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Chiapas: Transforming hearts at the 'Rock Crusher' (part 1)

Story and photos by Russ Dilday

Editor's note: This is the first half of a two-part series about the dynamic ministry in the Chiapas state of Mexico, where Buckner is helping transform families from a state of crisis to a state of thriving. Check back tomorrow for part two.

Under a warm sun, Lluvia Citlalli Hernandez Aguilar, the sole Buckner social worker for the Chiapas state of Mexico, makes her way down the steep gravel and rock road that descends into the Tuxtla-Gutierrez neighborhood known as Trituradora, or “Rock Crusher.”

The colonia, a mixture of small one- or two-room tin and wood homes, is a rough-and-tumble area on the side of a mountain overlooking the city of Tuxtla. It received its name because of a large gravel crushing machine at a nearby quarry, but the colonia, one of the poorest in the city, might as well be named for its ability to crush dreams.

Hernandez passes several homes before entering the fenced yard of Selene Castellanos, 19. Her home is remarkable among its dreary, unpainted neighbors. It’s a mix of cinder block, a more durable construction material, and tin. The house is painted a bright aqua color. The front garden lining the gravel driveway is alive with color.

As Hernandez walks up the small drive, she’s greeted by Castellanos and her mother, Guille, who are selling fruit and vegetables from the racks of their miselanea, or small store, in the home’s front. On the left, adjacent to her home is a large, open room, where she beckons Castellanos to join her. It’s another feature that makes Castellanos’ home so unique among others: Not only is it her home, built by local Buckner volunteers, it’s also the Buckner Family Hope Center that serves her neighbors.

Turning clients into volunteers

As Castellanos’ home is unique among others, so is her story. Earlier this year, Castellanos came to a nearby location where Buckner was conducting a project, asking for help for herself and counseling for her family of five, who she said were “stressed.”

“I met Selene sometime in May, 2014,” Hernandez recalls. “I had seen her before at other events. Her family previously lived in a very different physical way; their family structure was broken. When they came to the Buckner project, we helped them so that the family could be integrated – they could have better relations between father, mother and children – and they all wanted to improve and grow as people.”

Castellanos also wanted help with the family’s home, indicating that when she talks about her home, she not only means her family life but her physical home, too, which she recalls was “a disaster.”

“Well, physically, with what we had we were making it work; we were trying to succeed,” she says. “Yes, as a family we needed more. We didn’t like the conditions we were in. We practically lived in a shelter, because it only had three walls and a roof; the floor was dirt. Due to the slope of the land, there was a lot of water coming in. It would practically flood the house.”

While the physical home was in poor condition, her family life was similarly stressed. “It was very conflictive. We have always had our faults, but then we had more because of those conditions. We were more stressed because we didn’t like how we were living.

“My father was upset because he felt he could not offer us more,” she remembers. “My mother also had to see my little siblings beg, so she also asked more from my father. My little brother began to become very focused on video games [to escape], and my little sister became very rude. I was almost never home; it was better that way, to always be out of the home.”

Castellanos went to the project, which was being run out of a nearby building, for help with her education. “When I met Buckner, I was living here in one little room with three brothers, and I wanted to have someone help me in school.”

Buckner volunteers began tutoring her, and the change was immediate. She began to succeed in school and, before long, started to help the children around her.

“Selene began to work with the Homework Club for the children; she would do it herself in the afternoons and then take care of and help the children,” Hernandez says, who noted “the majority” of parents in Trituradora “don’t know how to read and write. She said she would have liked to, at that age, have a person to be a guide to her. So that is why she wanted to be that guide for the children.”

Juan Carlos Millan, country director for Buckner Mexico, reflects on the Castellanos family transformation; he’s been following their progress since they were among the first helped when Buckner Mexico began work in Chiapas two years ago.

“Her family is really different,” he says. “Her father now acts like the father. He was never involved in things like Buckner and never involved in their home. Now they can tell you they all have more communication. They can be a family, more comfortable; they feel safe at home.”

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