Originally posted to Taco's blog, Shatter the Fog, on 4/19/2007
Agros Mexico was our first visit as GlobalGiving Ambassadors.
"We have no education. We have nothing. Our hope for the future is our children. We want them to go to school and learn."
Lara and I are sitting in a tiny church(1) in San Pedrito, Chiapas, Mexico. Antonio speaks to us in Totsil(2) through a Spanish translator. Like most of the people in his village, he speaks very little Spanish. His clothes are torn and his skin and hands show his many years of hard work in the fields. He belongs to the majority of people on this earth that live on less than $1 per day. He is among the poorest of the poor.
In May 2005, the 18 families in San Pedrito lived in shacks constructed of wood slats and plastic tarps over dirt floors. The food they ate(3) didn’t satisfy basic nutritional needs, especially for the children. Meals were cooked on open fires inside the shacks. The women in the village carried untreated water in 90lb containers(4) from a muddy pool 100m away. The local hillsides were deforested to provide cooking fuel.
This isn’t a “pull out your wallet, tear-jerker” story. This is just real life for a lot of people in Mexico. They don’t have much dignitiy and certainly don’t have any hope or any confidence that they can do anything for themselves. Life is a grinding, day to day struggle. Once you feed yourself – that’s pretty much it. There’s no energy left to think about, let alone try to imagine how you might send your kids to school. If you have any reserves left, you’ll probably save them for when your child falls into the fire and you have to walk 10 km to take them to a doctor.
Today the villagers are telling us a different story. The men sit on one side of the church and the women and children sit on the other. When they speak, there is hope in their voices.
"Agros taught us how to work together," says Jose(5). "For three months all of the men in the village worked together on the water system. Not a single one of us left to work outside the village. Agros paid for the materials. They also paid us half of what we would normally have earned working for other people so that we could afford the time to work on the water project. Now we have running water to all our houses."
The water system was the first project that Agros did in San Pedrito. Today we have accompanied Claudia(6) and Marcos(7) on their bi-weekly visit so we can see what has changed.
After our meeting with the villagers, we are taken on a tour of the village. There are piles of adobe bricks everywhere. Following the success of the water system, the villagers realized that they could work together to build better houses. Agros is providing corrugated metal for the roofs, but the villagers making the adobe bricks and are doing all of the construction themselves. Because everyone is working together, the houses are almost being constructed in an assembly line which means everyone should be moving in pretty soon.
"It´s a lot of work sometimes," says Marcos. "When we first come to a community the people are hoping we will just give them what they need. We don´t do that. It would be much easier, but it wouldn´t work. People value what they work for. We work alongside communities. It's a 7-10 year commitment to help a village out of poverty and build social and economic wealth. We teach them how to work together. Everyone has to get involved, both the men and the women. If they won't work together then we can't work with them."
San Pedrito has a school now. It´s a small wooden shack with a dirt floor. The town is too small for a government teacher, but the Mexican government has an excellent program where students that have graduated from secondary school(8) can spend a year or two teaching in a village like this one to qualify for scholarships in their chosen field of study. Agros helped arrange everything and there are now two young men teaching in the one-room school house. It´s a harsh living for the two teachers. They live in a mud shack and are provided only basic food by the villagers. Donations from a church in Cuernavaca help provide some extra support for the teachers.
"Are those Papayas?" I ask as we complete the tour of the village. "Yes," says Jose, and he calls over one of his children. He lifts his child into the tree and together they pick a couple of Papayas for us. The sole Papaya tree in the village is now surrounded by a new grove of fruit trees. This is another product of Agros, and fitting symbol for San Pedrito. The little fruit trees have a lot of growing to do yet, but the seed has been planted and with a bit of support the future finally looks brighter.