A groundbreaking San Antonio effort to improve Mexico's economy at a grass-roots level will continue in March in Chiapas.
A group of San Antonians traveled to a remote area of Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala, in November under the auspices of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation's People to People program. Three main projects emerged.
The list seems modest: some backpacks and playground equipment for schoolchildren. Laptop computers and printers for a still-unfinished medical clinic. New supplies and sales outlets for artisans making high-level textile products.
Such are the everyday things that can lift the standard of living in some places in Mexico.
The U.S.-Mexico Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City, is only a few years old and started at the request of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It's filling a shell nonprofit that had been held by the San Antonio-based North American Development Bank.
The foundation's underlying goal is to improve economic opportunities on the ground in Mexico so that people can find better options than organized-crime syndicates.
To help achieve this, the foundation wants to spread the culture of “American-style philanthropy and civic engagement” — in the words of former Mayor Henry Cisneros — to Mexican business leaders and the wealthy Mexican families that have fled Mexico's violence and now primarily live in U.S. cities like San Antonio.
San Antonio was the first U.S. city to grab onto the foundation's People to People initiative as Cisneros led a delegation to Chiapas in November. Cisneros and KLRN President and CEOMario Vazquez held a meeting this week to plan the March 2-6 return trip.
For an unfinished medical clinic in Pocolúm, the San Antonio team plans to deliver laptop computers and printers so that medical records can be established and posters printed that can inform the 20,000 residents in and around Pocolúm about the symptoms of dehydration.
Dysentery is a widespread problem there, explained Dr. Josephine Ruiz Healy. The Pocolúm clinic also needs an ambulance.
Aid to Artisans is the name of a program to assist women in San Cristóbal de las Casas who make items such as scarves, shawls, purses and tablecloths. The goal is to form a cooperative that can better obtain raw materials.
Stout discussed at this week's meeting the possibility of selling the items from a Fiesta booth this spring to gauge their marketability here.
San Antonio cannot do by itself everything that Mexico needs. The foundation wants other cities to follow San Antonio's footsteps. Los Angeles and Las Vegas likely will be next, Cisneros said.
“I'm proud San Antonio is volunteering to get out front,” he said.
“It's creating a sense that we're neighbors,” added Dorothy Ettling of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.
The March 2-6 delegation still is being organized. People wanting to join or to provide supplies or other assistance without traveling to Chiapas are welcomed.