Earth Day 2017 in Palomas: A multi-faceted, meaningful celebration

Earth Day 2017 banner

Colorful flags decorated the Earth Day 2017 event, created by area school children.

On Saturday April 22 Border Partners’ staff planned, organized and hosted an Earth Day 2017 celebration in Palomas, Mexico. It was a perfect opportunity to show off many local projects that benefit the community and planet earth!  

earth day 2017

Earth Day 2017 marketplace sold plants, seeds, and lots of garden produce, among other items.

There were activities for the whole family!

The promotoras were busy serving free vegetarian burritos filled with fresh vegetables from local gardens. 

Nearby, gardening coordinator Juana Lozoya was selling bags of freshly-picked parsley, celery and chard that were grown in the community greenhouses she oversees.

Kids and adults brought their bicycles to be repaired.

There were also health screenings and haircuts, zumba and games for kids!

Posters made by local school students decorated the area!

Earth Day 2017–Special Features

In honor of Earth Day, Border Partners’ volunteers converted the golf cart used by staff to visit home gardens to solar power! Juana Flores, who often drives it, reported, “It works better than it ever did!” She was giving rides to demonstrate.

Students from two Palomas high schools used the event as an opportunity to showcase solar appliances they made with help from Border Partners staff using recycled materials. These included two solar box cookers, a water purifier and a solar water heater.  

Solar Cooker Prototype

Earth Day 2017

Daniel Maya demonstrated his prototype of a parabolic solar cooker during the Earth Day event.

Students from the prepatoria (high school) were demonstrating a parabolic solar cooker made from an old satellite dish and lined with glass pieces. Project leader, Daniel Maya said, “You can cook a pot of beans in about two hours and you save two hours of gas.” Maya said that the model on display was a prototype and they plan to make a larger version to be used at the school.

The event drew a steady crowd. People from both sides of the border enjoyed the music, ate healthful food and admired colorful, locally-made craft items. Many items were made with recycled materials: soda pop pull-tabs crocheted together became colorful handbags and old jeans were transformed into aprons.  It was a fun and educational day for all!

Enjoy the colors and the activity of the day in our Flickr album:

[FGAL id=2396]

New Community Sports Center puts focus on sustainability

Construction of the new Community Sports Center in Palomas models Border Partners values of people-centered development and sustainability.

Construction of the new Community Sports Center in Palomas models Border Partners values of people-centered development and sustainability.

The new Community Sports Center in Palomas–a major Border Partners project to improve life in Palomas–models Border Partner’s value for sustainability and people-centered development. A project that’s been years in process and several months in direct development, the sports center building makes the best possible use of resources that are available in the town to stretch funding dollars and accomplish more. In concept and in implementation, the Community Sports Center reflects Border Partners’ commitment to sustainable and community-centered development.

Building Re-purposing

A building that was built as a factory, but never actually used, had fallen into disrepair and begun collecting debris. When Border Partners approached owner Phillip Skinner with a proposal to re-purpose the building into a community sports center, he generously agreed to allow the building to serve that use.

Basic rehabilitation of the building required months of clean-up and many trips to the landfill for the small crew that began  work. They had to clear the facility and the area that surrounded it of dozens of small trees and also thorny bushes that had grown to up to 5′ in height.

The area was littered with broken glass, plastic bags and garbage. Workers cleared all this before construction of the facility could begin. The project essentially rehabilitated a city block, turning an eyesore and sanitation hazard into a town asset.

Dry toilet under construction

Dry toilet under construction

Sustainable Sanitation

Promoting sustainable sanitation is a hallmark of Border Partners. We’ve promoted and built dry toilets since our earliest days, installing them in various places in Palomas. Dry toilets offer sanitation at low cost, because they do not require water, connections  to city sewage lines or elaborate septic systems. So, it was natural for Border Partners to augment the sports center with dry toilets for the athletes’ use.


Recycling Available Materials

Reused PVC pipe becomes soccer goal

Reused PVC pipe becomes soccer goal


Commercially purchased soccer goals are expensive. To circumvent that cost, Border Partners workers devised the plan to recycle some pipes that remained from a playground climber that formerly occupied a Palomas park. This piping has had several “lives” as we’ve reused it over and over in several recreation configurations. It now stands proudly in cement, ready to signal the traditional soccer victory cry of “Goooooooooooooooal!”

Homemade window protection

Homemade window protection

“People Powered” Construction

Similarly, commercially purchased soccer goals are costly. But with the available “people power” of many willing community workers and volunteers, home-made nets now adorn more than just the soccer goals. Macrame nets also cover the windows of the facility, preventing errant balls from exiting the building and will eventually separate the courts in the facility allowing play of several games concurrently.

