Border Partners’ original Palomas promoter: Key to our success

by Billie Greenwood

Marisol Guillen and Peter Edmunds

Marisol Guillen and Peter Edmunds rely on each other as they work to improve Palomas.

An original Palomas promoter of Border Partners operations, Marisol Guillen’s ongoing contribution plays a critical role in the agency’s success. The quintessential border citizen, Marisol was born in Mexico and educated in the United States.

Marisol’s bilingual skills, bridging communications across the US-Mexico border, are vital. Beyond language skills, her energy, enthusiasm and leadership can’t be overstated when accounting for Border Partners’ successful launch in Palomas.

Even before Border Partners existed, Marisol was volunteering and working with unflagging commitment to advance her town. Always enterprising, she served meals from a little restaurant she started and offered aerobics classes for her friends. She was one of the first woodworkers Border Partners trained to build solar cookers.

Always smiling, always positive, Marisol triumphed over the challenges of drug-related violence in her town and has found her niche.

As one of our original promoters, Marisol became involved in everything we did.

Now you’ll see Marisol arranging Border Partners events and activities with town officials and local schools. And she’s a trained, participating Promotora (health promoter). She teaches aerobics to the public for Border Partners, five times each week. Besides translating for Peter (and sometimes for visitors), Marisol works with Palomas students who volunteer to complete projects–like making blocks or painting park equipment, and she delivers donated equipment to schools.

Guillen helps student

Marisol Gullien assists a Ford School student as they construct a new raised-bed garden plot.

Marisol is great at connecting local people with Border Partners’ projects. Neighbors come to her for help, and she responds to the needs she encounters. During her “Christmas vacation,” we found her installing a door at the humble home of a single mom whose home was dangerously insecure and uncomfortably cold.

When Marisol learned that an elderly woman with advanced diabetes had no indoor bathroom, she advocated for her assistance and then personally helped build fiber cement blocks to add an indoor bathroom.

Leadership can be tricky in a small town, where it’s easy to “step on toes.” Perhaps leadership is even more difficult for a woman in Mexico, a culture characterized by machismo—male-orientation. But, if you ask Marisol about challenges she faces as a leader in Palomas, she doesn’t avert to anything like that.

Her main challenge is the same as many women face. As a single working mother, she struggles to balance responsibilities at work and at home raising her two children, Darlene, 11, and Nathan, 9. It’s not always easy to keep all her bases covered. But now, with experience as a working mom under her belt, Marisol feels more comfortable juggling the multiple roles she handles.

Guillen with daughter

While helping with construction at the Palomas library, Marisol enjoyed an unplanned meet-up with her daughter Darlene who was there to use the library’s services.

Peter Edmunds, Border Partners co-founder, relies directly and largely on Marisol as he interacts in Palomas. That’s a responsibility she takes very seriously.

“I’m always honest with Peter. That’s really important to me. I let him know what’s happening right away. I want him to be able to trust me.”

For his part, Peter speaks glowingly of Marisol: “A few weeks ago, some Palomas citizens approached Marisol, asking her to run for government office this fall. They recognize her talent for community organizing. If she ran, it would change everything for Border Partners, because I cannot visualize my work in Palomas without her. But, nevertheless, I have to say that she’d be a great city leader.”

In fact, it is difficult to imagine Border Partners accomplishments without Marisol’s original participation and now leadership in our operations. Her personal presence and her work advance the transformation of Palomas.

Unveiled: Puerto Palomas’ new Community Education Center

Puerto Palomas learning center

The new community learning center stands tall and strong, firmly attached to the Puerto Palomas public library.

We proudly unveil the exterior of the new Community Education Center which is attached to the public library in Palomas. This building is a model in alternative building, as its blocks were created in town this summer using papercrete, a building material with greatly enhanced insulation factors. The three barrel arches made of ferro cement and insulated with papercrete panels now stand tall and firmly attached to the Palomas public library.

The room awaits the equipment that will outfit it to educate. For now, we plan to begin to offer face to face traditional classes beginning in January.  We’re also working on proposals to equip the room with electronic equipment for other kinds of learning and activities.

