Poco a Poco gives thanks to everyone who has provided caring and even lifesaving support to the indigenous people of San Pedro Itzican and surrounds.
The COVID Emergency
When we first heard about the pandemic, over a year ago, we held our collective breath imagining what would happen if COVID hit the villages we support. Wash your hands, wear a mask, use sanitizer, social distance, take vitamins, visit a doctor if you become ill. All of these were impossible to imagine in a place where soap is a luxury, families of 10 live in a single room, masks or any type of PPE is not available, and medical care is miles away and not affordable even if accessible. Add to this the fact that so many in the area have underlying health issues, especially the kidney disease. The picture was frightening. As soon as the pandemic was announced, the government shut down all of our programs except for our afternoon meal program (Community Kitchen) for 80 kids 5 days a week and our monthly despensa program that at the time was supporting 55 families. We maintained these programs, but also turned our attention to bringing thousands of masks, PPE, sanitizer and soap, and educational posters about COVID to the villages. It was the beginning of experiencing a tremendous wave of financial and material support from sources near and far.
Soon after this effort started, an emergency arose that we had not anticipated. The government shut down all employment in factories, domestic labor and berry picking. Suddenly, many villagers had no money and therefore no food. The numbers in dire need rose to 2000 families not only in San Pedro but also the entire indigenous area. We started to fundraise like never before to try to meet this need. Money flowed in and out at a rate we had not imagined was possible. We were bringing 7 tons of dry goods to the villages on a flatbed truck at a cost of over $5000 US every week! A team of 12 of the most mature brigadistas was organized, and they literally spent all day every day for 4 months loading, unloading, packaging and delivering a kilo of rice, beans, lentils, oatmeal and soya crunch to their neighbors in need. Four days a week these dry goods were loaded onto the back of 2 pick-up trucks that were then driven to 12 different locations where villagers waited in long desperate lines.
As if this story was not dramatic enough, the next chapter to unfold occurred when COVID actually arrived in the village. We first learned of it when we began hearing stories of older people in the village dying at home because they could not breathe. There was no testing, no medical care and so there was no way to know for certain if this was COVID. But, of course, it was. This sad news inspired us to bring oxygen concentrators, oximeters and thermometers to the villages. Oxygen concentrators in particular became a point of focus and we scrambled to get one as soon as we heard that one was available. At the height of this crisis, we had 8 machines in San Pedro. Two of the older brigadistas began dressing head-to-toe in protective gear to go house-to-house to evaluate anyone who was ill. One such effort over a weekend found 22 villagers with COVID symptoms. We then gave everyone who was ill a package of medicine and vitamins suggested by a doctor familiar with treating COVID. Slowly what had been a crisis for many months started to lessen. Villagers returned to work and the number of despensas we were providing was greatly reduced. Reports of people with COVID symptoms and reports of COVID deaths went down. Families started to return oxygen machines. It is impossible to know exactly what the COVID situation is now, but it is clearly much better than before. Despite the hardships and strain of the months dealing with an overwhelming crisis, Poco a Poco has emerged strengthened, focused and ever growing! Our programs that were shut down during COVID have started again. Here is a list of what we are up to now and what we are looking to do in the future.
Community Kitchens: As mentioned above, our Community Kitchen in San Pedro Itzican was a lifeline for many children and others during the worst of the pandemic. It continues and thrives serving about 80 children a meal 5 days a week. There is a dining area for the children with tables and benches. Recently we opened a new Community Kitchen in a neighborhood of San Pedro called La Pena. The food is cooked in our kitchen in San Pedro then driven about 10 minutes to a big open area in La Pena. Opening day 110 meals were served and the next day 150 meals were served. Looking forward, we want to build a simple roof structure in La Pena to provide some shade and an area where the children can sit and eat their meal. An estimated 70% of children in the area suffer from malnutrition which is a major risk factor for the kidney disease that is so prevalent in the area. So, providing children a healthy meal daily has a huge added benefit! It costs 6000 pesos (about $300 US) per week to operate both Community Kitchen sites.
Children’s Activities: Before COVID we had an active and very popular activities program for the children in San Pedro who would come for a meal at our Community Kitchen. For an hour or so after their meal, the children would engage in outdoor activities such as soccer and also indoor activities such as drawing and crafts. We had to shut down this program during COVID, but we are gearing up to start again with the help of a wonderful group of young Mexicans leading the way!
We also provide; a Children’s Library, Kidney Despensa Program, Jewelry Making Workshops, Sewing Classes, Vivero, English as a Second Language, and Pizza and tortillas: Before COVID an enterprising group of 10 women decided to join forces to create a tortilla making business using our kitchen. They decided to make the tortillas the traditional way starting with corn that is soaked and then ground. Their business took off and they took out a loan to buy a grinder. Another group of women took on making pizzas and built a wood burning oven for that purpose, also at the Brigada office. The business is thriving, and the women are happy!
Collaborations: When the food crisis hit San Pedro and we were scrambling to try to feed so many people, we reached out to FoodBank Lakeside for assistance and they responded immediately. They continue to support our Kidney Despensa program and we are eternally grateful to this wonderful organization! April 3, 2021 In Mexico all university students are required to volunteer for a community service activity for a certain number of hours before they graduate. Students can receive these credits only from sites that are officially registered with a university. Recently San Pedro has become one such official site with a top tier university in Guadalajara, Tecnologico de Monterey. Students are already working with professors to help San Pedro! Namaste Lake Chapala raises money and buys snacks for all of the children who receive an afternoon meal. Many of these children have very little to eat between the meals that we provide so this is a wonderful addition to our efforts!
Community Center We have dreamed for years of finding a plot of land in San Pedro to build a permanent community center that would serve as a location for many activities that would make the future brighter for San Pedro. After much effort, we will buy a plot soon! The community center is being designed by students working with a professor at the Tecnologico de Monterey. The Center will include a small medical clinic, a kitchen with modern amenities, a dining area, a water filtration system, and rooms for workshops. We could not be more excited!
We so appreciate the support we have received as we open up our programs again, expand and move ahead! Please go to www.pocoapocosanpedro.com\donate to help. Lake Chapala Charities provides a way for many charities in the area to receive a tax-deductible donation from the US. To donate to Poco a Poco please click on Brigada Estatal/Poco a Poco. When we work together anything is possible!
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com