A ministry supported by The Order of St. Ignatius and many individual Antiochian parishes, Project Mexico is in the midst of its busy summer in Tijuana, Mexico. Home building crews have been working each week since May.
Two types of homebuilding groups participate each summer: small groups, and Orthodox Basic Training (OBT) groups. During small group weeks, teams from one, two, or three parishes construct a single home for a needy family and spend the afternoons interacting with the boys of St. Innocent Orphanage. During OBT weeks, larger groups travel to Tijuana to construct between four to seven homes in one week, and evening speakers each evening discuss a variety of Orthodox Christian topics. Two of this year's presenters are Antiochian priests Fr. Michael Nasser from Bowling Green, KY and Fr. John Bethancourt from Santa Fe, NM.
Geoffrey Bray, Executive Director, Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage, explains:
Project Mexico has three main goals: to operate St. Innocent Orphanage (a home for abandoned teenage boys in Tijuana Mexico); to build homes for poor families in Tijuana, who live in squalid dirt floor shacks; and to provide an opportunity for people of all ages, but specifically young people, to come and participate in the work itself and be blessed in the process. Operating St. Innocent Orphanage – taking care of the most vulnerable population of orphans in Tijuana – is a difficult task, but well known among supporters. You may not know as much about the homebuilding program, but The Order of St. Ignatius has also provided reliable support for the poor families in Tijuana in their times of need.
The end results of all of our hard work sometimes goes unnoticed for years, but be assured that we are helping to save lives on a daily basis, especially in the rainy season. Every winter, heavy rains are predicted for the regions of San Diego and Tijuana. Within a few days of the forecast, it is not uncommon to hear of children dying in the rain storms in Tijuana. Relentless downpours and powerful winds pound the area, toppling trees, shutting down schools, and canceling airline flights. Successive storms can include hail, torrential rain, driving winds, and lightning – making roads impassable and causing widespread power outages. When the media reports mudslides in California that wash away solidly-engineered homes built to strict building codes with the best construction materials possible, imagine what is happening on the hillsides of Tijuana, Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of people live in third-world poverty with only dirt-floor shacks for shelter. There, rain means the misery of being cold and wet, with nowhere to go to get warm and dry, and people – especially the young and elderly – die from the rains.
The families who have received a solid, concrete- floor home from Project Mexico, however, no longer have to fear the rain – because of you and your support through The Order of St. Ignatius! As one recipient of a home described it, “Last winter the rains came and knocked down my whole house. Now I won’t have to worry about that and I also know that the baby won’t die of cold because he’ll be warm and dry.” Since its inception in 1988, Project Mexico has hosted over 10,000 volunteers who have worked on projects at St. Innocent Orphanage and built nearly 250 homes for needy families. If you’re wondering whether their efforts and the efforts of The Order have made a difference, please read the following excerpt from local newspapers about the grim reality of what happens when it rains:
“As a wall of water crashed through their impoverished neighborhood, a woman helplessly watched her husband being swept away to his death. “I saw his truck go tumbling in the water and he disappeared,” Quintero said, pain and horror still etched on her face. “I couldn’t believe what happened. I called out his name, but he didn’t answer.” A neighbor had awakened them to warn of rising water racing down the normally dry gully that bisects their neighborhood. Andrea’s husband was one of thirteen people killed by the floods . . . . It was the latest chapter in a perennial saga involving the city’s poor neighborhoods: violent and sudden death by water. There is a grim saying along the U.S.-Mexico border: When the big rains hit, people in San Diego get wet and people in Tijuana drown. Many of the poorer neighborhoods are little more than shantytowns built on the sides of canyons where the hills lack vegetation. With heavy rain, torrents of mud strike swiftly and ferociously. Grief-stricken residents tell numbingly similar tales of watching as loved ones were carried off. “Everything happened so quickly,” Quintero said. “My husband started the truck and was moving it to higher ground but it stalled. Then I heard the water. It sounded like a giant train roaring through.” Residents said a torrent about 100 feet wide and 4 feet deep swept down the canyon.”
Thanks to the efforts of The Order, we can provide these poor families with homes where they will be kept safe and dry, and protect them from the elements in the midst of such distress. May God bless you for all you have done for Project Mexico and the St. Innocent Orphanage throughout the years, as we have counted on having The Order join us in our struggle to help the poorest of the poor. May you be blessed knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of many, and act as the Hands of Christ to the poor and orphaned south of the border.
Executive Director, Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage