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.

Addressing Mexico’s severe drought with rainwater harvesting and graywater reuse

The severe drought currently cursing Mexico has not spared the northern state of Chihuahua. The drought has already cost farmers more than a billion dollars in crop losses alone and set back the national cattle herd for years, reports Reuters. Experts say this is only the beginning, that Mexico faces a drier future.

Van Clothier

Van Clothier (Image source: Amazon)

The grant we’ve received from the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission allowed us to bring a regional expert on water conservation to Palomas this month. Van Clothier, a certified water harvester, taught us about rainwater harvesting and graywater reuse possibilities for Palomas buildings. Van is the author of Let the Water Do the Work: Induced Meandering and owns Stream Dynamics, Inc., a watershed restoration business located in Silver City, New Mexico.

Van’s expertise helped us assess the suitability from among several houses for the graywater re-use systems we’ll be constructing. He also helped our team evaluate the entire block of property that houses the public library and the funeral building the town has allowed Border Partners use to house our woodworking shop.  His consultation is a prelude to setting up rainwater harvesting and shaping the land so that the water flows to the trees on the property.

Van suggested some simple ways to form what amount to rainwater gardens. We’ll construct depressions in the land to catch rainwater flow. Plants can then grow around the perimeter of these rainwater basins. Alternatively, a tree can anchor the central position in the rainwater garden if it’s established so as to protect the root ball.

An added bonus is that the BECC grant will enable us to hire several people from Palomas to work on the project. This gives the town a boost economically and is a welcome income source for local families.

Van Clothier gave us lots of ideas and, best of all, we learned that some of what we want to accomplish will be simpler and less expensive than we originally thought. That’s priceless information as we prepare for more dry years to come.

Fostering business in Palomas: Welcome, El Boton Loco!

Smiles greet you at El Boton Loco

Marea's beaming smile greets shoppers at El Boton Loco, newest business in Palomas, Mexico.

When local artisans decided to launch a downtown business to sell their crafts in Palomas, we at Border Partners were happy to provide them some support. Peter Edmunds found building materials to create a “back room” for the women to use for an office and workspace and some donated pink paint to freshen the appearance of the storefront. The store is neat, clean and filled with cheerful sunshine.

storefront for El Boton Loco

Pink paint trim came courtesy of Border Partners, who found some mis-matched paint to freshen the exterior.

The store, called El Boton Loco [Crazy Button] is up-and-running now, selling not only handmade crafts but also crafting supplies for other do-it-yourselfers. It’s located on the east side of the main street of Palomas on the south end of town.

Border Partners is also actively recruiting the donation of a used golf cart to transport U.S. tourist/customers up and down the main street of Palomas. That will increase the flow of  purchasers to this and other businesses. Do contact us if you have any leads on a potential golf cart donation.

Fostering economic development, one of Border Partners’ key missions, is also one of its most challenging goals. We congratulate these women-workers who are leading the way, equipped with their ambition and hard work…and supported by Border Partners.



Papercrete adds value to a Palomas home

completed addition

Papercrete addition to Palomas home adds value economically.

Home readied for addition.

Palomas home is readied for a papercrete addition.

Papercrete is a building material that is gaining acceptance because its production recycles paper products for construction uses.

Just as importantly, papercrete provides improved insulation. According to Wikipedia, papercrete’s R-value is within 2.0 and 3.0 per inch. And since papercrete walls are typically several inches thick, that provides great insulation from summer sun and cold winter winds.

papercrete walls

Papercrete block is used instead of cement block.

Unlike concrete or adobe, papercrete blocks are lightweight, less than a third of the weight of a comparably-sized adobe brick. This is because the paper fiber replaces the sand, clay or gravel component found in adobe or cement.  Papercrete is also mold resistant and also assists sound-reduction.

For all of those reasons, Border Partners is promoting papercrete as a potential boon to Palomas. A local family used papercrete blocks to add a room to their home this month. The photos illustrating this post show papercrete in action!

finishing exterior

The exterior of the walls receive a protective finish.

Border Partners toy-making workshops assist Santa, Palomas parents

Parents intently participate in toy making workshop

Palomas parents flocked to the annual toy-making workshop December 10.

This post written by: Peter Edmunds, Co-founder & Board of Directors member of Border Partners

After two days of of our first-ever parent toy making workshops I begin to wonder what these Palomas parents think of me and my boxes of hundreds of parts for toy trucks. This year is at least the fifth time we’ve made toy trucks in Palomas. The town must be full of them!

truck for "Debbie"

for "Debbie"

But, if  my head wonders what the parents think of these Christmas projects I organize, my heart really knows. You see, I noticed that most of the 40 trucks that the parents made this weekend had a child’s name painted on them. Watching the concentration of the parents working on the trucks was a joy in itself.

