Biochar stove project brings low-cost, low-carbon solutions to Palomas in the new year

Viky Ibarra (left) and Karina Gonzalez & Juan Rascon (right) share their family biochar furnaces with you.

Since launching our GoFundMe in October to support progress in Border Partners’ effort to build environmentally friendly, low-cost biochar stoves in Palomas, we’ve received a flurry of interest from supporters. Donations have been arriving both directly to us and via the GoFundMe, bringing the total to over $1,000 so far.

Donations to this project are especially appreciated as Palomas enters its winter heating season. It can stay chilly in the high desert, and energy costs are on the rise. We hope to provide more of these stoves in the homes of Palomas’ families who are struggling with costs of living. 

Asked about the benefit of the biochar stove that heats her home, Border Partners’ staffer Viky Ibarra remarked; “My family stays warm and also saves a lot of money. Instead of always having to buy gas, we can use the stove to heat our home.” Viky lives with her family of four in Palomas.

We hope to assist more homes like hers in the coming months. To learn more about the many benefits of the biochar project, see our Tech|Share site.

We are still a ways from meeting our goal to raise $50,000 and build 25 more stoves. If you are passionate about ecological solutions with added social benefit, consider donating to our campaign here:


Transforming from anger to love: One boy’s story

Limited family incomes handicap some children. But we can help. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Helping meet the mental health needs of children and families has been an important initiative in recent years. The story of “Nelson” (not his real name) as told by our mental health specialist, Antonia Chayrez, illustrates the impact this can make in the life of a child and his family. Ultimately, this support ripples out to create a stronger Puerto Palomas.

“Nelson’s”* Story

So I began to see Nelson in counseling. When we first began to meet, he evaded me. He was telling lies. He couldn’t open up to express what was going on.

I clearly remember the turning point. I calmly and gently said to him: “I know that you are very sad, and I’d like you to tell me the reason.”

With that simple prompt, he began to talk. And cry. His mother had left him and the family, he told me. He missed her very much. He longed to see her again. Although he didn’t remember her very well, he told me some details about her and about his family situation.

When Nelson was just a few years old, he moved in with his father. His dad later remarried a different woman. Although they had a long-distance relationship, she would visit every weekend along with her daughter. Nelson is happy with dad’s wife and daughter, and I had the opportunity to meet her as well. 

I learned that Nelson had problems sleeping alone, preferring to sleep with his father. So, I gave him a teddy bear, and we made a deal that one night he would sleep with his dad and the next night with his teddy bear. Now, he happily reports that he no longer sleeps with his dad. Instead he sleeps every night with his teddy bear.

We’re hoping to find his mom, because Nelson still wants to see her. His dad and his wife also hope that Nelson’s mom will turn up, and he’ll be able to see her again. 

In our visits, Nelson is learning to manage his emotions in practical and simple ways. Nelson’s teacher reports that the aggressiveness, as well as the fights with classmates, have ceased.

I can assure you that there are many family situations like this. We have so many needs, not only from the school pupils but also from families. According to my statistics, only 25 to 30% of children have safe homes, where they feel loved and respected. Instead, 75 to 80%  of children live in situations that lack the assets they need to succeed.

Many of the families I serve are low-income and overburdened. These circumstances can often lead to situations of ignorance and neglect.

Antonia Chayrez, Promotora de Salud Mental / Mental Health Promoter

 by Antonia Chayrez

*Name is changed to protect confidentiality 

Antonia is a gift to Puerto Palomas and the families she works with. Seeing the positive impact she has on the community makes us count our blessings here at Border Partners. Life can be better for everyone when people care enough to share. With support, stressed and under-resourced families can succeed despite obstacles. 

Our future will be brighter as the healing continues.

How We’re Addressing Children’s Mental Health

When children don’t feel safe, it hurts them. We help them heal.

Drug cartels struggle for dominance throughout Mexico. Palomas is no exception. Over the 15 years that Border Partners has worked there, the amount of violence has varied but many people, of all ages, have been traumatized by kidnappings, abductions, and harassment. So far, in 2023, at least four young adults have “disappeared” from Palomas.

Children and young people are among those most affected by this horrendous situation and have been scarred by it. Palomas offers no opportunities for mental health services for the public. COVID school closures forced students to learn at home. That left leaving with no clear routes to instruction. They had no educational materials. And they enjoyed very little contact with others. So they didn’t have important opportunities to build social skills, values, and responsibility.

Although schools have now reopened, many difficulties remain. Many adults have no jobs. Salaries remain low for those lucky enough to have a job. And, now, increasing inflation makes families even more vulnerable.

All of this makes children feel unsafe.

