23 municipalities in the Sierra Tarahumara, but more shockingly, said the problem had become so bad that it led about 50 people to commit suicide. The shocking revelation was that one group, including many mothers, became so desperate that they jumped off a cliff. Others were said to have hung themselves.
The government of the the state of Chihuahua immediately dismissed the accounts of suicide as "an attempt by unscrupulous individuals to fool people of good will with false information." Read account in Spanish
"With the hashtag #SierraTarahumara, users of the social network Twitter have started a movement to support the Raramuris community after the secretary of the community of Carichi posted a video appealing for help," said the newspaper El Informador.
The Twitter campaign urged citizens to bring donations to central points in the major cities in Mexico. In Mexico City, the location was the Zócalo square. Some private foundations, such the Fundacion Telmex, as well as the federal government's Social Development Ministry moved to provide assistance.
A few years ago, it would have been very difficult to mobilize citizens in such a quick manner. But thanks to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, the word spread very quickly. But many are asking the question, how as a society, could we (not only Mexico but the international community) allow this to happen in the first place? One article, Hambruna Tarahumara: La la desvergüenza, calls the Mexican government's inaction over the years as extremely shameful.
But there is hope. It's very possible that some of the very citizens who participated in the social networking campaign will start looking at the root of the problem and on long-term solutions.