By Carlos Cedillo, FCF Project Manager in Mexico City

Project H.E.L.P. (m06)

It’s early Thursday morning and women with children and babes on their backs are quickly making their way up a hill road near Mexico City, hoping to get to the food aid line early—it’s only 6:00 A.M.—but the line is already a block long. Times are hard for the San Mateo families.

Food prices keep going up and the minimim salary of three dollars a day is a harsh figure to deal with for a family of five or more. Down below, the valley is quiet, the village is waking up and several are trodding on to work. One can almost hear a hushed echo in the valley, perhaps a prayer for relief from the pain of poverty and darkened lives.

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The weekly lineup of poor families in San Mateo who come to receive their food aid bags.

Poverty continues to be one of the biggest social afflictions facing Mexico. A recent analysis by the World Bank indicates that 42.5 percent of Mexicans live on an average daily income of two dollars or less; 17.9 percent on one dollar or less.

Such are the economic conditions we found in the San Mateo hills, one hour from Mexico’s downtown area. Here the brown hills are studded with a grey blur of concrete houses appearing as unfinished boxes. On closer approach you’ll find wooden shacks or perhaps just a few boards propped between concrete houses with a tin door leading into someone’s habitation.

We enter a compound of small wooden structures with dirt floors housing six families. Old clothes hang here and there, a swarm of flies surround a two hundred pound hog penned in the midst of the compound. This vivienda is better off than others, they have one faucet for water and a single wire brings in electricity from a high post, rigged during the night. Further up, a wooden shanty with a tin roof and curtain door houses a family of six. When the cold night winds threaten to blow off the tin roof, rocks or tires are thrown on to keep it secure. Cardboard boxes are not thrown away, they can be folded down and put on the ceiling to keep out the cold.

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Wash area in a compound area which 
several families share.

Project H.E.L.P. has initiated a five-year food-aid plan to assist a couple dozen of these San Mateo families living at poverty level. Weekly, each family presently receives a 26-pound food bag.

Challenges we still face include:

1. Food Bank — Phase II, a food bank will require leasing a facility with adequate space for storage, distribution and office area. Cost of leasing this would be approximately $700 to $1,000 per month.

2. Three ton truck — Required for transporting weekly
donated food aid to the storage facility.

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San Mateo Shanties—This is one of the 
several shanty areas of San Mateo 
where the poorest of the poor live.

3. Quality of Life pilot program — Project H.E.L.P. is presently compiling statistics in order to enroll the most needy families into the Quality of Life program (QLP). The program would provide the designated families with clothes, childcare and educational aids, and building materials for the improvement of their housing facilities.

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Carlos with some of the youngest residents. Carlos distributing clothes to residents
of el barrio El Torito in the San Mateo hills.

4. Adopt a school-less child program — Approximately one third of the San Mateo residents are illiterate and many of these can not afford to send their own children to public school. The basic tuition per child is $40 yearly, $35 for school uniforms, and $20 for school supplies, a total of $95 annually. If you would like to sign up to “adopt” a school-less child you would receive a picture of the child and a bi-monthly progress report for your adopted child.

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Erica, one of the children enlisted in our 
program to Adopt a School-less Child.
 

In distributing food supplies to the San Mateo hill people for some time now, we have found it beneficial to involve the locals in our programs. With the help of Mrs. Barbara Gonzales and her daughter Lupita (see picture at right) we now distribute a ton of food supplies to the poor living in the Mexico 68 section of San Mateo. Barbara & Lupita, who live in San Mateo, have been a tremendous help in the distribution of the supplies as well as orienting us as to which of the poor families have the most need. Since the beginning of the food aid project for this area, Barbara & Lupita help us sort the food that comes in weekly and now have the training and experience to handle practically every facet of our weekly food aid program.

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Following is a translated testimony from Barbara: "I first met Project HELP about four years ago when I went with my daughter to get the food aid they were offering. My family was going though some rough times, and I remember thinking how nice it was that this charity could be giving much needed food to the families in the neighborhood. I felt that I too had to do something to help and I asked my daughter if she wanted to come with me to help unload the food and filling the bags. After awhile we were regular coming to help with the food.

"I was touched by the look on people's faces as they got their bags filled, they looked so grateful, especially those who I knew to be widows who had lots of kids. This was all so interesting for me. But more than that, I knew it was something that God was doing; He was answering the prayers of many of us poor here. And I felt that coming and helping with the food aid program was something I could do to. well, redeem myself in a way. I'd been so selfish and done so many things I'm sorry for and I felt it was time to do something right, something good. Getting involved with the missionaries from Project HELP has been such a help for me-I don't know how to explain, but I feel I'm different. -Like I don't lie anymore, or try not to, and I'm not cussing either. Before I felt so much fear of things, I'd get nervous or discouraged, but since I've begun praying with you and learning to ask God to help me, well it's working! Even my friends say I've changed."