Border Partners’ original Palomas promoter: Key to our success

by Billie Greenwood

Marisol Guillen and Peter Edmunds

Marisol Guillen and Peter Edmunds rely on each other as they work to improve Palomas.

An original Palomas promoter of Border Partners operations, Marisol Guillen’s ongoing contribution plays a critical role in the agency’s success. The quintessential border citizen, Marisol was born in Mexico and educated in the United States.

Marisol’s bilingual skills, bridging communications across the US-Mexico border, are vital. Beyond language skills, her energy, enthusiasm and leadership can’t be overstated when accounting for Border Partners’ successful launch in Palomas.

Even before Border Partners existed, Marisol was volunteering and working with unflagging commitment to advance her town. Always enterprising, she served meals from a little restaurant she started and offered aerobics classes for her friends. She was one of the first woodworkers Border Partners trained to build solar cookers.

Always smiling, always positive, Marisol triumphed over the challenges of drug-related violence in her town and has found her niche.

As one of our original promoters, Marisol became involved in everything we did.

Now you’ll see Marisol arranging Border Partners events and activities with town officials and local schools. And she’s a trained, participating Promotora (health promoter). She teaches aerobics to the public for Border Partners, five times each week. Besides translating for Peter (and sometimes for visitors), Marisol works with Palomas students who volunteer to complete projects–like making blocks or painting park equipment, and she delivers donated equipment to schools.

Guillen helps student

Marisol Gullien assists a Ford School student as they construct a new raised-bed garden plot.

Marisol is great at connecting local people with Border Partners’ projects. Neighbors come to her for help, and she responds to the needs she encounters. During her “Christmas vacation,” we found her installing a door at the humble home of a single mom whose home was dangerously insecure and uncomfortably cold.

When Marisol learned that an elderly woman with advanced diabetes had no indoor bathroom, she advocated for her assistance and then personally helped build fiber cement blocks to add an indoor bathroom.

Leadership can be tricky in a small town, where it’s easy to “step on toes.” Perhaps leadership is even more difficult for a woman in Mexico, a culture characterized by machismo—male-orientation. But, if you ask Marisol about challenges she faces as a leader in Palomas, she doesn’t avert to anything like that.

Her main challenge is the same as many women face. As a single working mother, she struggles to balance responsibilities at work and at home raising her two children, Darlene, 11, and Nathan, 9. It’s not always easy to keep all her bases covered. But now, with experience as a working mom under her belt, Marisol feels more comfortable juggling the multiple roles she handles.

Guillen with daughter

While helping with construction at the Palomas library, Marisol enjoyed an unplanned meet-up with her daughter Darlene who was there to use the library’s services.

Peter Edmunds, Border Partners co-founder, relies directly and largely on Marisol as he interacts in Palomas. That’s a responsibility she takes very seriously.

“I’m always honest with Peter. That’s really important to me. I let him know what’s happening right away. I want him to be able to trust me.”

For his part, Peter speaks glowingly of Marisol: “A few weeks ago, some Palomas citizens approached Marisol, asking her to run for government office this fall. They recognize her talent for community organizing. If she ran, it would change everything for Border Partners, because I cannot visualize my work in Palomas without her. But, nevertheless, I have to say that she’d be a great city leader.”

In fact, it is difficult to imagine Border Partners accomplishments without Marisol’s original participation and now leadership in our operations. Her personal presence and her work advance the transformation of Palomas.

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