Border Partners Celebrates Fifteen Years 2008-2023

15 years of Border Partners’ accomplishments

Just about this time in October 2008, Peter and Polly Edmunds and Helena Myers began working with a group of women in a craft group in Palomas. We learned from them about the needs of people in their small town. Specifically, they wanted more jobs and access to healthy food and medical services. Out of those meetings came the idea for Border Partners.

We knew there were plenty of resources in the United States that could help meet these needs. So, we started – small at first – forming a coop for some of the women to sell oilcloth products. And, we helped some other people improve the desert soil so they could grow vegetables at their homes. Peter taught people to make solar cookers. It was a small beginning. But, we have continued. Others have joined us. Donors have responded generously to the needs.

Border Partners now, in 2023, has an office and staff in Palomas: a full-time general manager, a full time assistant manager, three part-time health educators, one full-time and two part-time gardeners, a part-time family counselor and a computer center manager. We never dreamed our little project would be what it is today.

Today in Palomas

Thanks to the support and hard work of so many people, Palomas is a different place than it was in 2008. Now:

  • Three community greenhouses provide space, year-round, to grow vegetables for community distribution. In 2008, very few people grew vegetables because of poor soil conditions and lack of equipment.
  • Several large tanks collect rainwater for use in our gardens and on fruit trees we have planted. This simple tool was not in use in 2008.
  • School children, families, pregnant mothers and seniors now take nutrition classes offered by Border Partners in Palomas. There were no nutrition classes in 2008.
  • Seven schools now have gardens on-site to grow nutritious vegetables for the school lunches. No school in Palomas or the surrounding area had a garden in 2008.
  • A group of well-trained health educators offer health checks, screening for diabetes and high blood pressure, twice-yearly health fairs and daily aerobics classes. There was no group of health educators before 2012.
  • Since 2018, 25 isolated seniors receive a daily hot meal delivered to their home. Many of them also attend a monthly exercise class with a healthy lunch and health screenings provided by Border Partners’ health educators.
  • 100 needy families in the area receive a monthly box of food staples.

  • Thirteen families use a biochar stove that heats their home and makes “biochar” in the winter.
  • Border Partners uses the biochar to enrich our garden soil. It has the added benefit of sequestering carbon dioxide, one of the leading causes of climate change. No one was using biochar in Palomas before 2013.
  • Students and teachers in schools now have access to computers and the internet. Border Partners has installed and maintains 225 computers in schools. Schools in Palomas had no computers before we began bringing them in 2012.  This year alone the Puerto Palomas high school / preparatoria received a donation of 11 computers from Border Partners.
  • The public has access to 25 computers and technology classes at Border Partners’ Education Center. Palomas had no free computer access until this center opened in 2013.
  • Water filters that remove the excess fluoride arsenic and nitrates from the Palomas drinking water are now installed in all the schools and in our office kitchen. There were no filters in the schools in 2008.
  • Border Partners is regularly sponsoring sports tournaments in the community.

Kids’ Healthy Eating Nutrition Program Off to a Healthy Start in Palomas

We’ve launched a comprehensive program to improve health in Palomas through better nutrition with the help of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.

This past June, Border Partners’ received a grant from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation to expand our work educating in local schools about the importance of healthy eating. With schools across Palomas back in session this month, we launched our ambitious new program, aiming to provide eight workshops on eight different nutrition topics to all of Palomas’ 700 school students before the end of the year.

In addition, we’ll give workshops to significant adults. For instance, we’ll explain the goals of our program and promoting healthy lifestyles among families in Palomas to teachers and cooks at the schools. We’ll also offer special workshops to children who struggle with excess weight. In doing so, we hope to have participation at all levels of the community in this initiative. Ultimately that will produce positive changes in many children and their families moving towards healthier futures.

Healthy Eating Opportunities

This project is about more than simply promoting healthy eating through education. It also expands resources to ensure that those healthy choices are available to students and parents. To this end, our gardening team is working hard to install greenhouses at each of the schools. They’ve also created mini-gardens for each classroom where we offer the program. As a result, we can engage students’ green thumbs in small planting projects through the workshops.