Into this dire situation, Border Partners has stepped in to help provide much-needed mental health services.

Enter Antonia Chayrez

Last year, Border Partners was fortunate enough to hire Antonia Chayrez as a full-time family counselor. She’s worked diligently to help both students in school and community members.

Each month, she provides classes to over 550 students, aged 5 to 12 years old. Her varied workshops help children build important life skills. These include:

  • learning to recognize and manage their emotions,
  • building self-esteem,
  • understanding values
  • respecting self and others,
  • preventing bullying,
  • breaking bad habits, and
  • making healthy life-style choices.

She gives mental health screenings  to all the children. And, when people are in need, she can provide individual counseling to any student as well as their family.

Assessing children’s mental health improvement

According to teachers, the program is already having an impact. The social and mental health of students is improving. As students return to a predictable school environment, their situation normalizes. And healthy routine is positive. Added to that, they now have the opportunity to learn about the importance of all aspects of their being due to Antonia Cheyrez’s instruction and counseling.

It is our hope that by teaching young children to see the importance of mental health, accompanied by counseling services, students will develop healthy habits and feel empowered. They’ll learn to express their feelings and ask for help. When accessing mental health assistance is part of life in Palomas, it will eliminate any stigma related to accessing mental health services.

Finally, through these workshops, students will learn how to talk to one another, to listen, and to disagree respectfully. These steps forward will help the youngest generation see the importance of good mental and emotional health. It will improve their behavior at school. Their home lives will become productive as they pursue their goals.

In the end, we want the students in Palomas to develop resilience and live healthy and productive lives. We’re doing our best to make that happen.

New Lion’s Club in Palomas will collaborate in promoting health

With our support, the Juárez Chamizal Lions Club offered free eye exams and free eyeglass frames. In total, 1160 exams were conducted throughout the community, both among children and adults.

On October 29, Border Partners staff and founders attended the inauguration of Palomas’ new local chapter of the International Lions Club.  We’re especially proud that our head health promoter, Viky Ibarra, takes on the role of Chapter President. The International Lions Club is a non-profit organization with more than 1.4 million members worldwide.

Several other members of our staff, including General Manager Juan Rascon, also became new founding members of the local chapter. This ensures that the club has commitment from people across Palomas to begin its activities in the coming months. Working together will also help us further our common goals and more efficiently improve life for residents of Palomas.

The new Lion’s Club worked with the Juarez Chapter to provide new eyeglasses to students in need.

The international organization has several top project priorities. Their priorities coincide with our Border Partners’ mission. They include: 

  • environmental protection,
  • combating hunger, and
  • improving health.

The new Lions Club Chapter provides local actors through their membership with the resources they need to enact this vision. In addition, the local chapter will collaborate with other chapters across the region to coordinate actions to accomplish those goals.


New Lions Club Begins Work Immediately

Border Partners health promoter Viky Ibarra (right) is the president of the new Lions Club chapter in Palomas. Our General Manager, Juan Rascon (center), is a founding member.

Indeed, the Lions Club of Palomas has taken no time to start making a positive difference in the community. Since the local chapter inauguration last month, they have administered vision tests to children in local schools across Palomas. They’ve also provided free eyeglasses to local students diagnosed with poor vision . This contribution will surely be invaluable to students’ future educational success. We’re glad that our efforts to improve education intersect with those of the Lions Club.

More recently, Lions Club members were present to support Border Partners’ autumn health fair activities by distributing eye glasses to community members in need. Presently, we are working jointly to coordinate a large shipment of school supplies across the border.

Border Partners envisions a collaborative future with local actors such as the Lions Club striving to make a change. Congratulations to Juan, Viky, and everyone who made this possible!

New avenue promotes funding of biochar stove project

biochar stove

This biochar stove heats a Palomas home through the cold of winter while producing a soil-enriching component.

We’ve started a special fund to target the expansion of our biochar stoves. A Go-Fund-Me campaign will support the construction of  25 additional biochar producing stoves in the community of Puerto Palomas. 
These amazing little furnaces can do multiple things:
  • help to heat the homes of 38 low-income families;
  • provide a community with expanded access to healthy, fresh produce
  • mitigate the effects of climate change by sequestering at least 140 tons of atmospheric carbon in the first year of operation
  • Save the burning of over 15,000 pounds of propane that would be used each year heating those 38 homes

Biochar Uses

The biochar that the stoves produce is a charcoal substance that’s an ancient natural soil amendment. It can be made from any number of agricultural products. But we choose to burn pecan shells because they’re available in abundance in this region. And, the shells would otherwise go to waste.
After the stoves produce biochar, it’s composted with cow manure. Then we can add it to soil in community gardens and farms.
Every $800.00 raised in this GoFundMe fundraiser will cover the costs to build and operate a biochar stove. At the same time it will heat the home of a needy family in Palomas at no cost to them. The biochar the stoves produce increase crop yields in our community gardens and farms by up to 35%.

