Lending a Hand
People in Palomas still need your help.
I sit at the large wooden kitchen table with Gloria Reyes and the representative of Casa de Amor for elderly people, Maria Lopez. The television sound is at a low level.
Gloria's mother, Maria de Jesus, sits in a chair against the wall, probably because it's easier for her to sit there than at the table. She's 80 years old and can hardly raise her hand far enough to shake mine.
Gloria tells an all-too-typical story for Palomas.
She's helping take care of her mother in the middle of a daily and weekly struggle to eat and pay bills. She cleans house for people, sometimes two times a week, sometimes not at all. Her two unmarried sons are still working in the chile fields in Colonia Victoria. But they get just between $15 and $18 a day, with $2.50 taken out of that for the ride to work.
Wood from mesquite bushes is one thing that's for free in the desert. Fortunately, Gloria has a heater made of a black metal barrel that is fed by this wood.
But Gloria is two months behind on her water bill. Finances are difficult now, but it's even worse in winter, when they sometimes eat just once a day.
Maria Lopez has not had any funds for elderly people for two months, and isn't sure when she'll get more.
Hunger in Palomas has gone on unchanged since the disasters struck in recent years — the tightening of the US border that dried up the sources of employment depending on border crossers, then the US recession, and then the drug violence that scared Americans away from going to the oculists, pharmacists and dentists in town.
Palomas has a new mayor, Talaco Sanchez, who served as mayor before the late Tanis Garcia did. Townspeople can only hope that he can bring new employment to the town.
You might think that people in Mexico can live on less money than we do, or that things are cheaper there. The people seem to live in a kind of minuscule, Lilliputian economic world compared to ours. But in reality they live in the same world. And Gloria's sons earn in one day what people working for minimum wage in the US do in two hours.
A study of Juarez carried out about a year ago concluded that the cost of living there is just 19% less than it is across the border in El Paso.
Even though the macro-economy is improving in Mexico, the micro-economy in Palomas and areas nearby isn't changing, and people still could use help.
There's someone I've gotten to know recently who's doing exciting things in Palomas. She's Sheila Bjelitich, one of the travelers mentioned in last month's column.
She's a semi-retired former engineer who's promoting the idea of free online education to street kids and other poor kids in town. Last year they used to meet with kids where the empty tables are at the Del Rio store, and there were 20 kids there sometimes. This year they're meeting in smaller groups at the library, where they can be seen fingering the keys of very small laptop computers.
To illustrate some particularly heart-rending aspects of poverty, I'll transmit some of Sheila's stories about these children.
Sheila tells about two boys whose mother has a new baby every year, and there's never enough to feed them. So the boys are prostituting themselves to men for their younger siblings' sake. The boys don't buy anything extra for themselves, Sheila claims.
Whether the child abusers are American or Mexican, or if they're part of a prostitution ring, Sheila doesn't know or even ask. She just keeps herself on the positive side and gets them educated.
(Male prostitution has gone on in Palomas for years, but apparently on a small scale only.)
Sheila knows a 13-year-old girl named Amanda whose father took her out of school in sixth grade to sell gum on the street, even though she's exceptionally bright. "She gets the highest grades without appearing to study much at all," Sheila says. "She's super sweet and one of the most ambitious kids in Palomas."
Amanda's older sister was pushed into prostitution by her parents, and Sheila and other people feared that the same thing might happen to her. So Sheila has given a stipend to the parents for necessities and keeps Amanda learning.
A 17-year-old went to study nursing in Nuevo Casas Grandes, and when she came back she talked about all the things she's learning. Now there are a couple other girls who are planning to be nurses, too.
"When they see someone go to college, it's as if they see how they do that, and think about doing it themselves," Sheila says.
She avoids getting help from church organizations or anything institutional. Instead, she finds support in spontaneous friends who come along, both Mexican and American. "There's more spirit in it that way!" she says heartily.
Sheila carries out the same project west of Mexico City. "It's my passion — it's pedal to the floor!" Unhappily for Palomas, she's planning to make her base in that part of the world pretty soon.
During the past two or three years, it seems as if donations for Palomas organizations through this column have come to a standstill. It's hard to track these things, but none of these organizations is reporting any inflow of money at all.
It could be partly because the violence in Palomas has slowed down and there is less of a crisis now. But there is no less need there at all. Hunger is silent and invisible.
People still need food donations, which come mostly through Casa de Amor. All the other organizations do essential things, too. There will forever be a need for soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, diapers for children and elderly people, and all kinds of household items.
Casa de Amor has a very hopeful scholarship program for kids at all levels of school. The Asilo para Ancianos appears always wanting for sheets, diapers, towels, food and cleaning materials. Border Partners can always use more funding for its creative projects. And Our Lady of Las Palomas has distributed several thousand dollars' worth of food in Palomas this year.
So please give generously this year, taking into account that contributions are tax-deductible.
And may everyone have a happier holiday than usual this year.
To contact non-profit organizations serving the
people of Palomas, see Desert Exposure/Palomas
Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.