With gardens full of fresh produce year-round, we hope that by getting students’ hands in the soil, everyone will savor the delicious vegetables that their efforts produce. In addition, we are offering a healthy food supplement for school lunches to ensure that all students have access to the foods we promote in our classes.

Assessing Progress

To track our progress towards our goals with this initiative, staff asked each child before the classes started about the foods they typically ate. At the end of the program, we’ll repeat the survey. That will tell us if the saturation of fresh and healthy foods we promoted are more present in the answers.

This year-long initiative is a welcome addition to regular educational programming offered in schools. We are especially grateful for the close partnerships we enjoy in local schools that entrust us with this knowledge-sharing project. And we look forward to sharing the results with all of you!

Border Partners’ Summer School 2023 extends and expands the tradition

Pride and joy shines in the faces of students attending the Border Partners Summer School 2023. Classes were designed to engage students’ attention and involve them in learning.

Our annual “summer school” at the end of July gave 56 elementary school kids a chance for enrichment. They attended classes on nutrition, computers, math, arts and crafts, and gardening and also learned some English.

This supplementary program helps students stay sharp during the summer months in this small town where there are few organized programs for children. The summer classes are daily for two weeks with classes beginning at 5PM. This avoids the extreme heat of the day.

These kids’ faces show a range of motions because feelings run high on the first day of school, no matter what the occasion or where the school is.

Students enjoyed healthy food during their summer school daily break.

All the classes are designed to be fun for the children and promote involvement. The children were enthusiastic attendees; everyone was there by his or her free choice.

The children ate because healthy snacks grow their bodies and boost their mental abilities. Eating fresh fruit for a snack also teaches them that natural foods are tasty and refreshing. They learn that they don’t have to rely on commercial or processed products in a package.

The children also enjoyed some recreation too! The finale of week one was a water balloon throwing contest. Perfect with the temperatures we’ve had in this region. But the grand finale of week two was absolutely wonderful: the Palomas firefighters supported us by bringing their truck to the school playground to throw a sprinkle party for the kids. The kids squealed with delight as the cold water cooled their warmth and the unseasonal heat of the season. Enjoy a few seconds of their delight in the video:

It takes a lot of planning and organization to keep dozens of diverse children busy for hours each day. We feel like it is an effort that is even more worthwhile now in this post-COVID era when many children have fallen behind academically.

Math class captured students’ attention. They enjoyed using computers, an opportunity they might not have at home.

Work continues in Palomas despite extreme heat

Hot work continued in July despite extreme temperatures and unseasonable drought.

Despite record-breaking heat in July, Border Partners stalwart staff continued to work hard to help their community.

Temperatures during this month topped 100 degrees almost every day during the month. To add to the misery, the “monsoon” rains did not come as they do most afternoons, normally, in July.

There was one SUPER rain – 18 inches in one weekend! That kind of rain mostly runs off the desert clay soil but our two rainwater tanks filled to the tops and helped with watering the gardens.

Our gardeners harvested an amazing 50 pounds of zucchini from their new outdoor garden in July. They find that certain plants like zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and green beans grow better outdoors than in the greenhouses. This last month they also planted all the beds in the greenhouses with chard, carrots, cilantro, beets, cabbages and celery. All the food they are growing is used in the lunches for seniors and given to people in the community.

Meeting nutrition needs

Speaking of those lunches for seniors, staff prepared and delivered 567 lunches to 27 needy seniors during July. In addition, they held one class for the seniors at which they taught them some stretching exercises and informed them of the signs of heart attack. Class also included a free served lunch. “Eating out” with others was a treat for these elders who are often alone at home.

We were also hard at work getting ready for the start of the new Healthy Eating grant from Paso del Norte Health Foundation. In September, we’ll begin presenting classes for all the students in grades 1-4. This month, our staff began attending instructional sessions with a consultant on nutrition education, and they started planning each of the eight lessons that each elementary school child will experience.

