Tuesday, October 6, 2009

the edge of survival

The Tarahumara: Between Two Worlds
by Janet Blaser published December 2008

An ancient people teetering on the edge of survival

The dry, brush-covered mountains of Copper Canyon, in the state of Chihuahua, are where the majority of the estimated 60,000 surviving Tarahumara Indians live. The naturally harsh conditions of the area have been exacerbated by several factors, including global warming. Hit hard by 12 years of drought, severe de-forestation and erosion, and worst of all, the lack of clean water, the Tarahumara’s traditional way of life as goat herders and simple farmers has suffered tremendous ly. For more than 1,000 years, the mainstays of their diet has been corn, beans and squash, but it’s become more and more difficult for anything to grow in the now-dry, arid land of their ancestors.

Four years ago Brenda Babbitt went on a road trip through this area she thought was simply a vacation with a friend. Little did she know it would change her life – and the lives of so many others.

Stopping in Creel at a small gift shop, Brenda chatted with a store volunteer who explained how the proceeds were used to assist the Tarahumara. The woman also told her they were in need of medicine and school supplies.

t’s the babies and small children that suffer the most, innocent victims of the struggle they’ve inherited, a hardscrabble existence in an unforgiving place on the planet.

When Brenda returned home, she did some research and saw the full scope of the situation. The majority of funding came from three benefits a year, and in 2005, a major fundraiser usually held in New Orleans had been cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina.

“I discovered they could lose as much as 40% of the money they counted on each year to run the hospital and do their work. That just scared me to death,” she said. “I couldn’t sit back in good conscience and do nothing knowing they needed medicine, especially the children.”

Brenda realized that in Creel they didn’t have the benefit of a retirement or international community for donations and support. The local businesses barely got by and few visitors passed through the area. Because of her experience with Mazatlan and its Friends of Mexico group, which she helped found with Chester Tesarowski in 1998, she felt her energies could be better used helping the Tarahumara.

“I could see that we were growing here in Mazatlan and were already working with the orphanages, teaching English, helping the schools,20things like that,” she said. “A lot of people were doing those things here. I thought why not reach out to others who really need it?”

The small mission clinic, with its formal name of Santa Teresita Hospital, was established in 1965 by Father Luis G. Verplancken. It sees about 4,000 patients a year, with about a quarter of those admitted for treatment. Most alarming is that 75% of these are children under age 2 whose death would be certain if they were not treated. Tuberculosis, easily curable or prevented, is not uncommon, and the hospital has had to set up a special TB ward to address this recurrent problem.

o run the hospital for one day costs about $22,000 pesos – roughly $2,000 U.S. To put it bluntly, that’s about $200 a child.

When Father Pedro de Velasco Rivera came to the mission three years ago, one of the most critical problems facing the Tarahumara was the lack of clean drinking water. The mission has focused much of its energy on digging wells and building sanitary water collection systems, and to date, there are 64 working wells and three dozen water-supply systems in operation. The cost of these life-saving conveniences is minimal – about $3,700 U.S. for a well, $1,100 U.S. for a rainwater collection system, $2,250 U.S. for a spring water system. Other long-term projects include erosion-prevention strategies and reforestation plans.

If you’d like to help:

For more information:

Brenda Babbitt: 913-1318,profbrendabuddy@gmail.com
Father Pedro J. Velasco Rivero: www.giveaminute.org, velasco.pj@gmail.com ,misiontarahumara@gmail.com

Drop-off for medicines & nutritional items – PLEASE, NO CLOTHING!

Tony’s Salon, Leandro Valle #99, corner of 5 de Mayo, Centro Historico. 981-6420. Call Brenda to arrange drop-off in other areas.

Items Needed:

Baby formula – 0-6 months and 6-12 months (25% discount at Farmacia Similares Mondays from 5-7 p.m.)
Baby wipes, shampoo, lotion, powder
Large jars of Vaseline
Cookies: Marias, animal, vanilla
Drinking straws
Instant oatmeal
Gerber baby cereal
Nido powdered milk, age 1-plus
Note: Please be careful not to buy packaged food items made in China.


Amebicida – Metronidazol, susp. 120
Analgesico – Ibuprofeno, susp. 120
Anti-asmatico – Ambroxol Salbutamol, susp. 120
Antibiotico – Amox-Bromhexina, susp. 250
Antitusivo – Ambroxol/Dextrometorfano, 120 JBE infant, also adult
Antihistaminico – Loratadina (preferred) or Difenhidramina JBE
Cash donations are used for shipping costs and specific items requested by the mission.

Deposits can be made directly to Banamex in either of those accounts:

Complejo Asistencial ClĂ­nica Santa Teresita A.C.
Banamex Sucursal 838 Cuenta 70619
CLABE 002150083800706194
Pedro J. de Velasco Rivero
Banamex Sucursal 838 Cuenta 7631705
CLABE 002150083876317054

Many of the families prefer to live in the remote mountains, often several days walk to the village. Children often sleep in town for five days at a time so they can attend the small school, where they learn their native language and Spanish, as well as other general subjects. The 100 or so children ages 5-14 are also taught about both cultures to better prepare them for contact with the outside world. No attempt is made to force modern-day life on the Tarahumara, or Raramuri, – their way of life is accepted and respected.

“It’s a different kind of life, let me tell you, but they’ve managed to take care of themselves and their culture for many years,” said Brenda. Many of the estimated 4,000 families live deep in the mountains, using the natural caves as shelter. “There are some people in the hills that never come out and have never seen a white person. No one even knows where they all are.”

It’s the babies and small children that suffer the most, innocent victims of the struggle they’ve inherited, a hardscrabble existence in an unforgiving place on the planet. The mission’s hospital statistics from last year show20that 10 children a week were saved from dying; official estimates show that 70% of children under age five are suffering from malnutrition, making them susceptible to life-threatening diseases like pneumonia, stomach flu, infections and bronchitis.

To run the hospital for one day costs about $22,000 pesos – roughly $2,000 U.S. To put it bluntly, that’s about $200 a child.

“I’d love to find a few more people with big hearts, willing to reach out to help our brothers and sisters in the mountains,” said Brenda. “Hopefully, some people will assist on a monthly basis so the flow of items will be continuous, all year-round.”

The nuns travel into the outposts, bringing medical care and supplies, food and other basic survival items, keeping an eye on patients and those with special needs. They also work to educate the mothers about symptoms they might see in their children, encouraging them to bring their babies in earlier for treatment. Brenda’s become a sort of lifeline, keeping in touch with the mission and coordinating the collection and shipping of much-needed medical and school supplies, food and infant formula.

“Each month I feel like this is not hard to do, and it helps so many. I’m going to continue to do this, and if anyone e lse wants to help, they can,” said Brenda. “My life is get two boxes, fill, mail - and start again.” Estrella Blanca Package & Bus Company gives her a hefty discount on shipping costs to the mission in Creel, and Soriana donates empty cartons, but still, the costs add up and it seems like there’s never enough.

“I know our help has helped them assist and save lives - especially the babies,” she continued. “This is my commitment and God knows it. I’m so thankful to be able to help with this special work.”

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