It’s late September and the immigration debate on both sides of the Mexico/United States border has started to reheat prior to the U.S. mid-term elections. Much of the conversation on the north side of the line is political and involves the issues of Dreamers, amnesty, labor and national security.
In the small community of Zegache in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the issue is no less controversial, but it takes a personal turn: Community members say they’ve lost fathers, husbands and sons looking to the north for economic opportunity they can’t find at home.
Aida Hernández Díaz, an advocate for the community, describes the immigration problem in terms of “family disintegration.” When you experience migration, there is a lot of family disintegration.
“There are many children who suffer, because sometimes some of the men find another wife over there,”she says.“They forget the mother of their children and that woman struggles to be both a dad and mom. He has to work, so he abandons the children.”
That abandonment leads to other issues, she adds. “That is why many young people fall into alcoholism and drug addiction or crime. This is what we want: No family disintegration. That the family always be united.”
Many of the younger community members who walk by address her as Doña Aida, a title reserved for more mature, respected female community members. Waving them on, she admits there “is a lot of discouragement ... and I tell you, young people leaving high school. They do not want to continue studying. Most of them go abroad. They leave as immigrants.”
She breaks into a grin as she sweeps her hand across the scene in front of her that includes a water collection system and two large greenhouses provided by Buckner supporters. She emphasizes her next words: “But, thanks to Buckner, hope shines here.”
She animatedly talks about the agriculture project provided by funds and training channeled by the Buckner Family Hope Center in Oaxaca earlier this year. In a dry valley dependent on seasonal rains for crops, the greenhouses and water collection system, as well as water filtration and poultry locations nearby, mean new life and new opportunity for families learning new skills through the Family Hope Center.
Lilibet Santiago directs Buckner ministries in the Oaxaca region. She says the projects provide year-round food and economic opportunity for families.
“This kind of project ensures no matter what the weather is, they can have a harvest, she says. “For that reason, we’re appreciative for our donors and that we can provide that training and opportunity.”
In addition to start-up funds for the hardware, Buckner donors also provided agricultural education to ensure the project thrived. Diaz and others, mostly mothers, attended training provided by Family Hope Center family coaches who, in addition to spiritual enrichment, mentoring, parent education and other life skills, brought in agricultural teachers to get the group started.
“We are discovering we cannot only plant the corn, beans, chickpeas and peas which we have been accustomed to. There are other alternatives to produce our own food and not have to buy fruit that sometimes comes contaminated from other areas,” says Diaz as she leans over a tomato seedling in the large greenhouse. “Here, we are going to produce our own food with our own water that is clean. And that’s why we look for training, and we look to people like you to guide us and help us to get ahead.”
Juan Carlos Millán, Buckner International’s country director for Mexico, says that economic development opportunities like the greenhouse play a large part in cracking the code to strengthening families through Family Hope Centers not only in Mexico, but in other countries, including the U.S.
“While we offer many programs that strengthen their faith, their family communication and their parenting, we must also help them find ways to give them opportunity, or they will not stay together,” he says.
While Diaz and others show off the greenhouse project, Sylvia Mendoza Velasco, a 32-year-old mother is across town tending to dozens of chickens owned by the community of Family Hope Center families.
“The chicken house project has been very important because it has benefited many people,” she says. “It is very beautiful because we are learning. It’s like a school. We are perfecting what we did not know. We have worked with animals all the time (learning from) our grandparents, our parents. But it’s not the same. Now we are learning how to make things better, thanks to Buckner.”
Velasco proudly says she has been a part of the poultry team “from the beginning. We are one of 18 families who are participating and we take turns each day to take care of the chickens. We have learned to work as a team, to organize ourselves better. We are all mothers of a family. We have to find the time to come to the chicken coop to take care of our children, take them to school and we are even more active in our work.”
It’s a different setting than when each family worked on its own, she notes. “Well, before, I was only dedicated to my children. We had animals, but very few and it was not the same. Now, we are learning that we can.”
“The effect of seeing the change in families’ lives on the rest of the community has been striking,” says Diaz. “Everyone is very interested. There are more people who are assimilating and want to get support.
“People are very motivated and grateful and every day there is more interest because they say, ‘This is a reality. No one is deceiving us; it is not just a promise.’ Before they thought, ‘No, who knows when it (help for the community) is going to get here.’ And now they go plant and are well-motivated. That is what we want.”