November is nostalgic. Eight years ago (2010) a small group of people decided to change their little part of the planet. And they did. By opening a Community Center for the poor and Indigenous. It was slow at first, as natives and strangers danced around each others differences. Stepping on the eggs of mistrust and superstitions laced with fear. Mistakes were made and will be, but the chain that binds us all together gets ever stronger. If just one of those links, made up from trust is broken... like musical chairs, you will gradually have only one link left. Linking the chain together is linking differences to build strength. Building walls and fences brings isolationism; the walls do not keep people out, they are trapping people in.
The Tepehua Community Center has gone from strength to strength because it has reached beyond walls and differences, and we find we have one thing in common... survival and enjoying the world we live in, embracing opportunity where we can. The world this little group was going to change found the world changed them.
Sliding into our 8th, we realize the countless people whose lives have been changed, not by us alone, we were only the tool. It was the involvement of people who cared about their fellow man. It’s OK to be your brother’s keeper. It is OK to cry and have compassion for the plight of others. The Center has also proved it is OK to dream. Whatever the age.
When the soup kitchen started, to put food on the table we took it from anywhere we could, stealing Salteens from restaurants, going at closing time to pick up left-over food. Hard but fun days.
The Friday socializing brought the people together, making their own support system when they realized all their problems were similar. Poverty does bring isolation and distrust, even between family members. Life in poverty is the same all over the world...challenges different but the same.
The Medical Center started with a dining room table, a shower curtain around it for privacy. Our first Doctor was Dr. Joe de Leon of Lakeside. The huge involvement of the private sector and Rotary International changed all that. Tepehua now has its own Medical and Dental clinic. Local Doctors and Dentists volunteer. Generous Professionals giving the people in poverty their time. A special group of people who remembered their oath of service.
The greatest challenge of all has been met, getting children into school. The key to opportunity is only through education. We have a great program, not only to get children into the school system but to get them into the Universities to follow a dream. A new program to help strengthen the middle class, by starting a Trade School program, only a vision at this time. For this we will need the help of local businesses. Not everyone wants to be a brain surgeon, and the young people who fall are the teens with nowhere to put their dreams or energy, no one who cares enough to give them direction, children of parents already defeated by society’s indifference. Their lives are too precious to let them slip through the cracks of the mean streets of Tepehua—which is why we started the gymnasium. All ages and gender are coming.
The Tepehua Treasures consignment store started with junk; a benefactor muttered “this will never fly,” but he donated a year’s rent anyway, On the backs of volunteers it is flying high and helping to keep the education going. All built on the vision of a handful of founders who followed the dream. Some are still with us, some have moved on but left behind a legacy.
This writer has written about volunteerism before, even if you volunteer two hours...three... a week, the accomplishment is enormous because of the chain. In the Tepehua store there are two and half hour shifts six days a week...you may only bring in less than a thousand pesos in your shift....but think how much all those small numbers add up to educate children per year?!
Volunteerism, sharing the wisdom and experience of your life is priceless. What you give is more than money, it is wealth only a few have, the need to give back.
As the sun sets on 2018, think about being part of the chain that binds people together, that makes your part of the world a better place. You are needed...it is a good feeling. Never think you have nothing to give...giving of yourself is the best gift of all. Life is a gift... share it. Thank you for sharing it with Tepehua. You have made a difference, and may 2019 bring peace, or as close as possible, to our world.
MOONYEEN PATRICIA KING
Column: Profiling Tepehua
Settled in Mexico 13 years ago. The intention was to retire into the arts as a writer, poet and painter...that didn’t happen. Beneath the smiles of the peoples of Mexico there was such a great need for change, especially for the women and children of the barrios, Moonyeen has dedicated these years to change the face of this little corner of the world. The work done by the volunteers of the Tepehua Community Center is teaching that change is possible anywhere. Moonyeen was portrayed as “Woman of the Year,” also two Paul Harris Rotary awards for the work done at Tepehua. “Life in Mexico is very fulfilling. The Mexican people give so much more to us immigrants than we can possible return.