Now the exterior of the building is being transformed into a showpiece of public art. With the greatest of luck, we connected with a Mexican muralist who is lending his significant talent to this project. It is a fresco, of sorts, in cement! Note the inclusive character of the subjects: Indigenous and differently-abled are all welcome to come and learn here. The mural is a real celebration of learning and the world it breaks open to the learner.

Mexican muralist at work

Mexican muralist is transforming the exterior of the new learning center into a statement on the power of learning.

Border Partners Gift-giving Packages: Easy gifting decisions for you!

presentGift-giving was never easier! To honor someone who values community empowerment, select a Border Partners Gift-giving Package.

Does your honoree value technology, education, fresh & local food, or sustainability? You’ll find a gift that will match those interests–and more– among our selections. And you both will have the satisfaction of knowing that the gift you share will bless not only your recipient but also the community of Palomas in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Gift giving is easy, fast, and flexible. You can order via email, U.S.P.S., or phone. You can pay via check or credit card.

Make quick work of your holiday gift-giving and share the joy of generosity with this new gifting opportunity here at Border Partners. Visit our Gift Package Page here on our website for complete details.

Your choice will make the season bright for so many people!

Promotora training in Palomas: Another step toward creating an engaged community [slideshow]

Promotora (health promoter) training sessions occurred in Pto. Palomas, Chihuahua, MX on June 6-8.  The trainer team of medical experts traveled to Palomas to equip a group of 12 local trainees to engage their community to work together at the grassroots level to promote a healthy environment and raise community health standards .

The six session program began on the first day with an introduction to the working of health promoters and a consideration of what factors determine the health of a community.  After lunch, participants learned about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity.  The trainers led a fun session of aerobic exercise.

The following morning began with a group exercise followed by a presentation on the elements of good personal hygiene and basic sanitation for the community.  Trainees formed three team, each of which prepared a presentation about a different element of hygiene:  personal, home or community hygiene.  After time to prepare a poster, each group presented their ideas to the group.  At the end of the morning, the trainers presented information about the booklets that are used in Mexico to track an individual’s health information.

That afternoon a presentation about preventing addictions to tobacco, alcohol and drugs was followed by a “Jeopardy” type game using questions about drugs, alcohol and tobacco use and addiction.

The final training day covered the prevention of traffic accidents and considered mental health with a good individual exercise looking over one’s life for the good and the bad events that had been influential.  The final session was on responsible sexuality.  After a presentation of information, three groups were challenged to develop a poster and presentation about a related topic.

The trainees valued their experience and look forward to addressing issues that negatively affect Palomas health. The issue of debris and the prompt removal of dead animals in the town may be a potential first concerted effort for the new promotoras.

The principal promotora trainer was Dra. Elisa Aguilar Jimenez, Coordinadora Oficina Chihuahua from Comision de Salud Fronteriza  Mx-EU. She was assisted by Enf. Sigifredo Pena Flores, Coordinator of Promotion of Health, State of Chihuahua, MX; Lic. Estella Aizpuru Gardea, Coordinator of School and Health Programs, State of Chihuahua, MX; and Lic. Liliana G.  Trejo Rodríguez, Adjunct Coordinator of School and Health Programs, State of Chihuahua, MX.


Top 4 Needs in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

A Special Report by Polly Edmunds, Border Partners co-founder

Itʼs always difficult to know where to start when I am asked what the top needs are in Palomas. I wish I could take you on a tour of this Mexican border town, and you would see for yourself as we drive along the dusty, rutted streets: the empty factories, run-down housing, poorly equipped schools and parks.

But I think you would also be impressed with the calibre of people you would meet. Despite difficult living conditions and generally low levels of education, so many people in Pto. Palomas are energetic and hopeful for their communityʼs future.

Need #1 More income

After working closely with people living in the community for four years, I can say with confidence that their most important need is for more income. By some estimates, unemployment in Pto. Palomas is at 80%, but most people do find some way to make a little money. They have garage sales, wash cars for tourists or sell cookies to a local grocery. Right now there is work in the fields
paying about $10 for a nine hour day. Border Partners is always looking for opportunities for people to earn money. This is our greatest challenge.

