Tepehua Centro Comunitario
By Cameron Peters
"Helping a Village to Help Itself"
There’s magic in the smile of a Mexican child. Multiple that by a hundred happy, well-fed smiling faces and you have a milagro (miracle)! That’s the Tepehua Centro Communitario. And that’s what I saw when I visited the Centro on a couple of typical Friday mornings.
Moonyeen King (“Moonie”) invited me to visit the Centro to see what’s happening. It’s a “happenin’ place” for sure! On Fridays, the Centro feeds between 100 and 200 healthy breakfasts to residents, children and adults, of Tepehua, Chapala’s poorest neighborhood and one of the poorest in Jalisco. Food is dished out from a not quite large enough kitchen (expansion is in the works thanks to Rotary Club programs). The littlest kids have their own dining room with tot-sized tables and chairs at which they’re lovingly attended by ex-pat volunteers and Tepehua residents who are “paid” with coupons which they can redeem at the thrift store upstairs. The older children and adults eat in a cafeteria-style room across the hall. Kids and adults scurry everywhere giving the impression of well- oiled chaos. The Centro also has a “meals on wheels” program to deliver food to the housebound.
Behind the dining areas, there is a spotless, free medical and dental clinic staffed by volunteers. Many Tepehua residents have never seen a doctor or dentist and without the Centro their problems would go undiagnosed and untreated. Problems that can’t be treated at the Centro can be handled through IMSS, Seguro Popular or through the Centro’s network of medical providers willing to help.
I spoke at length with Dr. Geo Ruwwe, a retired U.S. dental surgeon who obtained his Mexican dental license and now volunteers at the Friday clinic. He told me, “Every Friday’s like a pop quiz. I never know what I’m going to see”. He proudly demonstrated the clinic’s therapeutic laser machine which he uses to treat many conditions from migraines to sciatica. This equipment as well as an entire dental office’s equipment was purchased with donated funds as are all the equipment and supplies. To date there has been no public funding for the Centro. The Centro survives solely on donations and very much needs your help.
That’s not all that goes on at the Centro. The Education Program helps defray the costs of sending a child to school by providing school supplies, uniforms and registration fees. This year Costco donated over 200 school backpacks. Currently the Centro is working on a program to obtain birth certificates for children, many of whom are born at home. Children must have birth certificates to enroll in school. The Counseling Program educates the Tepehua community about topics such as prenatal care, drug and alcohol abuse, nutrition and spousal and child abuse. There are also English classes, sewing classes and cancer prevention and intervention classes. A new program is planned which will certify young women to be home health aides, a growing industry Lakeside.
So how did it all begin?
The Centro is located in the building which originally housed Love In Action. When Love in Action moved, the building was abandoned and vandalized. Moonyeen King, who is now
President of the Centro, and a number of volunteers determined to start a community center. With the fundraising assistance of Geoffrey Kaye of the Animal Shelter Store, $60,000 USD was raised to renovate the building and a 99-year lease was negotiated with Love In Action. The Centro opened in 2010. Seeing the building today, you would never believe it was a wreck such a short time ago. It’s freshly painted and newly tiled and reflects the Tepehua community’s pride in having a base from which to help itself.
A Christmas party will be held on December 21 at which the Centro will serve Christmas comida to 500 Tepehua residents! They will also receive gift bags from Santa with small gifts and vouchers to spend at the Centro’s thrift store. As soon as funds are available, the enclosed yard behind the building will be paved and otherwise improved to become a play area for the children.
Please don’t forget that the Centro now has a shop, the “Tepehua Treasures Consignment Shop” next to Magana’s Restaurant in Riberas del Pilar. The 30% which the Shop takes from sale proceeds goes entirely to the Centro’s education programs for children and adults.