Business plan seminar attracts adult learners in Puerto Palomas

business plan seminar

Border Partners volunteer Juan Velasco [standing] engages adult learners in the process of writing a business plan during the first class of his seminar in Puerto Palomas.

by Suzanne Dulle

Residents from Puerto Palomas took another step toward fostering economic development and sustainability in their own community on Saturday, February 7 by attending the first of five sessions of a seminar entitled, “Developing a Business Plan.”

Eleven enthusiastic adult learners gathered in the new Education Center to listen to Border Partners volunteer Juan Velasco launch his much anticipated class. All the participants are currently running their own small businesses or are aspiring to begin their own “empresas” in Palomas.

Business plan seminar scope

The class will also include presentations from local professionals to ensure that participants not only learn good business practices from the US point of view, but are also updated on Mexican laws that regulate businesses in their own country.

Velasco, a native of Bolivia, has over 25 years experience in managing his own business, and spent 10 years assisting small businesses and teaching business development seminars in Santa Fe, NM.

Border celebration of International Women’s Day featured Palomas Oilcloth Designs

arte sin fronterasThe artisans of Palomas Oilcloth Designs participated in a celebration of International Women’s Day in Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier this month. The event entitled “Arte Sin Fronteras” featured artists who work in community-based projects that alleviate poverty and violence and help people improve their lives and communities. Seven women participate in the sewing cooperative which was initiated through the instrumentation of Border Partners.

Art is a powerful means of free expression and collective healing as well as a tool for basic economic support. Palomas Oilcloth Designs was founded when Puerto Palomas was suffering from the violent effects of Mexico’s drug war, at a time when northern Chihuahua was under siege.

“We are proud that our beautiful tote bags, aprons and tablecloths are sold in many stores in the United States and at our online store at etsy.com,” the women said in a statement that accompanied the March 8 sale.

The cooperative’s oilcloth products were sold to the public in Las Cruces at the event. All proceeds directly supported the women who communicate with customers, prepare orders for shipping and manage their production and business finances.

The Arte Sin Fronteras exhibit was sponsored by a coalition of Las Cruces-based organizations that support peace and healing in Mexico.

 

Palomas garden program now generates funds through local sales

fresh produce

Gardening coordinator Juana Flores shows the packaged produce which is ready for sale.

Border Partners’ gardening program now sells locally grown produce, marking another step forward for the citizens of Puerto Palomas. Our local producers and gardening promoters now offer fresh produce weekly at Palomas stores and restaurants.

The program began last month and sold offerings including a variety of lettuces, spinach, chard, cilantro and parsley. The Pink Store, the large downtown tourist restaurant and vendor of Mexican artisania, placed the first major order for the garden produce, using the very fresh products for a large party they hosted. Since then, Memo’s Grocery and interested individuals have been returning customers.

Vending local produce allows the gardening program to raise funding that will supply seeds, equipment and support to local gardening families. This will support sustainable programming and help the gardening program expand to involve new families that want to participate.

Local leaders of the gardening program–Juana Flores, Juana Lozoya and Helena Myers–prepare harvest, prepare and package the produce for sale.

Because locally produced, organic produce provides improved nutrition and reduces risk of health challenges associated with chemicals sometimes used in commercial production of produce, these sales offer a healthy alternative food source to the border community.

According to Helena Myers, the gardens are currently being re-planted to grow spring crops. As soon as the new crop is ready to harvest, sales will resume.

“Possibilities are expanding,” she remarked.

WILL volunteers’ home repair project benefits a Palomas family

home repair recipients

WILL volunteers and Border Partners gave a single-parent family’s home some much-needed repairs.

Volunteers from Silver City, NM teamed with Border Partners to complete an intensive one-day home repair project and improve one family’s life. Volunteers from the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning [WILL], a grass-roots education organization, repaired one Puerto Palomas family’s substandard home last week.