Palomas Oilcloth Designs: Creater and customer meet

Palomas Oilcloth Designs: Creator and customer meet

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • We’ve helped seven women start their own cooperative business, making products out of Mexican oilcloth. They now run this business themselves, needing assistance only for sales in the USA.
  • Border Partners employs three Mexican citizens who work in their community promoting our programs year round. We hire several more for special projects.

Need #2 Programs to improve health

On our tour, the second need would not be as visible. Because of chronic low income and lack of good, affordable fruits and vegetables in the stores, there are many health problems associated with poor nutrition: high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory illness. Many people are overweight. The parks do not have good play equipment nor are there programs for children to get good outdoor

In addition, there is only one public clinic in this community of about 5,000 and no private doctors. The closest hospital is in Deming, NM, and most people cannot cross the U.S. border to access it. The closest hospital in Mexico is 1.5 hours away.

home garden

Introducing cold frame gardens to Palomas provides improved nutrition, even during the winter months.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners has helped 35 families start year-round home gardens so they can grow their own, organic vegetables for their families. Our promoters offer free materials, seeds and technical assistance. We would like to expand this program and eventually start a farmers market.
  • Border Partners sponsors three free aerobics classes every week.  We hope to soon build adult exercise stations in one of the municipal parks.
  • Border Partners has made improvements at two city parks, adding playground equipment, volleyball courts, basketball hoops.  We hope to build a dirt bike track and climbing wall which would provide more recreation for teens. There is very little for them to do in town.
  • Border Partners provides about $150 worth of canned fruits and vegetables,cheese and eggs to each of three elementary schools each month. This supplements the dried foods they get from the government and improves the quality of nutrition the children receive at school.
  • In June, 2012, we sponsored a training for community health educators. There is a great need for health education for all ages. The teen pregnancy rate is high. Child abuse rate is higher in Pto. Palomas than in other parts of Mexico.

Need #3 Education

Many people in the community have not completed more than the 6th grade. Many families can’t afford the costs of education.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners has upgraded the computers at the public library so that now they have 12 computers connected to the internet. Some of the main users are high school students because the Prepatoria (high school) in Pto. Palomas does not have internet. We hope to build an community education classroom with state of the art equipment so it can offer distance learning college classes as well as basic literacy, math, computer skills. 
  • In August 2012, Border Partners will set up a computer lab for each of the three elementary schools. They will be able to use learning software provided by the Mexican government. We would like to add more computers to each lab. For now, we only have six for each school.

Need #4 Better Housing

Palomas dwelling

Many family homes in Palomas are substandard.

Many of the homes are in poor condition, unfinished and/or very small. Most are constructed of cement blocks which provide poor insulation. Thus, homes are hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Accomplishments and Hopes

  • Border Partners collects used and donated building materials and helps people fix their homes.
  • We are supporting a group of women who want to repair their homes by teaching them to make papercrete blocks (made of cement and recycled paper which makes them highly insulating and lighter than pure cement blocks). The women can use these blocks to repair and expand their homes as well as to sell so that they have money to buy other construction materials they need to upgrade their family’s homes.

The needs are clear to us. The people of Palomas are ready to work toward a better future. We invite you to join with us as we build a better U.S.-Mexico border community together.

“People say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.”  – Dorothy Day

Promotora training opens another avenue to improve Palomas

Twelve Palomas women completed a training for Health Educators (Promotoras) in Palomas on June 6-8. Border Partners and the Columbus, Luna County, Palomas Binational Health Council (COBINA) co-sponsored the event, funded also by the Ben Archer Health Center.  The Office of Border Health in Juarez, led by Dr. Elisa Aguilar, conducted the training.

The concept of “health” was presented in a very broad-based context. Training considered the multitude of factors in a community that promote wellness for its members. In addition to attention to health problems and diseases, these factors might also include, for instance, the presence of health services, sanitation, environmental factors, such as the presence of dust in the air, and the community’s level of health-knowledge and health-awareness.

Border Partners co-founder Polly Edmunds, who also participated in the three-day promotora training, was excited by the evident commitment of the twelve Palomas women trainees who, “despite sweltering heat, persevered through three full days of training.” Polly also observed that the women themselves are “excited about the possibilities for change for their community.”

