Solar water heater sparks interest and promise in Palomas

by Peter Edmunds

solar water heater

Reed Edmunds, builder, displays the new solar water heater being introduced in Palomas. He’s flanked by local Border Partners leaders Juana Lazoya and Juana Flores.

This month, Border Partners introduced a new solar powered water heater to Palomas. We resurrected the design from a solar design book that’s over 50 years old. However, old ideas may spark fresh promise in Palomas. In fact, we hope that our model will be a prototype for a locally produced type.

This water heater uses no propane gas and only a tiny amount of electricity. And, that small amount of electricity could be replaced with a motor that’s run with a small solar panel. Cost-effective, the production models will require just $75 to build. A propane powered water heater at the local hardware store costs over $300. At our demonstration in Palomas last week, I think we could have sold at least 5 of these new water heaters.

Water Heater’s Significance

Why a water heater? Today, December 18, it was 20 degrees this morning in Palomas. However, most people in Palomas do not have hot water heaters. Just think about taking a bath with cold water, in a cold house. Once, I was waiting for an employee in her living room while she gave her 8 year old son a bath. From the noise and the splashing coming from the bathroom it sounded like someone was wrestling an alligator. The boy emerged polished and dressed. The mom came into the living room looking like she had taken a bath with her clothes on.

Reed and Peter Edmunds built this prototype solar water heater. Now Border Partners is looking for a person to build and sell these water heaters. This could provide a great service to the townspeople and offer the chance for a prosperous livelihood at the same time.

Promotora posada pleased Palomas senior citizens

by Kara Naber

rumba line dance

Under festoons of colorful crepe paper, senior citizens danced in a rumba line at the Promotoras’ Posada for the town’s shut-ins.

Viky

Flanked by gifts for the seniors, Viky Ibarra, head of the Promotoras, addressed the group.

Border Partners’ Promotoras (Health Promoters) arrived early at the Palomas Community Center on December 15 to decorate the dining room and prepare for a posada (Christmas party) for local senior citizens.

With the help of Community Coordinator Juan Rascon (pictured above in red jacket), they transformed that drab room into a festive space. They criss-crossed multi-colored streamers and hung piñatas that the seniors themselves made. Next they laid out presents that included handmade scarves and small, home-made stuffed animals they’d crafted. 

While the Promotoras were decorating, volunteers were busy in the kitchen making hot fruited punch (with real fruit), champurrado (a traditional hot drink made with chocolate, spices and corn) and homemade tamales, without which no Mexican Christmas would be complete. 

guitar player

Live music and singing enlivened the celebration.

The seniors began arriving around 10:00. They sat and talked and laughed as others gradually wandered in. When a man in a cowboy hat arrived with a guitar and a small, black lamb on a rope, the party began in earnest. A little boy led the lamb outside and tied it to a tree. With a guitar accompanist, a man in a cowboy hat sang sad songs of loves lost. After their first number, the audience applauded and chanted “Otra! Otra!” (Another! Another!). 

Next, a DJ put on a song with a strong cumbia beat. The group sprang into a rumba line–snaking out the door, around the building and back in another door. Clearly, not all of these seniors had lost their sense of rhythm!

Then the action moved outside to play a traditional game of piñata. One young man stood on the roof holding an end of the rope holding the piñata while another held the other end standing in the bed of a pickup. This arrangement let them raise or lower the piñata to make the game more exciting. 

pinata

With assistance, seniors could all take a try at breaking the pinata.

Men and women took turns trying to hit the piñata with a stick while the crowd sang to cheer them on: “Dale, dale, dale. No pierdas el tino, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.” (Hit it, hit it, hit it! Don’t lose your aim, because if you do, you’ll lose the way.)

Finally, everyone sat down and relaxed with tamales and hot drinks. When all finished eating, they received gifts. Guests lingered and chatted until it was time to go home. 

This posada was part of the Promotoras’ most recent program, currently serving about 30 senior citizens in Palomas. Many have no family to care for them. Participants meet twice monthly at the Palomas Community Center and receive a hot lunch. The Promotoras also provide activities–crafts, games, music and educational programs.

We invite you to view the album of delightful photos on our Flickr account.

Lunch and program enriches life for Palomas seniors

cooks prepare for lunch

Preparing to serve lunch to the senior citizens of Palomas is a service of joy.

by Kara Naber

Earlier this year, Border Partners’ Board asked the Palomas Promotoras (Health Promoters) to propose a project that they felt was needed in their community. The Promotoras decided to provide activities for seniors, since many were living in isolation without caring family members. They submitted a proposal detailing potential activities, transportation, a timeline and budget. The Board and Palomas staff discussed their plan. 

guitar

Live music enlivens this gathering of the Palomas senior citizens in the community soup kitchen.