In addition, Border Partners distributed food baskets to 100 families in nearby communities.

Ongoing staff education

All the staff attended several workshops in July. One was a training on first aid given by the Palomas volunteer rescue team for them and for the volunteer firefighters. They also attended a session by a visiting psychologist on preventing bullying. While she was in town, she also presented a session for students at each of the elementary schools and the middle schools during her visit.

If that’s not enough: there were 288 July visits to our Education Center to use the computers we provide.

Paso del Norte Health Foundation awards us a new nutrition grant

Preschool child enjoys healthy fresh food during a nutrition lesson led by Border Partners in his classroom. (File photo)

Border Partners was one of 15 groups in our region receiving a grant under the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s new program called “Healthy Eating.” We were excited to recently hear this news. This one-year grant will enable our staff to work closely with the schools in Palomas to create an improved, healthy school environment. The grant will focus on nutrition and gardening education, on-site greenhouses, and nutritious meals for students.

Border Partners has done some nutrition education over the past years for many different groups. But we’ve never worked with the focus that this new grant will allow. Each class at every grade level (770 students, K-12) will participate in eight class sessions. Each class session will present a nutrition topic suited for their age and taught by Border Partners’ staff over this next school year.

Each school will have its own greenhouse to grow fresh, healthy vegetables for their students’ lunches. There will be sessions with students in the greenhouses so they learn how to grow vegetables. Each classroom will have a container garden so they can watch plants grow every day. Cooks at the schools will also benefit from sessions with our staff on ways to incorporate the vegetables from the greenhouses into their menus.

We’re training for this work now.  Currently, Border Partners’ staff are learning from professional nutritionists and are preparing lesson plans and materials to use with the students in the classes.

We’re, of course, very grateful to the Paso del Norte Foundation for this new opportunity to improve health in Palomas. Their grants to our programming over the last eight consecutive years have helped us grow our programs and build capacity. We’re confident that this new effort will improve overall health in Palomas, as we help children form habits that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Lily’s Reflections on Her BP Internship

by Lily Eichorst

Lily Eichorst

Lily Eichorst

Three months with Border Partners passed in a flash. My time as an intern has officially come to an end. I know I’ll miss the friendly folks (and dogs!) of Palomas quite a lot. But, I’m endlessly grateful for the time I had there, and know that I’ll surely be back to visit.

When I started with Border Partners in March, there was an early spring snow on the ground. I was adjusting to using my Argentine-flavored Spanish in a professional context. (In Argentinian Spanish, the “voseo” form for “you” in English is a both formal and informal address, so you can use it with anyone. In Mexico, I had to remind myself constantly to use “usted” and not “tu” to be respectful to my colleagues!) By the time I left at the end of May, temperatures were creeping up towards the 90s. And, I’d certainly polished my Spanish, while adding a few uniquely Mexican phrases to my vocabulary. ¡Qué padre! (That’s cool!)

Aside from weather changes and the strengthening of certain language capacities, you may be interested to hear what I did during my time as an intern these last months.

Accomplishments

From the beginning, one of my main intentions in doing this internship was an immersive, cross-cultural connective experience. The work of challenging one’s assumptions about a certain context can only be done outside one’s comfort zone. My time in Palomas certainly served to expand mine. It was important to me to seek to understand the dynamics at play in the border region, not as they are described in the news, but by living and engaging with a community on the opposite side of the border. Another important intention was to familiarize myself with the inequalities seemingly inherent and apparent in border communities, the causes of that divide, and best practices for alleviating it.

In finding my footing initially, I was welcomed by BP staff to contribute to a diverse array of activities. These found me doing many  things:

  • I donned a promotora uniform and drove the streets of Palomas distributing meals to local seniors.
  • I interviewed staff and wrote profiles for each team member for the website, and
  • I hauled bags of beans.Significantly, I joined community festivities. These included the Women’s March and the famous Cabalgata, a binational event commemorating Pancho Villa’s 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico. This event celebrates the peace that’s existed between the two nations ever since. It features an impressive show of riders on horseback who travel from southern Chihuahua all the way up to Columbus, New Mexico.