Palomas promotora training group

Palomas promotora training group, June 2012

Trainers encouraged the participants to design and present community workshops that:

  • empower the townspeople to develop the capacity to express their needs;
  • identify and define their problems;
  • design strategies of participation and
  • organize effectively to address the issues that affect the community’s health.

Workshops that the newly-trained promotoras will design will help townspeople reflect on health risks that confront their state and community. Workshop participants will identify health issues that affect their community and learn strategies to counteract those health risks.

Health promoters can expose problems in a community and ask the proper authority to make changes.

Newly-trained promotora Chayo Covarrobias declared that her dream was to have a “healthy and clean community,” a sentiment to which most of group agreed.  Benita Saenz added that she would like to see the day “when people drive through Palomas and want to visit because it is a pleasant place.”  Others expressed that they would like a community characterized by greater employment opportunities and “less illness.”

“The trainers stressed the idea that change starts with yourself. It’s easy to blame everyone else. People need to organize,” concluded Polly Edmunds.

Desert Exposure spotlights Border Partners


Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure masthead

Desert Exposure, a free monthly magazine in tabloid format, is featuring this month Border Partners’ work and activities in Palomas. It is running an extensive article by Marjorie Lilly, entitled “Putting Heads Together,” as one of its major news stories for June 2012.

Marjory Lilly traveled to Palomas twice as she researched her material for the article. She visited gardens, a gardener’s meeting, our woodworking shop and a Palomas Oilcloth Designs business meeting. She also individually interviewed Polly and Peter Edmunds, Border Partners founders, and Joel Carreon, a member of the Board of Directors.

The article demonstrates the needs in Palomas and showcase some of the ways Border Partners is responding. A few highlights from the article:

  • Juana Lozoya, our Palomas garden promoter, shared her belief that every garden member family has lacked food at some point in the past year or so.
  • The gardening group membership has grown from just 15 last winter to 40 members currently.
  • Border Partners is introducing “papercrete” — bricks made from paper, sand, cement and water–in Palomas constructions due to its phenomenal insulating qualities.
  • The women of Palomas Oilcloth Designs earned an average of $75 a week in 2011, an increase from just $45 in 2010. “This group is really in business now,” states the article.
  • Border Partners is the only international organization currently in Palomas that is doing “development projects.” Other groups primarily distribute supplies and provide services.
Marjorie Lily

Marjorie Lilly (photo credit: Desert Exposure)

Desert Exposure has served readers throughout Southwest New Mexico since 1996. It’s been called “the New Yorker of New Mexico” for its unique mix of investigative reporting, colorful columnists, in-depth feature journalism, interviews, offbeat stories, arts and events information and humor.

Desert Exposure reported in May 2009 on our worker-owned women’s cooperative business when it was but a fledgling group [c.f. “Viva La Cooperativa”]. Palomas Oilcloth Designs, now standing almost completely independent of Border Partners, receives important attention in the article. [See also “Some News from Palomas Oilcloth Designs” for recent updates.]

We genuinely appreciate Marjorie Lilly’s time and attention to detail as she reported on the community development projects Border Partners has initiated and/or supported. Desert Exposure’s distribution will broaden regional awareness of both the needs in Palomas and a number of the ways we at Border Partners are “putting heads together” on the U.S.-Mexico border to address those needs.


Unexpected lessons: How poverty slows accomplishment

by Polly Edmunds. co-founder Border Partners

Palomas Mexico home

Rudolfo's humble Palomas home

Because we choose “to stand with” rather than “to do for” those who face the daily challenge of poverty, we are learning how poverty can negatively affect accomplishment and goal achievement. Again this spring, Rudolfo taught us this.

Rudolfo is a local master at traditional adobe block production, so my husband Peter asked him to help with an experimental project in Palomas. He agreed to try using some ground up paper in the traditional adobe brick to add better insulation and to try using the “cast in place” process to speed laying the brick and strengthen the construction results.

The two had some encouraging initial success. So Rudolfo then decided to start building a small, improved house on his property using the improved brick and methods as a means of continuing the experiment.

This adobe brick production requires a particular type of dirt that is high in clay content. Since a load costs $40, Peter gave Rudolfo money to purchase what he needed, the week before Easter.

Rudolfo and Peter

Rudolfo and Peter construct alternative adobe brick.

