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

One Palomas park improvement leads to another

swings at South Park in PalomasWhen residents of a southern Palomas neighborhood – mostly women – saw the improvements Prepa students had made with our help at the Pancho Villa Park, they wanted to improve the park in their neighborhood, too. It consisted of an open dirt field, about a two city blocks in area, equipped with a band shell and basketball court.

First, the women dug a trench around the park perimeter and “fenced” it by burying old auto tires on end, leaving half the tire exposed. This created a barrier to prevent anyone from driving into the park. Then they constructed a gate entrance in their low-cost, but effective, fence.

Peter and the guest-helpers stand by the disassembled playground equipmentNext, the neighbors approached Border Partners asked if we could help them obtain some playground equipment. Thirty neighbors attended the meeting we scheduled.

We agreed to provide some playground equipment that Tom Nickodemus had just obtained from the Diocese of Las Cruces. Through Tom’s negotiations, they donated  unused materials from a day care center that was no longer operating in Columbus, NM. Then we scheduled a work date with the neighborhood people – when we also knew that three young relatives would be visiting us. Installing that equipment was a perfect project for them!

Even though temps were in the mid – 90’s on June 6 , our contingent from Deming [Polly Edmunds (not pictured in left photo), Peter Edmunds (left), friend Nicole, niece Breanna, nephew Andy] disassembled a swing set and plastic climber/slide/swings for younger kids at the former-day care center in Columbus. After loading everything in our truck and trailer (left photo), we headed for the border to cross all the gear.

When we arrived at the park, people immediately began emerging from their houses one by one to help unload and re-assemble everything. Within twenty minutes there were at least 35 women, men and children ready for action: to put those things together and start playing!

woman with drill

One group of women with toddlers helped erect the preschoolers’ set. They dug the holes, mixed the cement, and loved learning to use the battery powered drill.

Everyone else worked on the bigger swing set. Once we figured out how to reassemble the pole structure and got it up, there was no stopping the kids from hopping right on each piece as soon as it became functional! What fun!

Just picture this: One curly-haired girl of about 4 years wanted to go down the new slide– with a piece of watermelon in her hand! So she lay on her tummy on the top deck, spun herself around, and went down feet first. In the end, the watermelon was a little gray around the edges, but she got right back in line to do it again and again.

While we were working, the Palomas mayor–Miguel Chacon Monarrez– dropped in to visit. He thanked everyone there for their work to improve the park. Then, to our pleased surprise, he promised that the town would install electricity and add lighting in the park so that it can be open for longer hours.

basketballWhen the playground equipment was finished, people measured out a court for volleyball and began digging the holes for the volleyball fence posts. Meanwhile, others launched a lively basketball game.

And once again we see it’s true: By working together, people can improve the standard of living on the border.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 22 June 2011 10:34)

Building playgrounds, Building trust

playground climber

New equipment in Pancho Villa Park was ready for action on April 30, Children’s Day, in Palomas–and just in time for some summer fun.

When we offered to add some activity-oriented gear to improve health and community in the town,
the mayor suggested we start with that park. It was lovely, located in the midst of a residential area,
but barren of much to do and outfitted with not much more than a platform gazebo in the center.

student volunteersPeter Edmunds and Tom Nickodemus headed up the effort, but started by meeting
with the park’s neighbors to determine what they would like to see in the park. Efforts faltered some
when the people’s low expectations hindered consistent follow through. Neighbors were polite, but it seemed that
they were skeptical that much would really develop from our offer. We had the feeling that they had been disappointed
in the past from promises made but not kept.

Peter and Tom stayed with the goal nevertheless,
and Marisol–one of our Palomas promoters–met with the coordinators of volunteers at the town’s prepatoria/high school
where students must contribute hours of service as a requirement. Teams of students signed up to help build equipment.

Now there are several sturdy pieces of well-built playground equipment delighting the children. Volleyball area is ready for teams,
and we’ll arrange to have three-on-three basketball league at the park…and two more volleyball areas for the older ones.

volleyball area

So now we’re all proud of the improved park.
And we at Border Partners are even more pleased with the trust that we’re earning on the Border.
When we work together and share our resources, life is better for everyone…right down to the smallest among us!

baby in swing