Friday, October 14, 2011

How to create YOUR OWN Esperanza group!

My name is Eric Reutter, and I would like to take a second to tell you how easy it is to form an Esperanza volunteer group. First, I should back up for a moment. I am currently the long-term volunteer in Tijuana, and I have been

When I say that

organizing an Esperanza group is easy I, of course, understand that putting together a volunteer group from the United States to spend a week in Mexico has its inherent challenges. The easy part is that there are so many tools available to those with the desire to bring a

group down.coming down as a participant/l

That is where my job starts. I am here to give the most thorough and complete information to any volunteer with even the slightest inkling of bringing their friends/colleagues/associates down to Tijuana.eader on Esperanza trips for the past 8 years. I am currently the Alumni Trips Coordinator for the Esperanza Alumni Association (EAA). If there is one passion I have in this life, besides being part of bucket lines here in Tijuana, it is for organizing Esperanza volunteer groups.

There are many people who have made such groups, and who have invaluable experiences fundraising, trip-planning, and promoting. All of these leaders have shared with me that

they would be glad to pass on any information to those who would like to form new groups. On top of all that, we have the Esperanza network of volunteers, in which we can help promote and assist the trip process.

Without going further into all the details about planning a trip, I will just say this: If you are like me and have been changed by the Esperanza experience; if you feel like I felt, that you need to share that experience with others: don’t hesitate to act on that impulse.

When I first formed a group I wondered if it would be worth it; if I would recruit enough people or be able to plan everything correctly. When I finally organized a trip and saw how i

t impacted the participants as much as it impacted me, I realized something important. No matter what the uncertainty, having someone’s life dramatically affected by an Esperanza experience is well worth the risk.



Dear Esperanza Alumni,

I hope this newsletter finds you well. My name is Steven Hinderhofer and I am an Esperanza alumnus. I am currently acting as the president of the Esperanza Alumni Association (EAA). Our mission is to to build a network of Esperanza volunteers in order to continue serving the families of Mexico, generate change in our home communities, and foster an environment of global solidarity. Big missions start with small steps. They start with you. If you are reading this newsletter (thanks for doing so) that means that you are most probably an alumnus of a trip to TJ. Whether you were

a group leader, had made several trips, or finally succumb to a
friend begging you to join them, you are an alumnus, and we (Esperanza, Int.) need you. We need you to take a moment and think of your best times in Mexico. We need you to take a moment and remember a time during your stay when everything was perfect. We need you to remember that moment when you sai

d that you were "always going to be here", you were always going to make the trip. We need you to think of those moments and begin to consider how you can help from this side of the border. I was speaking with Eduardo the other night via a Skype conversation. He is working hard, friends, everyday -365 days a year, 110% and doing everything he can with what he is being given. He needs us to be working as hard here on this side of the border. So if you are interested in that kind of work, please join this committee. We aren't looking for folks to balance their life out for this cause, rather to be all in. To plan events, to

gather groups, to donate our hard earned money, to be in TJ on a yearly if not more regular basis. You are "plan A". There is no one else working and thinking like you with your experience. There is no one else organizing groups. There is no one else organizing events in the name of Esperanza. There is no one else speaking to everyone they come in contact with about how they have fallen in love with Mexico and why they need to join you. You are Esperanza Alumni, and we need you. Mexico needs you. The images of the peolpe in your head need you, right now.


Steve Hinderhofer

Friday, October 7, 2011

Kelsey Harrington in Tijuana!

This past August I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Esperanza for 2 weeks. It was my seventh time working with Esperanza and my second time staying for two straight weeks. I

Tijuana. It is rejuvenating, inspiring, peaceful, and rewarding. Every time I go I learn something new about myself, about

Mexico, about Esperanza, and remember the peace that comes from a life dedicated to service, hope, and Esperanza and can’t imagine going a year without spending a week or two in

Working with Esperanza for 2 weeks is a unique opportunity. I gained

a greater understanding of the communities that Esperanza serves and

how the organization itself runs. I

also got to see more organizations in Tijuana that serve people and needs that Esperanza cannot serve. I love being able to form stronger bonds and relationships with the community members. They get really excited to see you again on the Monday of the second week, “Otra semana?!?!” (Another week?!) I also gained a greater understanding of the building process of a house over the course of 2 weeks

What made this trip unique from my others was the opportunity to join two independent groups. Two friends and myself joined up with other pe

ople that we didn’t know from Washington, California, and Missouri. I was a little nervous beforehand because I had never gone with people I didn’t know, but all nerves were shattered instantly!! It was such a joy to build relationships with those I was serving with as well as with those I was serving. I got to hear new perspectives on what we were experiencing and see things differently.

It is so cool to think that we are now in our own parts of the United States, carrying the message of Esperanza with us to different neighborhoods a

nd states. We are starting little Esperanza fires all over the country. If you have never gone with an independent group, do it!! It is a new way of experiencing Esperanza and creates lasting friendships with people from around the country, who are carrying the message of Esperanza with them!

2 week trip in Tijuana!