Community Sports Teaches Sustainability

A community project can stretch funding dollars and can also serve as a model for a community like Palomas that has few available resources. This Community Sports Center has been a boost to the town by providing a major recreational asset. That in itself would have been laudable. But, even better from our point of view, the project promotes values that we hold dear: sustainable technologies and people-centered  development. For that, we are pleased and grateful.

Summer activities in Palomas enthuse Border Partners intern

by Catie Carter

Catie Carter and water filter project

Catie Carter [right], Border Partners summer intern in sustainable technology, displays the important new water filter that Juan Carlos, the high school Chemistry teacher and Joel, the high school Physics teacher,are introducing into the Puerto Palomas community. This water filter will remove toxins of arsenic and fluorides.

Hola! I am Catie Carter, a PhD student in Sustainable Design at the University of  Texas, Austin. I’m volunteering and studying activities here in Puerto Palomas this summer.

I arrived last week and have already met so many lovely people working towards positive change in Palomas. The picture above shows me with Juan Carlos, the high school Chemistry teacher, and Joel, the high school Physics teacher, who are creating a simple and important water filter to distribute through the town, starting with the schools.

This water filter is specifically designed to pull toxic arsenic and fluorides from the water. Right now, the two men are working on a prototype and conducting quality testing. They were excited to show me their work one afternoon.

This project is one of many initiatives that Border Partners supports and that community members and leaders carry out. In my first week here I’ve met many others committed to improving their community:

  • the education center’s neighbor Sam, who now runs a papercrete business;
  • the friendly and fun group of promotoras who promote health, good nutrition and exercise and run the summer school;
  • the enterprising group of women who craft oilcloth bags and aprons for Palomas Oilcloth Designs;
  • the gardeners, working in both a demonstration garden at the center and helping to make home gardening the norm …and even more!

In coming weeks of July, I’ll learn more about the new bio-char projects, solar oven operation, the papercrete manufacturing, solar hot water heaters and other initiatives.

The community has been so welcoming. I’m inspired by everyone’s energy, commitment, and the friendships they have formed.

In the coming years I hope to write a meaningful and helpful dissertation about sustainable design in the Borderlands. My experiences here with Border Partners and the Palomas community will be invaluable in my investigation on change in “the built environment,” the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate daily.

Life ends, but assistance to programming continues–thanks to supporter’s help

Pat Dingels

Pat Dingels’ positive influence will continue to promote growth and assistance. [Contributed photo]

Our friends on Facebook saw Border Partners’ supporter Pat Dingels’ positive “thumb’s up” frequently. No matter what the status update, we could count on her “liking” our news about Palomas Oilcolth Designs. Her encouragement was unflagging, and she was a good customer of their products, too. When we received word of her death last month, we grieved. But Pat’s support of our programming continues, nevertheless, and in a unique way.

One of our unfulfilled wishes of recent years has been for a golf cart. We can envision so many practical uses for this simple form of transportation in the town of Puerto Palomas, a place where many people don’t own personal cars. When we learned that Pat bequeathed her golf cart to us, we hastened to transport it from it’s storage place in Arizona to its new home, serving residents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Because this golf cart is electric, it roughly costs only 2 cents per mile to operate. Our truck, in comparison, costs about 20 cents per mile to operate. Although the cart must be recharged after about 80 miles of use, it will still save us money. Moreover, it uses no gas and produces no emissions.

golf cart

Gardening coordinators are eager to use the golf cart to visit home gardens in Palomas.

Our new golf cart will allow Border Partners’ local coordinators to get about town efficiently: be it to visit gardens, get to meetings or assist local residents in need. Since our mission promotes sustainable technology, we plan to equip the cart with solar panels, so it won’t need fossil fuel. Palomas’s bountiful sunshine can power the cart’s trips about town. Then, it will leave no carbon footprint at all!

When people die, their influence to effect good continues nevertheless in the memorial assistance that is contributed in their name. No surprise that people have designated Border Partners as the beneficiary of memorials in Pat’s name. This funding will promote a better standard of living for people on the border who, through no fault of their own, lack many advantages. Additionally, her family donated to us her clothing as well as dishes, pots and pans and garden tools.

The sad occasion of Pat Dingel’s death calls us to thank her and her family for their ongoing support that we so deeply appreciate. Our work, now newly augmented, will continue. And, while it is true that no one can take Pat’s place, we hope that the inspiration of Pat’s example will inspire us all to remember those less fortunate and redouble our efforts to assist them.


Putting sustainable technology on display in Palomas

solar water heater

Border Partners produced this solar water heater, a device offering great utility to local residents. Most Palomas citizens do not use gas water heaters due to the utility expenses incurred in their operation.

