Palomas principal appreciates help that makes a concrete difference

school food program

Ford Elementary School principal Angel Garibay displays canned food Border Partners deliveredi

We at Border Partners prefer to partner with existing institutions in order to provide material assistance. Institutions already in place are more familiar with the needs of the people and have also determined the best way to address those needs. One partner institution with whom we’ve developed a warm relationship is the Ford Elementary School in Palomas.

When we were making a short pre-Christmas visit to Ford, Angel Garibay, the Ford principal, seemed delighted to have the chance to thank Border Partners and its supporters for the concrete support his school has received from them. The Principal in fact immediately launched into a beautiful and impromptu statement of appreciation when the microphone was passed to him.

We present to you his statement –translated whole and entire. It is you who make this good work possible through your donations. We want you to know how much it is appreciated.


I appreciate the work that Border Partners has done, especially in education. Their support of us [at Ford School] has been very good.

They have especially helped us in two areas.

First: in the area of computer technology, their “computer team” helped us acquire the equipment. Now the children have a computer teacher, and they also have the machines so that they can work.

The other area—one that’s also very important–is that every month Border Partners supports us so that we can provide food for the students. That means that they bring us eggs, potatoes, fruit, cheese, a variety of canned products—and all of this is for the good  of the children.

The children are eating breakfast here between 7:30 and 8 AM and they eat another meal here at school between 1:30-2 PM. This would not be possible without the assistance you’ve given us.

At this point in the end of the year, hope that God will bless every single person who has helped us through these projects. We also hope that 2013 is filled with fruitfulness for you all.


Ford students at garden

Ford Students are successful gardeners.

Now that 2013 is underway, we’ve begun and accomplished two more important projects at Ford. In addition to the new school garden plots that are already producing (see photo, right) we also installed a solar cooker. The school food program will be able to use the cooker, utilizing free sunshine rather than the expensive utilities of gas and electricity, to provide warm food for the children.

You help allows us to augment the important work of the Ford educators, enriching the lives of the young students. Thanks for your support!

Mural by Dagoberto Rodriguez–a source of pride


New mural on Community Learning Center at the Palomas Public Library will galvanize public attention on the new opportunities that the room will facilitate.

Local artist Dagoberto Ridriguez is transforming our new Community Learning Center on the Palomas Public Library into a real work of art.

He is using cement to create a bas relief, or three diminsional, effect.

The mural makes the Learning Center a real focal point of the community. This, in turn, will grab the attention of the townspeople and invite them to utilize the Center to develop their skills, increase their knowledge, and unleash greater personal potential.

We will follow this progress as it continues. But so are the people of Palomas. On the town’s official Facebook page, there are currently 37 “Likes” for the album of 8 photos of the construction and its adornment. You will need a Facebook account to see this entry and the comments it has accrued, and you will also need to “friend” the page “Puerto Palomas de Villa.”

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.

New community learning center construction underway, expands Palomas public library

learning center construction

Going UP…new learning center in Palomas will encourage educational opportunities.

A crew of five young people and their supervisor have worked for almost three weeks on a new community learning center addition for the Palomas public library.  The progress is remarkable. The new handicap accessibility ramp is finished, and the papercrete walls of the classroom are almost complete.  Builders will start the roof this week:  three barrel arches made of ferro cement and insulated with papercrete panels.

starting construction Sept. 25

BEFORE Photo: Construction began September 25. Progress is easy to see, as compared to the photo at the top of the post

In addition to providing a new  learning center for the community, this project will serve as an ongoing demonstration of several sustainable technologies that could improve building methods in Palomas.  Papercrete costs about the same per square foot as cement blocks and yet has an R value (insulation capability) that is far superior.  That means the new building addition will stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer – thereby reducing heating and cooling costs.  It also has better soundproofing qualities and is lighter.

Building the roof of a house is often one of the biggest expenses.  As you drive around Palomas, you’ll see many unfinished houses lacking roofs.  Using ferro cement is a more economical method of building a roof than the most common method: using metal panels.

new accessibility ramp on Palomas public library

The crew has already completed new accessibility ramp on Palomas public library.

One challenge with ferro cement, however, is that it’s a little tricky to learn the process of working with it. But after this project, six people from Palomas will know how to do it.  We might hope that one day ferro cement roofing could eventually become a business.

Contributions to get the Learning Center up-and-running are still important, according to Border Partners’ Polly Edmunds.

“We need money to complete the addition and hire a staff person,” stated Edmunds.  “We are applying for a grant from Rotary International for equipment but if anyone has ideas for other sources of equipment we could use more ideas.”

The Learning Center also needs  late-model computers with at least 2G RAM. Used computers fitting that profile are welcome contributions for the learning center, the library and the schools in Palomas..
Our blog post next week will feature photos of the new roof going up! Stay posted!

New computer center gives Palomas students access to modern technology

new computer center

This new computer center Border Partners facilitated will give Palomas elementary students access to modern computers for the first time.

Border Partners is providing and installing twelve computers at the Ramon Espinoza (morning) and Ignacio Zaragoza (afternoon) school building in Palomas.  With this new technology equipment, the schools will create a computer center that both institutions will share.  This brand new computer center complements our work of donating and installing computers for education at the third primary school in Palomas, Ford School.