Our lives seem to become so busy that it is easy to forget what we have experienced and live our hectic lives ignoring the issues present in our neighboring country. Esperanza is a program and a community that we cannot forget. I recently spent two weeks in Tijuana, Mexico and it completely solidified the fact that I will continue to make an effort to return to the posada and support the program for many years to come. Esperanza has become so much more than a week spent working on a person’s house. The week spent working is the foundation for bridging two communities. Not only are you given the opportunity to grow within the community of those you traveled to Mexico with, you also begin building relationships with people of a completely different culture.

My two week visit consisted of a different group each week, many of whom I had never met before. Each group had a mix of different ages and different walks of life, yet we melded together well. I gained many long-lasting friendships in each group. I also became closer to those people we interacted with who make up the Esperanza program. I enjoyed listening to their stories, playing with their kids and helping to build their home which they have been waiting so long to accomplish this pivotal moment in their life. It made me feel like these people I had just met were my long lost friends.the foundation for bridging two communities. Not only are you given the opportunity to grow within the community of those you traveled to Mexico with, you also begin building relationships with people of a completely different culture.

One of the most influential parts of this trip was two social occasions that I was involved in while I was there. We went to a Xolos game (the local soccer team) and also went out one night to celebrate a birthday party. During these two events I saw the volunteers and local participants of Esperanza in an environment outside of work. I became highly aware of the fact that even with our cultural differences, we shared the same human nature in the desire to have a good time and enjoy friends. At this moment I thought of all the things I hear at home, in the United States, about the poverty in Tijuana and I realized that while there is visible financial poverty here, there is also a wealth of laughter, dancing, family and friends.

Our cultures are different, but both have something unique to offer one another. Often volunteers begin the week with a feeling of sympathy for the community members, because they are struggling to build a home with less amenities than the homes they are used to in the United States. Yet, in my experience, by the end of the week volunteers don’t leave feeling sympathetic, they leave feeling enriched and with a much greater appreciation for the important things in life; friends and family. They leave feeling as though they have been given something rather than solely giving something.

In conclusion, I have found, the more I visit a place and experience all that it has to offer, the more comfortable I become. Every time I return to Esperanza that familiarity increase, I reconnect with friends and take with me much more than I could possibly give in my time in Tijuana and with the Esperanza program.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

News from Oaxaca

Six months ago, when I was offered a position to coordinate the Esperanza program in Oaxaca, it just felt right to go back to the coast and work on a project I had been part of it’s inception. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Carla Pataky and I am the current coordinator of the Esperanza program in Oaxaca. In 2008 I first arrived in Rio Grande to work on project in which was targeted at empowering teachers to improve the environment through starting projects at their schools. At the
time I was not working with Esperanza but w
as familiar with the work in Tijua
na. A year later, Graciela Bueno- Esperanza’s social worker based in Tijuana joined me in a workshop with teachers in Río Grande, and it was there that the seeds of possibility for Esperanza’s growth in Oaxaca were first planted.

Two short years lat
er, I was asked to help coordinate the efforts of further developing the program in Oaxaca and I am delighted to say that Esperanza has not only been embraced by dozens of families but we now serve 5 separate communities in which are organized by their own leadership committees and community organizers who are
committed to the mission and work of Esperanza. Each community has between 10-15 families that will begin their constructions next year.
What has inspired me most about the Oaxaca people is their sense of belonging. The strong identity they carry themselves with. Beyond the hard work the families have to go through to build their homes, and all the everyday problems the group has to face during the process, the families are grateful and satisfied with their homes.
This week, ten families from Río Grande are beginning the building process and we expect to co
mplete their homes by November.We will be sure to post pictures when the homes are finished! The new staff is great team of local technicians, masons and social workers who are working side by side to make all of this happen.
We now have an office based out of Puerto Escondido and look forward to our first college and high school volunteer groups this Spring. While there may not be a large posada as we find in Tijuana- you are guaranteed a rich and fulfilling experience by working side by side new families of Oaxaca.
I thank all of you who have been involved in the development of this new and exciting program and I invite you all to join us as we continue to explore the opportunities this growth brings.

Carla Pataky

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For a group of employees from U.S. Consulate General Tijuana, Saturday, March 5 was not a day of relaxation but rather a day spent in hard work for a good cause. Fifteen American officers and locally employed staff spent the day helping to build a home for a needy family. Along with students from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, the group mixed concrete, transported it by hand, and poured it to create a new floor for what will soon be a brand-new house in the El Niño neighborhood east of Tijuana. For some of the Consulate volunteers, it was their first time visiting the resource-poor neighborhoods to the east of the city and their first time working in hands-on construction. Vice-Consul John Callan organized the event in collaboration with Esperanza International, a Tijuana non-profit organization dedicated to building homes for low-income families. Families who participate in the Esperanza program must own their land, must bewilling to make a small payment each month, and, most importantly, must be willing to assist in the construction of other program participants’ houses. Over the past ten years, Esperanza has helped to construct over five hundred homes in the Tijuana area, but this one was special. The family in question has a teenage son who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his doctors have said that if he is not provided with a suitable home, his quality of life will be severely diminished. For this reason, Consulate volunteers and university students shoveled sand and gravel, scooped concrete, and hauled it up the hill in plastic buckets to the construction site. “It certainly was a change from our usual office work. I’m sore in a lot of new places,” said one volunteer. “But many of us joined the State Department because we wanted to be of service to others, and projects like this give us the opportunity to serve the people of Tijuana.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Exploring Oaxaca and Beyond

Peach’s Blog on Oaxaca Trip

"Esperanza International cultivates global citizenship through international service experiences in working toward a better world."