Learnings

As time went on, I grasped both the organizational importance of Border Partners as a community actor in Palomas, and the unique cultural fabric of this community through this type of varied engagement. Eventually, I found that my skills were best in communicating with those who could not be present to see or participate in what we’re doing here. So, I became involved in social media and fundraising on the administrative side. I also helped with daily operations since I was working alongside staff in Palomas. This meant occasionally:

  • attending school library inaugurations or municipal governmental meetings on public health matters,
  • helping to organize monthly food and supply distributions,
  • translating plans for new constructions in the garden, and
  • documenting all Border Partners sponsored events, from bike races to community health fairs.

I was also in the unique position to spend some time volunteering with the municipal migrant shelter across the street. That tapped into my interest in migration as an academic study by bringing the personal dimension to the fore. I’m particularly interested in the social construction and heavily securitized reinforcement of the border, even as transcendent issues such as climate change threaten ecosystems, livelihoods, and entire populations indiscriminately.

BP Makes a Difference

Lily Eichorst (top,left) worked with the promotoras to gather and enrich the lives of local isolated senior citizens in Palomas.

Where the policy response is lacking, the areas where collaboration on these issues exists locally, between empowered communities operating on any one side of the border, becomes vital. That’s one reason why Border Partners’ emphasis on resource-sharing resonated so deeply with me.

I became eager to contribute to project development on the sustainable technology front. I was able to collaborate on a project proposal to expand the existing efforts to heat homes with biochar, an emissions-free energy product and fertilizer made by burning pecan shells, which the region possesses in over-abundance.

During my time with Border Partners, I contributed to a diverse set of projects and met passionate people with a drive to improve their community. I also observed how integral this long-standing work–particularly in project areas such as public health–has been for Palomas. Border Partners can certainly be described as a stalwart for community empowerment.

I’m grateful to have called myself a part of the team for the last months. That’s a drop in the bucket of BP’s more than 15 years in Palomas, but it’s enough time to make a change both within and without.

Engaging with the community both through and outside of my work enriched the experience tenfold. Simply calling Palomas ‘home’ for the last several months did, too.

Lily’s Announcement

Although I’m now back in Germany to complete my studies, I’m pleased to say that I’ll continue my work part-time with Border Partners remotely as a Development Associate! I’ll be busy behind the scenes working on the fundraising team.

But, you may also see occasional posts from me on the website and weekly on social media. Additionally, I’ll be working to launch a new sustainability information sharing section here on the website. So watch for the first installment on biochar in the coming weeks.

If you have additional questions about interning for Border Partners, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at lilian@borderpartners.org. I’d be happy to get in touch!

How recent food distributions make a significant difference in Palomas

Border Partners’ José Luis Muñoz hands these women-led, indigenous families important basic supplies in a recent food distribution.

Each month this spring Border Partners organized and executed food distribution drives. These significant efforts began at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Since then, we’ve regularly helped those who are most in need in our Palomas community area with a nutritional supplement. Most recently, eighty food baskets blessed 246 people, including the most needy families and seniors. Determining who needs these important nutrition resources is done carefully.

Thirty  family recipients receive a dispensa, or food distribution, from us every single month. We selected these families after conducting an annual survey that included direct home visits. These families are, in our judgment, the most needy, the most vulnerable, and the ones with the fewest resources and supports in Palomas.

People in Need of Food

But each month we also give assistance to additional families who others recommend to us as needing extra help. In May, for instance, we gave boxes to fifty additional families. These referrals come to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes, teachers will suggest a family that they know is struggling. Staff members hear of other families who need the help. Or, the community health clinic may suggest names.

More than half of the supplemental food basket recipients are headed by single adults or are individual elders. These are typically either single mothers or seniors who live alone.

