When the MEL Women’s Tour to Chiapas arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, the ladies dragged into the lobby of the Hotel Monctezuma looking pretty wiped after their long day on the bus. But within an hour, they had gathered again, eager for Sergio to walk them to the nearby Main Plaza. Their eyes danced around and they laughed like school girls – they’d heard a lot about the city – and couldn’t wait to discover it.
When they returned, most had found a restaurant they enjoyed, and the next day, they LOVED shopping in the huge artisan market. However, observing the indigenous women selling their crafts until late at night distressed the group, and obviously, everyone felt their children should be home in bed, not roaming the streets in the hopes of earning a few pesos. “In Chiapas, need seems more acute than in Yucatan,” one of the group members said.
Poverty is defined by many criteria. But to me, it means having no choices. Somehow people make it from day to day, but they do not have a say about what they will eat, and their living conditions are always precarious. Many children do not attend school. No matter what their age, the poor have to accept whatever is imposed upon them. They are vulnerable to the whims of self-serving politicians, big business encroachment into rural areas, their own cultural biases, religious taboos and family interference and pressure. 75 – 80% of Mexico’s population endures poverty to some degree. And sadly, it seems doubtful that the numbers will be different in the next generation.
But in San Cristobal, as in every city in Mexico, there are angels who refuse to accept these grim statistics. Our group visited “La Casa de las Flores”, a drop-in centre for street children. We saw first-hand, that love and learning CAN overcome the odds stacked against the kids. What a wonderful morning we spent playing, reading, singing and folding origami cranes with the 7 – 8 year olds. Before leaving, we served cake to them and to the delightful, dedicated volunteers. Our donations of toys, school supplies, clothing, and other items were most welcome – but tomorrow – will more needed supplies come through the door?
Read more about the “Casa de las Flores” on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lacasadelasfloreschiapas/
One of our group members asked the Centre’s director: Is the best tact to support the children by buying their products, and also offering help those who fall through the cracks, as they do in every culture? What other responses would be helpful?
Claudia Castro, the dynamic founder and present director of “La Casa de las Flores” told us that yes, it was important to buy from the children. “Otherwise, they don’t eat,” she added sadly.
It seems clear that the country‘s political and social agencies can squash or stimulate the quality of life Chiapas, and the state needs economic growth that will benefit the majority, not only the wealthy. Private individuals like us can’t possibly help everyone that crosses our path, but by financially supporting initiatives like the “La Casa de las Flores”, we can be sure our donations will reach the people who need them.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a tried and true maxim, and my mother-in-law was the first to show me the importance of living by this “golden rule”. At first I felt terribly self-conscious. I felt embarrassed – and yes – I felt guilty. “Share what you have,” Doña Bertha would urge me, and she helped me get over my discomfort. Slowly I became more open to approaching people who look like they need help.
The big market used to be the best place to buy groceries of all kinds. I would go there with her, and I saw that she always carried a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of some kind of drink in her big purse. Like it was nothing out-of-the-ordinary, she’d give the food to someone who looked hungry. I used to worry she might offend the person, but I never saw anyone turn her down. When I started to do likewise, no one ever refused my offerings either. And over time, I learned there are many ways we can all help out.
I learned that I can help, by asking for help for myself. For example, I sometimes hire a young kid to help me with some “tech’ task” like updating the contacts list on my phone. The lady who works with me in our home has a daughter who comes once in a while and helps me clean and organize the closets and shelves. She actually enjoys doing this and in addition to some cash, she likes to take home what I can no longer use. I often ask a neighbour to help me in the kitchen when I have a party. It is a win-win deal, I am happy to have the help, and those I ask for it, appreciate earning some extra cash.
Tip the parking “dale-dale” man, and the ones who bag your groceries. These people receive no salary. Most look at least as old as me, and I give them a minimum of 10 pesos. While dining at outdoor cafes, Jorge often buys a rose or I buy a fan from a vendor. From time to time, Jorge agrees to get his shoes shined, and he says, sí, if a musician asks to play us a song.
There are times when someone wants to sell us something, we don’t want at all (like cigars) Nonetheless, we don’t just brush them off. We say no as pleasantly as possible, look them in the eyes and smile before we turn away.
Showing respect makes a big difference. You may not think that the 10, 15, or 20 pesos you give, or spend on a “service”, means much. You may not believe that a smile helps, but I assure you, it does.
Our world is not a fair place. Our efforts seem like “a drop in the bucket”. But even a little help can take the edge off someone’s immediate worries. A reprieve from present anxiety is not a long-term solution, but as my mother-in-law used to say, “Small kindnesses add up.”