Biochar Project Impact: An Overview

Expanding our biochar project to build 25 more stoves that heat homes and produce biochar will have the following impacts in each of Border Partners priority action areas.
Health & Wellbeing: Biochar produced by our stoves will permanently sequester over 1,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere over 10 years, contributing to lower local pollution levels and mitigating the effects of climate change. In our high desert climate the temperature drops into the 30’s every night and can go below freezing during the five month heating season.
Economic Growth: Used as a soil amendment, the 280 tons of Biochar produced by our 38 stoves in the stove’s 10 year estimated useful life has potential to increase crop yields of local farms by up to 35%, providing an additional source of income. The money saved by families on heating means they have more to spend on food and other necessities.
Sustainable Technology: This project will provide sources of no-cost, energy-saving, carbon neutral technology and work hand-in-hand with locals to ensure effective, long-term success over the next 10 years.
Education: People in the community and beyond can learn about biochar from educational resources about this project freely available online.
This regenerative, sustainable energy source will heat homes, help feed a community, and sequester carbon contributing to climate change mitigation on a global scale.
Please partner with us to expand this project and extend resources for a climate-friendly, sustainable future for all, one ton of Biochar at a time!

New staff bring commitment to Palomas 

Border Partners has recently hired two vital additions to our expanding staff in Palomas. 

Nina Andrade is assuming a position on our team of four health promoters or “promotoras de salud” in Palomas. These health promoters have many roles in the community, including:

  • prepare and deliver the daily lunches to local seniors,
  • oversee health screenings at our office,
  • organize community events centered on health and nutrition in local schools, and so much more.

Alexis Acosta joins our gardening team in Palomas.

Another new face is 22-year old Alexis Acosta who joins Border Partners’ gardening team. This team has recently constructed greenhouses for local schools. This construction is part of our “Healthy Eating” nutrition initiative funded by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation. Alexis Acosta also helps with daily operations in the community gardens. He ensures that plants are growing well and delivers vegetables to schools and other community sites. In addition to his new position with Border Partners, Alexis  is a member of the Palomas volunteer firefighter’s department. 

Cristal Ortiz joins Border Partners’ Board of Directors

Cristal Garcia has been part of our health promoters team. She departed from that position to take a full time position with a school. We’re grateful for her fine service while she served as a health promoter. Fortunately, she will remain with us in a new capacity as a board member. 

As we seek to expand the community outreach  of our projects, we’re grateful for the passionate efforts of local people striving to make a change. A warm welcome to the new Palomas team members, Nina and Adrian. We’re grateful for their commitment to the mission and vision of Border Partners.

Border Partners Celebrates Fifteen Years 2008-2023

15 years of Border Partners’ accomplishments

Just about this time in October 2008, Peter and Polly Edmunds and Helena Myers began working with a group of women in a craft group in Palomas. We learned from them about the needs of people in their small town. Specifically, they wanted more jobs and access to healthy food and medical services. Out of those meetings came the idea for Border Partners.

We knew there were plenty of resources in the United States that could help meet these needs. So, we started – small at first – forming a coop for some of the women to sell oilcloth products. And, we helped some other people improve the desert soil so they could grow vegetables at their homes. Peter taught people to make solar cookers. It was a small beginning. But, we have continued. Others have joined us. Donors have responded generously to the needs.

Border Partners now, in 2023, has an office and staff in Palomas: a full-time general manager, a full time assistant manager, three part-time health educators, one full-time and two part-time gardeners, a part-time family counselor and a computer center manager. We never dreamed our little project would be what it is today.

Today in Palomas

Thanks to the support and hard work of so many people, Palomas is a different place than it was in 2008. Now:

  • Three community greenhouses provide space, year-round, to grow vegetables for community distribution. In 2008, very few people grew vegetables because of poor soil conditions and lack of equipment.
  • Several large tanks collect rainwater for use in our gardens and on fruit trees we have planted. This simple tool was not in use in 2008.
  • School children, families, pregnant mothers and seniors now take nutrition classes offered by Border Partners in Palomas. There were no nutrition classes in 2008.
  • Seven schools now have gardens on-site to grow nutritious vegetables for the school lunches. No school in Palomas or the surrounding area had a garden in 2008.
  • A group of well-trained health educators offer health checks, screening for diabetes and high blood pressure, twice-yearly health fairs and daily aerobics classes. There was no group of health educators before 2012.
  • Since 2018, 25 isolated seniors receive a daily hot meal delivered to their home. Many of them also attend a monthly exercise class with a healthy lunch and health screenings provided by Border Partners’ health educators.
  • 100 needy families in the area receive a monthly box of food staples.