Six WILL workers, many of whom were new volunteers for us, met us in downtown Palomas midmorning on January 29. Each volunteer contributed not only their time but also a stipend of $20 for home repair supplies and costs.

towel on holeBorder Partners staffer Marisol Guillen sifted through many needs in Palomas and selected a family whose home lacked a functioning roof and several panes of window glass. Winter cold also poured past the orange bath towel that futilely hung across the six square-foot hole in the small building’s rear wall.

The eldest son of this single-parent family died last year when the teen’s sports injury, untreated due to the family’s lack of funds, led to hip cancer. Grief and its accompanying depression ensued. The mother and her four surviving children became further mired as trauma left them unable to cope with stresses of daily life.

workers at work

Workers together tackled a challenge, and accomplished the most urgent repairs to the humble adobe home.

WILL volunteer workers–assisted by Border Partners personnel, volunteers from Palomas, and family members–moved four truckloads of rubble and debris from the yard to the landfill. This was a monumental improvement for a family lacking transportation. They filled the gaping hole in the rear wall and replaced or patched the broken window panes.

So much water entered the home through its leaky roof that the family had actually installed an eave trough inside the home to collect it. Volunteers covered that roof with corrugated tin panels and removed tree branches that had damaged the roofing. They also trimmed tree branches that had entwined with the wire delivering electricity to the house.

This home repair project reinforces Border Partners’ conviction that cooperative efforts can improve life in the border community. A slide show of images from the work repair day [CLICK HERE] is posted on the Border Partners Flickr account.

We heartily thank WILL volunteers Eric Ockerhausen, Dominick Bassi, Andy Payne, Chris Allen, Ann Hedlund, and Tom Bates.

WILL offers ongoing learning experiences for learners of any age. A second WILL February 21. In addition, a WILL tour of our projects in Palomas is slated for March 7. WILL originates in Grant County, New Mexico and is a partner of Western New Mexico University in Silver City.

Public meeting considers Mexican non-profit status for Border Partners

By Suzanne Dulle

Border Partners’ stated purpose of creating new possibilities and self-confidence among community members in the small border town of Puerto Palomas appeared in an exciting new way at a meeting at the public library on January 17. Twenty-one individuals accepted the community-wide invitation circulated by Border Partners to come together:

  • to discuss current projects,
  • to assess their effectiveness and possible need for changes and
  • to discuss future activities.

Juan Velasco, an active Border Partners supporter and volunteer, facilitated the meeting, along with Border Partners founder Peter Edmunds. As a native Spanish speaker from Bolivia, “el Boliviano,” as Juan is called, stimulated honest and enthusiastic discussion among the Mexican attendees.

Community Meeting 1-17-14

Twenty-one Palomas residents responded to Border Partners’ open invitation to review and to discuss activities in Puerto Palomas.

The group was unanimous in expressing their gratitude to Border Partners’ US- based founders, Peter and Polly Edmunds, as well as the many volunteers who have dedicated years of work and service to their community.

As the meeting turned toward the “what next” agenda items, the excitement in the room became palpable. A new level of possibilities began to grow. How could current programs become more sustainable on the Mexican side of the border and what additional help could they themselves provide to allow for their own hopes and dreams for a better future to become a reality?

The idea of creating an asociación civil, a Mexican not-for-profit organization, was met with
enthusiastic support. Such an organization would qualify for funds and grants from the Mexican government and industries. This revenue could supplement the funding and support already provided by the US-side of Border Partners.

 

The ensuing “we can do this” discussions considered a new Health Center, a Senior Citizens Center, perhaps even a bank! The community garden program could perhaps expand. With a nod of approval from Peter, Juan responded to the group’s request for more training with the commitment that he and Peter would provide small business development courses in the near future.

The ideas seemed to tumble one upon the other as the meeting came to an energetic close. The group set a meeting date for March 17 to formalize their preliminary discussions.

To see the sense of empowerment that permeated the attendees was most rewarding. Truly, this was a red-letter day for Border Partners!