Doll comes to life!

Doll comes to life!

Something new for Palomas this year was the build-a-doll workshop at an adjacent table. Lots of volunteers set us up with cloth casings for dolls that parents could stuff, and with crafty supplies parents could use to personalize and decorate their doll. Volunteer Kara Nabor of Williamsburg, NM, who brought us many of those supplies, said the “very nice dolls” she saw showed how creatively the parents used the buttons, yarn and bric-a-brac to create their child’s new companion.

This week we’ll make 60 more trucks at the middle school.  Each 8th grader will make two trucks: one for a little brother of sister and one to donate to the local welfare/social services office. They’ll give it to a child in need of a Christmas gift.

joyful creation

A mom joyfully creates her gift.

This is one of the most satisfying projects we do in Palomas.  Everyone benefits:

  • the local woodworkers who earn a few bucks for making the truck parts,
  • the child who gets a special gift on Christmas morning,
  • the parent who gets a chance to be creative and give something special to their child
  • …and me. In fact, I get tears in my eyes just thinking about all the joy a few scraps of wood have generated.

 Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas to all…from “Santa Pete” and all of us at Border Partners!


For more photos of the toy-making fun: CLICK HERE!

Housing cooperative to restore housing dignity in Palomas

Marisol and Benita are two single mothers who live in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. The challenges they face don’t defeat them. Their dreams to improve life for themselves and their children birthed a plan of action. 

Palomas home in need of repair

Palomas home needs repair

The two women approached us with an idea. A big idea. They told us that they wanted to start a cooperative. As they imagined it, those who joined the group will commit to helping each other repair their deteriorating homes.  It’s easy to see that a single mom working alone can’t accomplish much in the home repair department. Generally her hands are full with child care, daily household needs and perhaps a full-time job, for those who are fortunate enough to have employment. Many repairs go better and faster with two people. But a group effort can really make a difference!

In order to join this housing cooperative, each member will contribute some money each month to the costs for the group. From this pool of funding, group members will purchase the building materials they need for repairs. Coming up with the start-up funding will require a real sacrifice, but Marisol and Benita are ready to do what it takes to give their children a better place to live.

Many homes are in rugged shape. The new coop members decided to prioritize the homes that are most in need of repair. That means that some in the group will be helping others, counting on the ongoing commitment of the group that their turn will come.

We hope that we can further assist these families in need with added funding to augment the materials that they, on very limited incomes, will be able to finance. The need is great, as this slide show of Palomas homes shows:

With your help, we can help them help themselves and improve lives on the U.S.-Mexico border

…one house at a time.


Fair trade sale featuring Palomas Oilcloth Designs products highlights an Alternative Black Friday

customers admire Palomas Oilcloth Designs products

Customers like Palomas Oilcloth Designs gifts at the Alternative Black Friday sale in El Paso.

Border Partners presented the Fair Trade products of Palomas Oilcloth Designs at an Alternative Black Friday Sale in El Paso on the day after Thanksgiving. Our table participated with many local and international nonprofit organizations that sold artwork, jewelry, household goods, clothing and fashion accessories, and photography crafted by–and directly benefiting–economically challenged peoples.

“When you give a Fair Trade gift, your gift gives twice,” Border Partners founder Polly Edmunds reminded shoppers. The customers, appreciating the quality of the products, didn’t need urging to purchase aprons, cosmetic bags, place mats, tablecloths and bags for gifts.

Why an Alternative Black Friday Sale? Volunteer Billie Greenwood explained that the effort offered shoppers, who traditionally purchase holiday gifts on the day after Thanksgiving, with a more personal and constructive alternative to the commercialization that can creep into holiday gift-giving.

“By supporting local enterprise in developing countries and challenged communities right here on the U.S.-Mexico border we can make a positive difference. By encouraging employment we’re supporting dignity and human rights. People are able to provide for themselves and their families.”

The Palomas Oilcloth Design products are crafted by a group of seven women who design and sew on Mexican oilcloth to earn a stable income. Because Palomas is plagued with an astronomical rate of unemployment, the women’s initiative has made a significant difference for their families. They hope to attain full ownership of the business in the future; currently, the coop relies on Border Partners for support.

Palomas Oilcloth Design products are available for sale online at the group’s Etsy site: MXwomen’sHope.