Blog by: Maddy Mitchell, GSSW Social Work with Latino Certificate student
We have had so many impactful interactions with such wonderful people in the eight days we’ve been in Puebla so far that it is difficult to pick one to write about in this second post. That said, I think I’ll talk about two of the most humbling experiences for me so far. This past Sunday we went to visit two families in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city of Puebla. To give you an idea of the level of poverty they are struggling with, the monthly rent at their homes comes to about $76.40 and $114.61 respectively. To those of us who live in the U.S. that seems like absolutely nothing, but it is a struggle for these women and their children to come up with that money because their only form of income is selling food they make on the street. On a good day one of the women said they might make 100 pesos, which is around $7.65 to give you some perspective on how difficult it is to earn enough for rent on a monthly basis. On top of rent they need to buy food for themselves and pay their electric bill every two months, not to mention clothes and other things they might need. Sending their children to school also costs around $114 a year per child and there are no free and reduced lunch programs in Mexico, so they must send food with them to school every day as well. At ten and twelve years old the kids start contributing, which they are happy to do because supporting themselves is a collective, family effort. As real as their struggles are, they also feel blessed that their families are still together because so many others have to separate out of economic necessity and are often never reunited.
Sitting in these families’ one room apartments on chairs they insisted on finding for all fifteen of us, I couldn’t help but feel unbelievably ungrateful for ever complaining about the extremely easy life I’ve led. This wasn’t the first time I’ve thought about how fortunate I am, but it is one of the only times I’ve been confronted with it in person by hearing these women and their children’s stories—listening, asking questions and connecting with them as a fellow human. It’s one thing to be aware that extreme poverty like that exists & discuss it in the confines of a classroom and an entirely different experience to see and talk to the people living it day in and day out.
Another powerful and humbling interaction was hearing a young woman named Estela from a tiny mountain pueblo called Cochoapa el Grande—the poorest municipality in the state of Guerrero—talk about her mission to bring the most basic of necessities to her village. It is three-four hours from the nearest city of Tlapa and does not even appear on a map. The children there only have classes three days a week because it takes the teachers a full day to get there and back and they don’t like staying there for longer than that. Many of the people living there have no form of identification because they were born in the mountains and never received a birth certificate, so according to the Mexican government they don’t exist. There is one clinic in the village for 1,975 inhabitants which often overwhelms the one doctor, three nurses and three interns. If you need to see a specialist or get a specific kind of medication you have to make the three-four hour trek to Tlapa and it isn’t uncommon for people to die on the journey. One of us asked if there was access to clean water nearby and she said it wasn’t far at all—they only had to walk an hour to get to the river and then boil the water before they used it. Estela is fighting to further her education and get better educational access for those in her village & effective social services without much familial or community support. I couldn’t help but think during her talk that she is so much braver and stronger than I could ever hope to be. I have never had to fight for the things I believe in like she has or needed the confidence she has in what I believe in to not be deterred when very few people support me. And she does all this with the utmost respect for her culture and village—she just wants their lives to be better in the most basic ways.
After gaining all this new knowledge, I am continually thinking about what it will be like going back to my daily life in the States. I am envisioning I will find it difficult being forced to care about the things that used to seem so important and being surrounded by people who don’t know or simply don’t care about these real and pressing issues. I also worry that I’ll get caught up in myself and school again and let all of this knowledge and anger go, becoming complacent because caring is too hard. However, I also sense that I may have reached the point of no return—I can’t go back knowing what I know now; this experience will never leave me. I hope I can rely on and invest in the support of my classmates on this trip with me and maintain the closeness we’ve developed because of this shared experience. So, instead of getting overwhelmed by all the change that needs to happen, I am going to focus on something small I can do every day to chip away at all the grand social problems looming in front of me. I’m done waiting for something in my life to change so I feel ready to act—the time is now and I can’t do it alone. ¡Si se puede!