Unexpected lessons: How poverty slows accomplishment

by Polly Edmunds. co-founder Border Partners

Palomas Mexico home

Rudolfo's humble Palomas home

Because we choose “to stand with” rather than “to do for” those who face the daily challenge of poverty, we are learning how poverty can negatively affect accomplishment and goal achievement. Again this spring, Rudolfo taught us this.

Rudolfo is a local master at traditional adobe block production, so my husband Peter asked him to help with an experimental project in Palomas. He agreed to try using some ground up paper in the traditional adobe brick to add better insulation and to try using the “cast in place” process to speed laying the brick and strengthen the construction results.

The two had some encouraging initial success. So Rudolfo then decided to start building a small, improved house on his property using the improved brick and methods as a means of continuing the experiment.

This adobe brick production requires a particular type of dirt that is high in clay content. Since a load costs $40, Peter gave Rudolfo money to purchase what he needed, the week before Easter.

Rudolfo and Peter

Rudolfo and Peter construct alternative adobe brick.

But the delivery man couldn’t bring the special dirt because his truck was broken, and his mechanic wasn’t working during Holy Week. So that stalled the experiment. Projects don’t always honor our time lines, and that’s often particularly true in Mexico.

But a week later, after enough time passed to repair the truck, there still was no load of gravel in place. When Peter inquired, Rudolfo apologized:

“While I was waiting for the truck to be fixed, we needed food. Since I had the $40, I used that money to buy food. And then we also got our water bill, and I had to pay that right away so the city wouldn’t turn off our water. But next week I’ll go work in the fields and earn $40, so we can order the dirt.”

Things take longer than you expect at times–for reasons that are surprising to people who live in “the land of plenty.” Rudolfo, by sharing his economic challenges, increased our understanding and empathy.

When we partner across the border line, we all have lessons to learn.

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