Time to let Peter go back to Canada and have Mona continue with the travels and stories.
One of the earlier postings in this blog talked about Arthur Frederick Community builders and the work done by Paul and Diane Poirier in the province of Chiapas over the years. Since AFCB and Abrazos Canada are closely cooperating, I had to go and see for myself what was happening. Chiapas is a different Mexico altogether – or so it felt to me. The mountains in the San Cristobal area are green and beautiful: pines, cacti, tropical trees and incredibly beautiful flowers, all growing together.
A mixture of laden avocado trees compete for attention with the wild peach trees currently in bloom. The soil is fertile, the rain generous and the people hardworking.
Unfortunately the poverty is shocking for such a rich province. Unfair work practices leading to extreme exploitation of the population (particularly the indigenous people) combine with heavy deforestation to make room for agriculture and ranching. The factors leading to poverty are many and this space is inadequate to discuss them. The one problem AFCB is trying to address is the lack of healthy housing and access to education that only compounds the problems faced by the communities. Buildings are made of wooden boards, covered on the inside with plastic and paper to keep the wind out. The rain enters happily through every crack and of course under the bottom boards creating interior rivulets.
The only sources of heat are open fires, also used for all the cooking required to support the family. As recounted in the previous blog, AFCB focused in the past year on building houses for the poorest of the poor, while at the same time reinforcing the ties and support given by community members to those in need. (see our past page about AFCB ) The houses are small cement rectangles but are endowed with a solid roof and strong support pillars that are buried into the ground – after all this area is prone to earthquakes. If funding permits, small details are added to the doors and windows, helping the owners dream about colorful paint or other pretty elements they will eventually add to their home. Another problem are the schools and preschools. Remote communities either do not have one (and children need to walk for miles to attend school) or have a most insalubrious shack housing all children between the ages of 6 and 10 …or more.
Only children who have attended preschool are allowed to register for grade 1 – but what happens if there is no preschool because the local authorities have deemed there are not enough children to warrant building one? AFCB has decided to help build either a small preschool room adjacent to an existing school or a new building altogether in the places where no school is in existence.
What do the recipients say? They are proud people and want to participate in every aspect of the decision making process as well as the actual building. Men donate their spare time and walls are erected during weekends and evenings. All work must be finished before Paul’s departure for Canada. The women will tell us that they never dreamt of having a house; they are having a hard time believing all this is happening.
Sebastiana, probably in her 80s and almost 4ft tall, reaches up to hug us “giants” and tells me she is finally warm and dry. Proudly she offers fruit from her garden which we accept happily – an exchange of love and support between equals, no more and no less.