I’m in Cuernavaca, Mexico on an educational program with seven friends from church. It’s called Quest Mexico and it’s “a non-profit organization devoted to social justice through transformative and experiential education.” I’ve been here only 5 days and it has indeed been transformative and an experience.
According to numbers gathered by UFCW Canada, in 2009 one in ten Canadians were considered poor. In Mexico, seven out of ten people are poor.
The minimum wage in Mexico is 80 pesos per day (9 hours). That works out to $5.15 Canadian. And most people do not have a regular paying job.
On our first day, we visited La Estación, which is the poorest area of Cuernavaca. Fifty years ago, the government wanted certain land so the people there were displaced and relocated to live in the area of the railway station “temporarily” until they could be resettled elsewhere. They are still there. And more. The railway was privatized in 1997 and service to Cuernavaca was discontinued, and the railway station abandoned. There are approximately 6,000 people living in La Estación today, in ramshackle housing they have built themselves. The land still belongs to the federal government.
We visited one family’s home and spoke (through a translator) to the mother, Minerva. She has a husband and four children, from high school age to a toddler. They make their living by making and selling puddings. On a good day, they make 100 pesos. That money buys food for the day and supplies for making the puddings to sell the next day. There are no days off. If no money comes in, they don’t eat. Minerva is adamant about her children attending school and getting an education. They live in a cement house that is about 10′ x 20′. Family is of great importance to Minerva. She told us that although they do not have a lot, they are happy.
We also visited the Women’s Center in La Estación. They have a breakfast program there and serve about 120 people (mostly kindergarten children and one of their parents) every school day. (We will be helping out with the breakfast program on an upcoming day.) They also teach women crafts such as embroidery, so that the women can make and sell goods. I bought two beautiful embroidered pillow cases. We also did some painting and planting for the Center.
Across from the Women’s Center is the kindergarten. They have 94 students in multiple classrooms. We brought backpacks and school supplies to give them.
That evening we heard from Ofelia Laureano. She is an amazing woman who told us her life story as a domestic worker. Her courage and determination to build a better life for herself and her children was inspiring. She had no schooling, because her parents believed a woman’s place was in the home and she did not need to learn. She left her small village at the age of 10 to become a domestic worker in the city. She worked hard her whole life, and not just for her own benefit. With a few other women, they worked to get some water lines put into La Estación – which included waiting outside the governor’s mansion for him to drive out so they could get his signature on a permit, when they were not allowed to see him by appointment. Her children taught her to read and write and do math. Her story was riveting.
A very educational and eye-opening day.