How We Help

It takes time and teamwork to gather, organize, distribute the monthly food supplements.

Each basket recipient receives roughly twenty pounds of very basic food. Recent baskets contained:

  • two kilos of dry beans,
  • one kilo of rice,
  • one kilo of dry mix to make corn tortillas,
  • one kilo of potatoes,
  • one small tomato puree,
  • two soups,
  • cereal,
  • oil,
  • toilet paper,
  • eggs,
  • whole wheat bread,
  • one kilo of tomato,
  • one kilo of flour,
  • coffee and coffee cream

Since one Kilogram equals more than two pounds, this supply will really make a difference in the family’s life. Each food supplement weighs in at over 20 pounds.

The logistics of distribution are also significant in a municipality with no public transportation when those in need don’t have personal vehicles. It requires significant effort to transport, sort and deliver the food.

Why It’s So Important

The Mexican government does not provide any food aid to anyone. In Palomas, no other group provides food support to any households on a regular or ongoing basis. Our ability to bring food to people in great need comes from the support we receive from our generous donors. That’s what makes this nutrition supplement program possible.

Earth Day 2023 Health Fair Draws Palomas Residents

Papercrete blocks promote the health of Planet Earth as attendees of the Earth Day 2023 Health Fair learned in Palomas. (file photo)

This past Saturday, Border Partners hosted its 11th annual Earth Day Health Fair in Palomas. It was a resounding success–full of community camaraderie, nutritious and delicious eats, and increased consciousness around efforts to create a healthier and more sustainable Palomas.

Here you can see the impact reflected in the numbers:

  • 80 packages of fresh vegetables from our community gardens distributed to community members;
  • Alongside 80 more packages of mixed seeds for use in private gardens;
  • 204 dogs vaccinated against rabies, an initiative led by the volunteer fire department;
  • 210 healthy burritos rolled and given out by our staff;
  • 150 well-earned blender bike smoothies provided as refreshment;
  • 40 free haircuts given to people of all ages.

In addition, students from the local high schools held demonstrations with sustainable technologies, exhibiting biochar stoves and papercrete blocks to promote their use. Students stood by to answer questions to interested passersby. When not accompanying these project models, the group showed off their dance skills.

We also had a bouncy castle that was popular among the children. It was an active day for many kids in Palomas – we had several returning helpers fascinated with the inner workings of the blender bike.

Diversity of Health Fair Activities

A group of community craftswomen had their handiwork on display throughout the event, all of it made from recycled materials. Our health promoters conducted blood pressure checks. Meanwhile, our gardening team distributed fresh vegetables and answered questions next door. We also had a donation table that locals could peruse for new activewear or their next read.

We were so glad to have a well-attended event after all the hard work preparing for it behind the scenes by our staff. It was a beautiful day, and we already look forward to hosting the next health fair.

Many recent projects advance Palomas in multiple areas

Our promotoras posed with the senior citizens who participated in their own special session to improve the quality of their lives.

March was another busy month for our projects in Palomas. At the start of the month, Joel Carreon presented another one in our series of staff development workshops on nutrition. The theme was “Fats – how to eat more of the good ones and avoid the bad ones.” He balanced organic chemistry and practical knowledge to provide an illuminating class, complete with ‘good fat’ prizes for participants. That same day, we celebrated Employee Appreciation Day, with a delicious meal and gifts provided by the Board of Directors.

At the end of the week, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Donning purple shirts in recognition of the worldwide fight for gender equality, our staff walked through the main streets of Palomas alongside local school children, paramedics and firefighters from across the community.

Mid-march, we organized our monthly distribution of food baskets to families in need. A total of 158 beneficiaries received household hygiene supplies, fresh vegetables from our gardens, and basic food supplies. That same week, a volleyball tournament we held over the duration of the month ended, tallying a total of 265 attendees.

Entering spring, March was also a busy month in the gardens. Besides maintaining our three community greenhouses, our gardening staff built a new greenhouse at the elementary school in Entronque, a small community outside of Palomas.