During the discussion, board member, Dr. Elizabeth Burr praised Border Partners:

I’ve been involved with several other programs,” she said, “but most come in with their own ideas of what needs to be done. Border Partners is the only one that asks the people what they want.”

After the discussion, the Board unanimously accepted the proposal. Within a few months, the program was up and running. 

Twice a month, 20 to 30 seniors come together at the Palomas Community Center to socialize and have a hot meal.  According to Juana Flores, 

All (seniors) are welcome, and everyone is treated equally.”

She said that the activities for each session vary and include games, exercise, music and dancing as well as lessons on health and nutrition. The Promotoras provide haircuts to those who want them and provide transportation to and from the Center for those who need it. 

A hot lunch is provided at every session. The meal is prepared by the Promotoras with help from local volunteers. Juana said,

We divide the work. Everyone helps.”

volunteer cooks

Volunteers prepare fresh tortillas for the senior lunch.

While we spoke, one of the volunteers made fresh tortillas, patting them between her hands and then handing them off to another lady who slapped them on a griddle. 

During my visit, the importance of the Palomas senior lunch program became clear.  According to Juan Rascon, the Border Partners’ senior program is the only one in town. “Nobody else is doing anything with the seniors here,” he said.  One of the participants, a spry man who introduced himself as Pedro, lives alone.  He lost part of a leg to diabetes and has no family members in town to care for him. “This is important because before, I couldn’t leave the house. Now I can come here and visit friends and have fun.”

As I was leaving, the Promotoras were preparing for the day’s activity, a game of Lotería, which is equivalent to Bingo.  While the participants waited for the game to begin, the promotoras laid out the prizes, a man strummed a guitar and sang, people chatted, laughed and applauded. 

Day long meeting begins to forge strategic plan for Border Partners’ future

strategic plan

Members of the Border Partners Board of Directors and Staff Members conducted a day-long meeting to formulate a strategic plan for the organization’s future.

Border Partners will remember October 26, 2016 as a momentous day in our history! Six members of the board of directors spent the entire day meeting with staff to begin forging a strategic plan. Our goal: to transfer more responsibility and authority to the Mexican people who’re so important to the organization. This day took us one important step closer to our goal of ensuring the continuation and sustainability of Border Partners into the future.

From the beginning, it’s always been our goal that Mexicans would eventually manage as much of the project as possible. Indeed, the Mexicans have gradually taken more leadership in planning and implementation of projects. But, until now, there was no formal plan in place to guide this transfer. And in certain areas, like finance, the Mexican leaders in Border Partners haven’t participated to the same extent.

Board President, Paul Dulin, planned the framework for our October 26 discussions and led led the meeting. We began reviewing Border Partners’ established vision, mission statements, and core principles.

During the following hour, the group gradually realized how united we all are in our hopes for the future. We participated in an exercise to determine our individual and then group feelings about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses and then identified external opportunities and barriers.

Strong, dedicated team formulates strategic plan

“It was gratifying to see that almost everyone in the group listed something related to our being a “strong, dedicated team” as what they felt was Border Partners greatest strength,” said Polly Edmunds after the meeting.

There was more breadth and variety in the other areas. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Weaknesses: difficulty saying “no” to people in need; difficulty getting people to volunteer; need for more money; problems with communication.
  • Opportunities: knowledgeable people willing to provide training; HEAL grant funding; talented people in Palomas who should be involved; land donated for a cooperative farmers market.
  • Barriers: politics; bureaucracy in the two countries; lack of money; no bathroom in the Education Center; lack of support from current local mayor.

Participants agreed that it is time for the team in Palomas to apply for nonprofit status so that they can raise money in Mexico. They formed a committee to investigate how to do this. Another committee will investigate establishing a new financial tracking system which will involve input from people on both sides of the border.

After a long day, everyone agreed that we had made a substantial start on a ”roadmap to the future” for Border Partners. Reflecting on the day, Palomas leader Juana Flores stated gratefully:

Thank you for the meeting and for your efforts day after day to stand up and fight for the people of Palomas.”

Promotoras protect teens through classes in healthy sexuality

healthy sexuality classmates

Teens in Palomas pose with posters they created during class.

by Gricelda Loya, Palomas health promoters (promotoras)

On July 2, 2016, Juana Flores and I began presenting two workshops each week in healthy sexuality for adolescents of our community of Palomas. Topics include the prevention of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Right now, we have two groups of 13 adolescents each, both boys and girls–between 15 and 18 years of age.  All of the students are very interested in learning about these issues and participate actively in the classes.

Goal of Healthy Sexuality Classes

Our goal for these classes is that young people who attend the workshops will help us spread the importance of making their actions more responsible. For example, they need to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and from unwanted pregnancy, and use adequate contraception correctly.