This will be the first time students at any of the elementary schools in Palomas have had access to up-to-date computers.

The computers for the new computer center were donated by UNICOR, a U.S. Government corporation established by Congress in 1934. UNICOR employs and provides job skills training to inmates confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. One of their operations is to refurbish used computers.

Summer school in Palomas, Mexico: A priceless adventure in learning

La Escuela de Verano

by Bill Charland, Border Partners Board Member

Mention “summer school” to those of us of a certain age and you’re likely to get a groan. We’ll remember being shut up in classrooms filled with rows of desks and chairs, called in from vacation to study something or other we weren’t very good at.

girl loves learning at summer school

Shining eyes reveal a girl’s love of learning at summer school in Palomas.

But this summer in Palomas, an innovative escuela de verano drew some enthusiastic reviews from the students who attended and the dedicated staff who worked with them. The program was conceived by Angel Garibay, Principal of the Ford School, and it addressed the needs of selected students from each of the three elementary schools in town – kids who needed support in a certain subject, or else just an additional positive experience in education.

The three-week summer school provided that, with a curriculum ranging from reading and writing to mathematics and history, from woodworking and gardening to dance and art. Monday through Friday, there were two hours of classes followed by the grand finale: lunch.

The staff included Professor Garibay who taught math and history and his wife, Ismaela Muñoz, who taught art. Their daughter, Aby Garibay – a pre-kindergarten teacher from Mata Ortiz (three hours away) volunteered in the school office. Juana Flores and Juana Lazoya taught gardening. Marisol Guillen, a Border Partners staff member, led an energetic dance class, along with her mother, Maria. Thalia Romero offered instruction in reading and writing and her husband taught woodworking. Gricelda Loya volunteered to run the cafeteria and brought her pre-school-age daughter who was an enthusiastic participant in the dance class.

dance class

Border Partners’ Marisol Guillen leads an enthusiastic dance class at summer school in Palomas.

When photographer Tom Vaughan and I visited the school during the last week of classes, we were struck by the lively spirit that filled the school. With translating assistance from Border Partners’ Marisol Guillen, along with Ruendy Salinas who came over with her husband, Oscar Ledezma, and their infant son, I spoke with about 15 of the students. I asked about their favorite subjects and got a wide range of responses. A number of them had just participated in a dance class, and baile ranked at the top of the list. But there were other favorite subjects – reading (which one girl was practicing in both English and Spanish), matematica, painting, and planting.

summer school lunch

Summer school sudents ate a nutritious lunch each day. Border Partners channeled the funding for lunch that was provided by the Gila Friends Meeting in Silver City, New Mexico.

The summer school had the kind of extended family feeling that I always appreciate in Mexico and it seemed to be, above all, an energizing experience. With the variety of teachers and subjects available, there was something for everyone to love. Driving home, I felt a deep appreciation for Gila Friends Meeting in Silver City, New Mexico, which had donated funds through Border Partners to pay for materials and the daily lunch. But I also knew there was no way to put a price tag on the caring spirit of the staff. The escuela de verano was an adventure in education in which everyone had a share.

More images from la Escuela de Verano Photo credits: Tom Vaughan

Local school honors Border Partners

Border Partners was honored this month at the Escuela Primaria Ignacio Zaragoza’s graduation ceremony in Palomas in recognition of the support we provide the school as it educates some of the poorest people of the borderlands. Our board member Bill Charland attended and received the plaque for us. He was so struck by the experience, that he wanted to share it with you:

Palomas elementary school graduation dazzled: with color, movement…and meaning

by Bill Charland, Border Partners Board Member

Having lived in Guadalajara before moving to Silver City, New Mexico ten years ago, my wife, Phoebe, and I have developed a deep appreciation of Mexican culture. But we’d never attended anything quite like the July 4 graduation ceremonies at la Escuela Primaria Ignacio Zaragoza in Palomas, Chihuahua. When we received a kind invitation from the Principal, Eduardo Esparza Rivota, we left 4th of July fireworks and festivities behind to cross the border into a community where the big event of the day was an elementary school graduation.

The remarkable nature of the graduation ceremony that we attended on July 4 in Palomas is evident in the photos that my wife Phoebe shares with you in the slideshow accompanying this post. The presentation of certificates for graduation from the 6th grade honored not only children but also many mid-life adults. In addition to the diploma ceremony for the graduates, there were a variety of dance presentations. We were particularly impressed with the vaquero/flamenco troupe from the middle school whose performance rivaled professional quality (see their extraordinary costumes in the slide show’s final photo).

Given the struggles to achieve academically throughout Mexico and especially in poor communities such as Palomas, for many participants this event may mark their highest accomplishment in school. But it was an exciting evening filled with beauty and a sense of celebration.

Mouse over thumbnails for caption info:

Border Partners has assisted this school throughout the past year with food supplements for their school lunch program. We are also in the process of donating twelve reconditioned computers. Another six are going to the Ford School, also in Palomas.

[Photo credits: Phoebe Lawrence]

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.