Meanwhile, in the education center, 286 people ranging in age from 3-45 years came for assistance or to use the computers.

As usual, our health promoters engaged in a wealth of daily activities to benefit the community throughout the month. In March alone, the promotoras:

  • Prepared 806 food plates and deliveries to 26 older adults in the community;
  • Led 22 Zumba classes for a total of 110 people;
  • Completed 115 health screenings revisions in the office and carried out seven COVID tests, of which two came back positive;
  • Held a workshop on March 16 for the elderly in the community on how to get healthy physical activity in old age, while Border Partners’ intern provided a short English class;
  • Held a workshop on March 22 at the technical secondary school for two seventh grade groups, with a total of 45 students in attendance. The classes were taught by Joel Carreón, Carla Chávez and Cristal García.

As we look ahead to an April full of more events and activities, we’re grateful for the active commitment of our staff to carry out projects to the benefit of their community this last month. Thank you to all of you who make this work possible.

Profiles of the People Who Lead Our Programming, Part 2

This post continues our series of staff profiles to recognize the commitment Border Partners employees in Palomas. Today we spotlight today some new and some longtime staff members.

José Luis Muñoz

José Luis Muñoz Gonzalez

José Luis Muñoz Gonzalez, Construction and Maintenance Coordinator, is a longtime member of our gardening team and essential in the projects in Palomas. Jose Luis has worked with Border Partners for five and a half years and lived in Palomas for six and a half. He has 16 siblings and grew up in the state of Colima.

Jose Luis credits his drive to help his community through work with Border Partners to his mother. She was a local community leader in his hometown. He remarks that although he did not receive the opportunity to attain much education academically, he has learned a lot both formally and informally in the agricultural sector.

Of his work with Border Partners, Jose Luis says: “I love my job completely. Everything I do, I do with pride and joy.” Currently, he’s working to maintain the greenhouses, construct the gardens, and experiment with sustainable building methods alongside his colleagues.

Aside from working with Border Partners, Jose Luis enjoys everything to do with horticulture. He also enjoys tending to animals and spending time with his wife and four children. At this time, he is building a second floor on his home and helping with construction projects around Palomas, including building a new office for General Manager Juan Rascon.
Border Partners appreciates Jose Luis and all that he accomplishes for us and for the Palomas community. 

Carla Chavez Torres

Carla stands behind her meals ready to serve Palomas seniors. .

One of our newer staff members, Carla Chavez Torres has worked as a health promoter with Border Partners for the past seven months. She drives half an hour each day from nearby Entronque to Palomas for the workday. In Palomas, she teaches classes on nutrition at the local schools and assists with the daily operations of the promotoras at the Border Partners office.

Carla enjoys everything about her job. She says that she particularly appreciates “the ability to help the people, to teach and to learn something new every day.”

In general, Carla sees her position as an opportunity to learn and strive towards self-improvement with the hope of guaranteeing a bright future for her two daughters, who are five and seven years of age.

Carla has also worked for four years as a certified nurse. At home, she enjoys spending time with her daughters and going for walks in nature.

Zoila Ortiz

Zoila Ortiz

Finally, we introduce Zoila Ortiz, Border Partners’ outstanding chef.

Zoila Ortiz is Border Partners’ most recent addition, joining the team in late January of this year. She works Monday through Friday to cook delicious meals that are distributed to seniors in the community daily as part of Border Partners’ healthy eating and nutrition initiative.

Originally from Durango, Zoila has lived in Palomas for the last 20 years. She describes herself as a passionate cook who enjoys the work and helping her community. Her food receives rave reviews from our staff each week (when there’s some left over to try.)

Outside of her position with Border Partners, Zoila lives with her husband and two children, who are five and ten. In her free time, she likes to watch soccer and baseball with her family and ride her bike.

To see Part One of this series, visit this post on our website: Profiles of the People Who Lead Our Programming.