Suzanne Dulle, resident of New Mexico, is a member of the Board of Directors for Border Partners and is also a regular volunteer for the organization.

Expanding modern sanitation in Palomas

By Billie Greenwood

Puerto Palomas is a well positioned town. As a port-of-entry community, it hugs the US. To the casual visitor, some of its poverty is apparent. But some poverty is hidden. Modern sanitation, for instance, is taken for granted across the border line in the US. But modern sanitation is not a given in Palomas. I realized the depth of the issue in a new way on a recent visit to Border Partners’ operations.

Expanding modern sanitation in Palomas

Marisol Guillen displays fibercement blocks, hand-constructed by Border Partners to improve local sanitation.

Border Partners’ Palomas promoter Marisol Guillen led me to an impressively tall pile of carefully positioned, handmade papercrete blocks. Constructing them was, she told me, a Border Partners project in which she’d recently participated. The blocks were destined to add a room on a home—a bathroom.

But this was not your ordinary fixer-upper project, I quickly learned. Border Partners was helping an elderly woman, suffering with acute diabetes, who had only an outhouse for sanitation facilities.

For women with diabetes, bladder problems and urinary tract infections can become a frequent problem. Diabetes can damage nerves that control urinary system functions. That makes  women more likely to experience urinary incontinence, or leakage.

So, in this instance, in December—gateway month to the coldest temperatures of the year–an elderly woman was forced to leave her home, hastening her way across the stone-strewn property, to use an outhouse. This could happen several times during the night—and in urgency.

I wish this story had a happy ending. But, in the few weeks that passed since my December visit, that elderly woman died.

outhouse

A humble Palomas home (background) has only an outhouse (foreground) for sanitation.

Nevertheless, the blocks are ready to help someone else. And there are workers eager for a job who can install an indoor bathroom for another poor, elderly person in Palomas. Your contributions to Border Partners empower works of mercy that assist forgotten and vulnerable people.

Border Partners appreciates you–the supporter–as a force for good, helping the weak, the widowed, the destitute, in the most practical possible ways.

Alternative Black Friday sale promotes fair trade products

alternative black friday sale

Shoppers dove into the fair trade gift items offered for sale at the Alternative Black Friday sale last year in El Paso. Border Partners will sell Palomas Oilcloth Designs products at the sale again this year.

[El Paso, TX] Come shop!   But not in a mindless way–support cooperatives and grass-roots organizations this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, at the annual Alternative Black Friday event at the Columban Mission Center, 10 a.m. through to 3 p.m.!  This is the fourth year that we have hosted this event, which counts on the participation of organizations like Pax Christi, Fair Trade, Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza, and Catholic Relief Services. The Columban Mission Center is located at 816 Magoffin.

It’s “an alternative to shopping at a large chain stores and an opportunity for consumers to support local nonprofits,” in the words of journalist Patrick Manning, who reported on the event last year on the local Fox News station in El Paso.

“Your gift gives twice here,” said Polly Edmunds who works with Border Partners, a nonprofit organization empowering people in the impoverished community of Palomas, Mexico.  Last year, Edmunds was selling waterproof bags, tablecloths, and aprons made from Mexican oilcloth sold by Palomas Oilcloth Designs. The items were designed and manufactured by Mexican women.

“They don’t have many options for selling their products in Mexico, so it’s really necessary that we sell them here in the United States,” said Edmunds.

Families in Palomas live off of less than $75 a week, reported Edmunds.

“We promote this as an opportunity to not buy into the excessive consumerism of the holidays, but to really make a difference in someone’s life,” said organizer Sister Janet Gildea, director of young adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of El Paso.  “There’s no middle man,” she added.  Gildea reported the programs benefiting from the program help projects promoting education, healthcare, and economic development in local communities.

“I think people come to buy (at) this sale because they’ve become more conscious of consumerism and if they are going to give gifts at Christmas, they really want to make them very conscious choices of who benefits,” said Gildea.