With these classes we hope to reduce the number of pregnancies among adolescents in Palomas. This also will reduce the number of these children leaving school without graduating.

healthy sexuality class

Griselda (left) keeps class interactive and interesting as teens learn basic information and life skills.

Promotoras provide services to 200 at 2016 Health Fair

oral exam

Palomas residents received many health services free of charge at the 2016 Health Fair.

Our Promotoras (Health Promoters) 2016 Health Fair took place “front and center” in Palomas’ main plaza. Approximately 200 Palomas residents took advantage of a wide range of services given freely to people of all ages.

Promotoras provided tetanus vaccinations and glucose tests to fair participants. They also gave away 60 containers of Folic Acid and over 150 condoms. Local dentist, Dr. Karla of American Dental, provided free oral health examinations. Palomas firemen vaccinated 50 dogs for rabies. Staff from Prevemovil performed health evaluations. These evaluations identified 15 people at risk for nutritional and medical problems.

The 2016 Health Fair also highlighted the importance of good nutrition and exercise. The Promotoras prepared and served 200 nutritious vegetarian burritos. Local children enjoyed jumping on trampolines. They also participated in footraces and other physical activities.

Community Support

The Fairs also owes its success to the assistance that several groups and individuals gave the Promotoras.

  • The Binational Health Council (COBINA) covered the cost of materials and supplies for the Fair with their generous funding.
  • Scott Davies of Columbus donated a new shade shelter.
  • Peppers Supermarket contributed a significant 50% discount on all food served at the fair.
  • Needy local residents left the Fair carrying bags of pinto beans, thanks to a tremendous donation from Diaz Farms.

Despite some problems with the electrical service, the Promotoras successfully presented models of good nutrition and physical activity at the 2016 Health Fair. Their efforts promote positive changes in the health habits of the community.

 

New indoor gym opens to Palomas residents

gym

Kids beam as they pause to pose while enjoying their play at the new community gym facility in Palomas

Border Partners has orchestrated the opening of a public gym in Palomas. The gym has already opened for recreational use of the town’s residents.

Palomas boasts two large gyms, both of them are located at public schools. Until this summer, due to their locations, the two existing gyms were used only by school students, and only when school was in session. Outside of these two school gym facilities, there’s no other indoor recreational space in the town.  

gym sign

Handwritten sign welcomes all: “Gym is open to the general public Friday to Sunday from 7-9 PM. We look forward to you coming!”

One of the two existing gyms is located at an elementary school that was open to listen to our proposal. Border Partners offered to fence off the classroom section of the school, separating it from the gymnasium. This would make the school inaccessible from the gym. Thus separated, townspeople could use the gym facility without any possibility of infringing on the public school’s educational facilities.

School officials agreed, and we had the go-ahead to enact our plan. Now, when the gym is open, people are able to use the sports facility and cannot enter the school. This opens up, for the first time, a publicly-accessible indoor sports facility in Palomas.

The basketball hoops in the gymnasium needed repair and the school had no other equipment. So, Border Partners bought volleyballs and nets, basketballs, hula hoops and other sports equipment for children’s active games. We also restored the bathroom facilities. Now the gym is open for general use!

Once again, we acknowledge the HEAL grant from Paso del Norte Health Foundation and other generous donors who provide the funding that allows us to produce forward movement in Palomas. Making sports facilities available to the public encourages healthy activity that will counter medical concerns that are prevalent in Mexico, notably hypertension and diabetes. 

What a U.S. teacher learned teaching Palomas Summer School 2016

Summer School 2016

Hubert Lee Lowder is a blur of activity as he teaches English to these Palomas students during Summer School 2016.

by Hubert Lee Lowder

Hubert “Lee” Lowder contributed a full month of his summer vacation from teaching elementary students in the U.S. to live and volunteer teach in Palomas. In this essay he describes his experience and what he learned. We are so grateful to have had him with us–a real Border Partner.

As an educator, I always introduce new units of study and with an essential question. In preparation for my four weeks of teaching at Border Partners’ Summer School 2016, I asked an essential question of myself: What can I learn from the students in Palomas that can improve my teaching and my community in Virginia? Too often, heavily resourced schools and high-income, highly educated communities believe they are the incubators of progressive education and community involvement. My experiences in Palomas dispelled that assumption for me.  Resources and wealth alone need creativity, cooperation and empathy in order to ignite change.

The four weeks I spent in Palomas have altered the trajectory of my life. Not only did I adopt a dog rescued in Palomas and fostered in Columbus, but I left Mexico determined that the final chapters of my life will be spent in service to the people of Palomas and the border area.

  • I owe this to the children I met who value education and embrace curiosity.
  • I owe this to the promotoras who welcomed my poor Spanish and me into their homes for dinners and family celebrations.
  • I owe my service to the dogs that ran with me every morning at 5:30 am and paraded me home beneath the toiling of the church bells two hours later.