  • Thirteen families use a biochar stove that heats their home and makes “biochar” in the winter.
  • Border Partners uses the biochar to enrich our garden soil. It has the added benefit of sequestering carbon dioxide, one of the leading causes of climate change. No one was using biochar in Palomas before 2013.
  • Students and teachers in schools now have access to computers and the internet. Border Partners has installed and maintains 225 computers in schools. Schools in Palomas had no computers before we began bringing them in 2012.  This year alone the Puerto Palomas high school / preparatoria received a donation of 11 computers from Border Partners.
  • The public has access to 25 computers and technology classes at Border Partners’ Education Center. Palomas had no free computer access until this center opened in 2013.
  • Water filters that remove the excess fluoride arsenic and nitrates from the Palomas drinking water are now installed in all the schools and in our office kitchen. There were no filters in the schools in 2008.
  • Border Partners is regularly sponsoring sports tournaments in the community.

Kids’ Healthy Eating Nutrition Program Off to a Healthy Start in Palomas

We’ve launched a comprehensive program to improve health in Palomas through better nutrition with the help of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

This past June, Border Partners’ received a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to expand our work educating in local schools about the importance of healthy eating. With schools across Palomas back in session this month, we launched our ambitious new program, aiming to provide eight workshops on eight different nutrition topics to all of Palomas’ 700 school students before the end of the year.

In addition, we’ll give workshops to significant adults. For instance, we’ll explain the goals of our program and promoting healthy lifestyles among families in Palomas to teachers and cooks at the schools. We’ll also offer special workshops to children who struggle with excess weight. In doing so, we hope to have participation at all levels of the community in this initiative. Ultimately that will produce positive changes in many children and their families moving towards healthier futures.

Healthy Eating Opportunities

This project is about more than simply promoting healthy eating through education. It also expands resources to ensure that those healthy choices are available to students and parents. To this end, our gardening team is working hard to install greenhouses at each of the schools. They’ve also created mini-gardens for each classroom where we offer the program. As a result, we can engage students’ green thumbs in small planting projects through the workshops.

With gardens full of fresh produce year-round, we hope that by getting students’ hands in the soil, everyone will savor the delicious vegetables that their efforts produce. In addition, we are offering a healthy food supplement for school lunches to ensure that all students have access to the foods we promote in our classes.

Assessing Progress

To track our progress towards our goals with this initiative, staff asked each child before the classes started about the foods they typically ate. At the end of the program, we’ll repeat the survey. That will tell us if the saturation of fresh and healthy foods we promoted are more present in the answers.

This year-long initiative is a welcome addition to regular educational programming offered in schools. We are especially grateful for the close partnerships we enjoy in local schools that entrust us with this knowledge-sharing project. And we look forward to sharing the results with all of you!

Border Partners’ Summer School 2023 extends and expands the tradition

Pride and joy shines in the faces of students attending the Border Partners Summer School 2023. Classes were designed to engage students’ attention and involve them in learning.

Our annual “summer school” at the end of July gave 56 elementary school kids a chance for enrichment. They attended classes on nutrition, computers, math, arts and crafts, and gardening and also learned some English.

This supplementary program helps students stay sharp during the summer months in this small town where there are few organized programs for children. The summer classes are daily for two weeks with classes beginning at 5PM. This avoids the extreme heat of the day.

These kids’ faces show a range of motions because feelings run high on the first day of school, no matter what the occasion or where the school is.

Students enjoyed healthy food during their summer school daily break.

All the classes are designed to be fun for the children and promote involvement. The children were enthusiastic attendees; everyone was there by his or her free choice.

The children ate because healthy snacks grow their bodies and boost their mental abilities. Eating fresh fruit for a snack also teaches them that natural foods are tasty and refreshing. They learn that they don’t have to rely on commercial or processed products in a package.

The children also enjoyed some recreation too! The finale of week one was a water balloon throwing contest. Perfect with the temperatures we’ve had in this region. But the grand finale of week two was absolutely wonderful: the Palomas firefighters supported us by bringing their truck to the school playground to throw a sprinkle party for the kids. The kids squealed with delight as the cold water cooled their warmth and the unseasonal heat of the season. Enjoy a few seconds of their delight in the video:

It takes a lot of planning and organization to keep dozens of diverse children busy for hours each day. We feel like it is an effort that is even more worthwhile now in this post-COVID era when many children have fallen behind academically.

Math class captured students’ attention. They enjoyed using computers, an opportunity they might not have at home.