In 2011’s edition of the event, Andrea Tirres sold framed photos of statues from St. Pius X Catholic Church in El Paso, captured by local artist Martín Benecomo. The sales benefited people of Lomas del Poleo, Mexico, a small community outside of Juárez.  “It’s easy to purchase goods and to not have any reflection on how that purchase impacts people and so I think this really draws attention to how your money can make a difference,” said Tirres.

Shoppers said Alternative Black Friday isn’t their only community-shopping stop this holiday season, but many said they would avoid the big box stores in favor a smaller shops.  “I’m going to try and stay as local as I can,” said El Paso native Rosalva Rodríguez.

A big hat tip to Fox News Latino’s Patrick Manning for the report on the 2011 sale that formed the basis of this blog post: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/community/2011/11/26/el-paso-has-alternative-to-black-friday/#ixzz2CmX9VaSp

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
exercise.

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

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.

 

Some news from Palomas Oilcloth Designs

The women who formed the sewing cooperative, Palomas Oilcloth Designs, are surging forward, changing and adapting. We’d like to share some of their recent news.  Most importantly, just three years after they began learning to sew oilcloth aprons under the wing of Border Partners, they now manage all their own design, production, purchasing, and accounting.  They do not even have a loan from Border Partners anymore!  Sales are good and the only assistance they receive from volunteers in the  US is with marketing and their online store.

Palomas Oilcloth Designs group

New postcard for Palomas Oilcloth Designs reflects a membership change in the group.

Membership change
A founding member of the cooperative, Juana Lozoya, accepted a position with Border Partners as the garden promoter in Palomas. In order to fulfill her new responsibilities, Juana withdrew from the cooperative. Bere Chavez, who is the daughter of Martha Chavez, a member of the group, moved into the cooperative not only as the newest member but also the first member of the business who was not present from the start. She has assumed her new duties perfectly, learning the skills and functioning very well with a group that’s been working well together from the start. Welcome, Bere!

New postcard
A new member…and increased sales…have required a renewal and replenishing of the Palomas Oilcloth Designs postcards. The postcards and tags add value to the oilcloth products, making a nice touch when they’re given as a gift. Graphic designer Patti Kremer volunteers her time and skills to assist the coop. By the way, new member Bere (who you learned about above) is on the left in the front row of the latest postcard edition. You may recognize her from our website header because she is pictured there with her baby daughter.

Cinco de Mayo invitation
Businessman Jeff Hawley invited Palomas Oilcloth Designs to participate in a special Cinco de Mayo event at his store, The Raven’s Nest Boutique, in Silver City, NM.  A representative was available to take special orders for oilcloth tablecloths, totes, floor mats, placemats, handbags and to share about the business. The Raven’s Nest served refreshments.

Hawley told the press:
“As a retailer I am proud to carry their goods and to know that I am helping people support their families, like all of the gallery/shop owners here — not a big conglomerate, but those making a living doing what they love. That is what small business is about!”

Organization assistance!
POD aprons scored a mention on a professional organizer’s blog. Jeri’s Organizing and Decluttering News featured the pocketed aprons on her April post because “an apron can be a helpful organizing aid, making sure you have essential tools close at hand.” Jeri, who has seven years of experience as a professional organizer, told us:

“I love being able to use my blog to help organizations such as yours – and serve my readers at the same time.”

New Etsy offerings
The women’s Etsy.com online store now features two new items in response to customer requests. The colorful and durable oilcloth tablecloths have arrived just in time for summer picnics and barbecues. They’re great for the patio, the deck and the park. And, just in time for Father’s Day, the women have made some really fun aprons for MEN (or adventurous women!) in animal print designs. Do check them out on Etsy!

Facebook page discount

Show your support for the women workers of Palomas Oilcloth Designs by “Liking” their Facebook page. In appreciation, they’ll give you a 15% discount on items you order through their Esty application on that page. It’s a great deal on wonderful products you can feel good about purchasing.