How Children Learn

My students in Palomas were free to be children. They played hard, rolled, tumbled and teased each other and their teacher. Their lives are their own, unscheduled and free of the constant anxiety that permeates the classrooms of middle-class America. Are there risks in Palomas? Of course. But, the children are not bombarded with an unrelenting onslaught of remote possibilities and “what ifs.” The children are resilient, curious, welcoming and hungry for books, conversation and engagement.

girl with puppet

One child delights to display her sock puppet made at summer school 2016.

My students in Palomas moved constantly. A successful English or art class had to adapt to their rhythms and learning style. Forty minutes of sitting still, parroting English would be excruciating for them and doom me as their teacher. Lessons were quick and students immediately applied their knowledge. We acted out stories in English, which later became plays. We created puppets from tube socks, Googly eyes, markers and colored paper. Our first production, Romeo and Juliet in English, starred my right and left hands. Their ill-fated puppy love transcended cultural boundaries and time. It was a huge hit.

What the Teacher Learned

We incorporated English words for family members, pets, farm animals and clothing into our plays. Without any conscience effort the English and art classes merged and became cross curricular. The puppets encouraged children to take risks with English and their imagination. If your accent was off or you used the wrong word, blame it on the puppet.  Afraid of performing? Send the puppet in front of the foot lights.

Since returning to Virginia, I’ve tried to infuse my teaching with the same kinesthetic differentiation that worked so well in Mexico.  A teaching style developed under pressure and desperation in a Mexican border town is now being deployed at one of the best private schools in the Washington, D.C. metropolis. It works. Because, despite border walls, hysteria, the popularity of exclusion and fears of invasion, educators know that children respond to the same basic needs. They want to feel appreciated, wanted and know that they belong.

New dirt bike track open for competitions and fun in Palomas

In the YouTube video (above) enjoy your opportunity to see the dirt track on its first day of use. “Bravo, bravo,” cheers the crowd of onlookers as the kids cautiously navigate the dips and rises between the ridges of the track, doing their best to improve their time while avoiding an embarassing wipe-out.

On two hot days in June, twenty volunteers from Palomas–supported by our staff at their sides–hoisted picks and shovels. Their job: to move a huge pile of gravel around a parcel of donated land. The goal: to make humps and bumps in a large serpentine track so kids could try a new way of riding their bikes. A dirt bike track is an excellent way for kids to get some good exercise while having a whole lot of fun.  

The Palomas town water department donated the use of their equipment. And, they even donated a driver for the two days of dirt bike track construction. The track officially opened for action in July.

The dirt bike track is located on a 200’ x 200’ lot that is surrounded by a four foot plastic fence. Now that it’s finished, the track has a ridge to delineate it. It contains approximately 20 small jumps. The track is only wide enough to accomodate one rider at a time. But it can still host competitions. The competitors in races will be stopwatch-timed so that they’ll be racing the clock.  

The YouTube video at the top of this post gives you the opportunity to peek in to Mexico and watch the track in action on the very first day. Hear the cheers of the crowd and experience the exhileration of competition. All this activity and involvement builds healthy bodies and resilient kids.

US Teacher Devotes One Month to Volunteer Work in Palomas

Hubert (Lee) Lowder

Hubert Lee Lowder, who visited Puerto Palomas last year, is working this coming month as a volunteer with Border Partners.

Hubert (Lee) Lowder is a U.S. teacher who’ll volunteerwith Border Partners while living in Palomas this month. He’s a perfect fit right now, as the promotoras offer their summer school program at Ford Elementary School during his visit. 

He visited Palomas last year and was impressed with what he saw. It prompted him to take hundreds of hours of Spanish lessons and commit to return this month. His perceptive powers touched us. We especially love one passage from his blog that’s a powerful and–accurate–tribute to the people’s ability to use every opportunity and resource to advance their community.

Values education

In this passage he reflects on the values of the elementary school where he teaches–respect, kindness, honesty, trustworthiness and citizenship. He connects those values to his experience last year in Palomas and to what motivates him to return:

The people of Puerto Palomas work extremely hard and possess unlimited ingenuity and faith in the power of community. I’ve seen solar ovens built from discarded wood and glass, beautiful fences made from bed springs, simple inexpensive water filtration systems, lush gardens in the desert and climbing walls for children.

One cannot help but respect and be inspired by the civic pride expressed by the people of Puerto Palomas…

…Why service in Palomas?  We all must start somewhere, next door or in the next country, but service, empathy and humanity give life meaning; they give us purpose and humble us. “

Hubert’s writing a blog so that his upcoming third grade class can follow along and learn with him during his trip. To follow his volunteer experience, read along at: http://lowderinpalomas.blogspot.com/