But the delivery man couldn’t bring the special dirt because his truck was broken, and his mechanic wasn’t working during Holy Week. So that stalled the experiment. Projects don’t always honor our time lines, and that’s often particularly true in Mexico.

But a week later, after enough time passed to repair the truck, there still was no load of gravel in place. When Peter inquired, Rudolfo apologized:

“While I was waiting for the truck to be fixed, we needed food. Since I had the $40, I used that money to buy food. And then we also got our water bill, and I had to pay that right away so the city wouldn’t turn off our water. But next week I’ll go work in the fields and earn $40, so we can order the dirt.”

Things take longer than you expect at times–for reasons that are surprising to people who live in “the land of plenty.” Rudolfo, by sharing his economic challenges, increased our understanding and empathy.

When we partner across the border line, we all have lessons to learn.

Home-sewn art bags bless young readers in Palomas, Mexico

Prairie Small

Prairie Small displays some of the 100 bags of art supplies that volunteers made and filled for Palomas students.

Supporters from Gila, New Mexico recently delivered another project to support the literacy and the creativity of the children in Palomas elementary schools.  Prairie Small, an inspired volunteer, organized local sewers to fashion individual student bags to house a gift of art supplies and materials for the young students. Barrett and Sebert Brewer helped her collect and purchase supplies to fill those bags.

Ford elementary students

First graders at Ford Elementary School, with teacher Rubi Payan (left) and Border Partners volunteer Tami Edmunds, benefit from volunteer's donations.

Working with children at all three primarias (elementary schools) in town, Palomas instructor Thalia Romero immediately saw how useful the bags would be. A specialist teacher, Thalia integrates art with reading instruction, increasing literacy by integrating art activities into the reading program. Her students, for instance, actually make and illustrate story books to generate interest in reading. She joyfully put these colorful bags of art supplies, lovingly sewed by local supporters, to immediate use at all the primary schools.

Last year these same supporters from Gila brought large bins of glue, paint, and paper to donate to the school literacy/art program. As a follow-up to that project, this year’s colorful, home-sewn bags of supplies –delivered just a few weeks ago–will go to individual children. However, because there are so few school and art supplies at the Palomas school, they will first be used at school for classroom instruction.

Prairie has another idea in mind for her next Palomas project. And we’ll be happy to help make her dream a reality. The students in Palomas have so little that basic school supplies are a special blessing to them. These beautiful bags are a real cherished “extra.” We are so grateful to Prairie, Barrett, Sebert and all their helpers for the joy they brought to young Palomas readers and artists-in-training.

supplies received at Ramon Espinoza school

Barrett and Sebert Brewer helped collect supplies to fill the bags. Principal of Ramon Espinoza Villanueva Elementary School Raul Juarez and Prairie Small are pleased with the project's results.

Border Partners assists air quality assessment of Palomas, Mexico border region

installation of air quality monitors

Edgar Mendoza installs an air quality monitor in Palomas.

Our U.S.-Mexico border region of Chihuahua-New Mexico is now bejeweled with six new air quality monitors.  Border Partners is currently participating in a study of border air quality conducted by New Mexico State University, funded through a research grant administrated by NMSU Professor David DuBois.

The devices are located on electric poles 10 feet above the ground and will remain in Palomas for the duration of the study. The monitors’ automatic timer collects dust and other air pollutants at 24 hour intervals. Those filters are then collected and replaced every other day, a total of 16 times. Border Partners will service the monitors: collecting and replacing the filters, then delivering them to the researchers.

Palomas residents Marisol Guillen (a Border Partners promoter) and Edgar Mendoza assisted with the installation of the air quality monitors and will continue to help with the project’s data collection. Air quality is also being monitored on the U.S. side of the borderline in Columbus, NM.

The information that this study yields will help researchers assess the air quality of the border. Because border crossing traffic is funneled into our area, more air particulates could be concentrated here, too. Several of the Palomas monitors are located in the stockyards area to assess the impact of livestock manure on air quality.

collecting scientific data on air quality

Marisol Guillen dons gloves to collect scientific data on air quality.

The quality of the air we breathe directly affects our health. Participating in this project will help us better understand our border’s environment and the special needs we may have as a result of our area’s international role.