It was time to put our work on display, and the public responded! On Wednesday, Border Partners held an exhibition of recently completed sustainable technology projects in Pto. Palomas. The exposition showcased a variety of projects in the area around the Public Library.

Our new addition to the library which is constructed of papercrete blocks took center stage. Papercrete blocks, locally produced by Border Partners, are lightweight, highly insulating, low cost and utilize recyclable material.  The addition’s roof is made of ferrocement, a building material known for reduced maintenance costs and long lifetime in comparison with traditional construction methods. This methodology reduces the cost of roofing far beyond any current methods utilized in Palomas.

A solar water heater and the graywater system for the library bathroom were also on display. In addition, participants visited the onsite demonstration garden where some of the raised beds utilize drip irrigation and a large tank collects and stores rainwater. The earth on this site has been shaped to drain rainwater away from the walls nearby where they had been eroding and is directed toward the garden.

Border Partners staff from Palomas led visitors through the exhibits, explaining the processes and their corresponding advantages.

We were delighted with a turnout that included Mayor Angel Chacon and two of his staff members, Maria Sisneros, an environmental engineer from the US EPA, and Jorge Hernandez from the Border Environment  Cooperation Commission. The Secundaria Principal and teachers brought their students. Two representatives  from the Small Business Development Center at Western New Mexico University as well as many interested adults from both Palomas and Columbus.

Visitors enjoyed snacks that were prepared and served from a solar cooker.

All projects on display were designed and built to be low cost and to conserve the Earth’s natural resources. Many projects use recycled materials. These projects were funded in part by a grant from the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission and the US EPA.

Palomas Binational Earth Day 2013: A Border Partners Showcase

by Peter Edmunds

eric shows off papercrete

Eric shows off the amazing papercrete block–extra light, extra insulating–at Earth Day in Palomas.

Last Monday was Earth Day around the world and, for the first time, it was celebrated in Palomas. It was organized in conjunction with several groups in Columbus, NM just across the border and so became a Binational Earth Day Celebration.

student created solar panels

Border Partners volunteer Don Farber and secondaria students who assembled photo voltaic electric panels and used them to power a light bulb proudly displayed their products and explained them to the public.

photo voltaic electric

For the past six weeks, Border Partners has been sponsoring a  workshop  about sustainable technology with the seniors from the Palomas high school.  About 15 students have built a solar water heater, two types of solar cookers, and a photo voltaic electric system.  The completion of the projects coincided with Earth Day.

The Mayor gave us the use of the plaza outside his office for our event. It became a showcase for all of  Border Partners projects.  The student projects were setup on the plaza, and they were there to explain how they worked to anyone who stopped.

Eric Laborin Quezada, who is working with Border Partners to start a business selling papercrete blocks made from recycled paper, was there to promote the advantages of papercrete blocks and insulation panels.

Juana Flores distributes tomato seedlings.

Juana Flores distributes tomato seedlings.

Juana Flores and Juana Lazoya, our gardening promoters,  gave away over 200 free tomato seedlings and seed packets containing ten different vegetable crops for home gardens.

The Promotoras (health educators) sponsored by Border Partners, welcomed a continual stream of people who wanted their blood pressure and  blood sugar checked.

Two artisan groups displayed craft items made from recycled materials.

This was the first time that all Border Partners’ projects were on display to the public in one place.  There’s already talk of a fall harvest festival. Lots of local citizens got a chance to see what Border Partners is doing in the community.

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.


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.

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

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.


Meet Juana Flores, our newest Palomas promoter!

Juana Flores

Juana Flores, our newest promoter in Palomas, at her home garden.

Juana Flores, our newest Palomas promoter, came on-board this spring to coordinate projects funded by our grant from the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC). She heads the crew that is installing greywater reuse systems in the homes of Palomas gardeners. These systems divert washing machine water to the gardens to irrigate the home crops.

Juana and her crew have already installed 21 such systems, after beginning production in April. These yield significant improvements by:

  • boosting plant growth in our harsh desert environment
  • diverting water that would normally be lost to the sewage system
  • preventing increased utility bills by diminishing the fresh water needed for irrigation
  • conserving the precious natural resource of water–particularly important during this time of severe drought.

These photos illustrate that the water reuse systems, coupled with our compost soil augmentation system, are producing remarkable results:

Juana Flores in garden: April 18, 2012

Juana Flores in garden: April 18, 2012

Juana Flores garden: May 11, 2012

Juana Flores garden: May 11, 2012

In a few weeks, the plant growth is significant. The graywater reuse collection system is visible in the May 11 photo (above): note the blue barrel next to the house, toward the rear of the garden. The technology is not complex, so the cost is reasonable.