March 28, 2011

As an intern, I have been invited to observe and research a new study abroad program option with Esperanza International in Oaxaca. To get a good introduction to the work of Esperanza and the missions of Esperanza International (EI) and Fundacion Esperanza de Mexico (FEM), I began with attending the board retreat at the Posada in Tijuana. We drove across the border in a van belonging to FEM, and I spent the weekend getting acquainted with volunteers and board members who have been coming here for years. The following are thoughts generated as I head into Mexico on this journey.


My last trip across the U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana was decades ago, when people were able to cross more freely. Most significant to me now is the apparent distinct line of demarcation. Today there are two fences to cross that the U.S. Border policy has created between those who have privilege and those who are not welcome on “our side.” Friendship park was once a meeting place for both communities and it is now on the U.S. side and provides a barrier region for border patrol. San Diego is beautiful, groomed and green at the start of spring, March 20, while it is already dry where irrigation is not so common here, where water is at a premium. It is so much hillier than I remember as we drive through the city on our way to La Gloria, the suburb that is the home to Esperanza in Mexico.

I came to the retreat desiring to understand what motivates the people to participate and to learn how they understand the new mission to create opportunities for individual growth in global citizenship. I am also interested in the process of transformation that occurs as people participate in this program and plan to lead a group from Seattle University through a “reintegration” process as they digest their learning from a week with Esperanza in Tijuana. They arrived on the evening before we left and we will meet upon my return. Father Ted, from Long Island University, and board member shares his definition of transformation: “it is about the human connection across and through the experience of common humanity.”

What I understand volunteers experience here is an opportunity to meet and work alongside people they would not normally come into contact with. A positive outcome is that they are impressed by learning that we are more the same than as different as one might believe from mere appearances. In considering the value and impact of such an experience, he says it is difficult to measure the ineffable. Several others I question say that this process often happens months or years after such a profound experience, but it does inform a person’s choices.

Another group leader, Sister Colleen, from the Providence Health Systems in Los Angeles says her cohort usually creates a way of giving and marking the experience. Recently, they put together a cookbook of recipes from the communities they have served. These have become a very popular means of fundraising for future trips. Another participant and intern, Hana Truscott, was motivated by her experience with Esperanza last summer, in the pilot volunteer program. She leaves soon for Macedonia with the Peace Corps. Marcel, EI board president, shares his goal for the weekend as an effort to build strong roots in Esperanza. This is symbolically illustrated with the logo, a tree of life.

Tijuana is peaceful from all appearances. Car and truck drivers seem to defy the lines meant to create order, yet people are amazingly polite and attentive to others on the road. I wonder about all the pedestrians crossing everywhere, but none seem to get injured despite close calls. While hunting down a recently rained out dirt road, we ask for directions, laughing that we look like we are lost “gringas” who took a wrong turn at the border, we realize the irony of this, that it is not so easy for people coming from the south wanting to wander around in U.S. territory. It does not feel unsafe here, however, and long term residents confirm their confidence in the people of Tijuana. Government housing marches up the hillsides in textures and colors, lending a sense of order within chaos. I am excited to go to Oaxaca and celebrate the completion of the first 23 homes.


Oaxaca CityArriving by plane via Mexico City, we are excited to be in Oaxaca and head out for an evening adventure in the purple jacaranda tree-lined parks and cobbled streets of this colonial city. Our adventure begins with eating an exotic dinner in the center of the main market place, where we sit with the locals and watch our food being prepared. The food is fabulous—mole, a legendary sauce for meat, is made from as many as 14 ingredients and each cook has her secrets. The sauce I have with my roasted chicken tastes like a spicy semi-sweet chocolate sauce. The tamales are as big as a dinner plate and wrapped in a banana leaf before steaming. We have met up with Chris Larson, also from Seattle, who has a knack for finding humor in almost everything. He is excited to share a bag of roasted crickets with us. “Chaupalines” are also a local delicacy and I am told they are collected from the alfalfa fields in large sacks. I have never seen so many crickets and so many different sizes. Bells toll at all times of day, calling people to mass in one of the beautiful old churches.


The next day, we take a bus ride over the rough and winding roads to the coast. Puerto Escondido, or the “hidden port” is a former fishing village turned surfing town, though tourism is down due to the economy. The beaches and hotel are fairly empty, giving the impression of a sleepy town. After a long trip and late arrival, we are all tired and ready to crash that night but happy to wake and walk to the beach in order to indulge in the beautiful warm water and easy waves.

It is the beginning of our work week and we have lots of interviews planned, including one for lunch with local Rotary leaders. The Rotary clubs have been big supporters of Esperanza projects and we invite them to visit Rio Grande for the upcoming celebration and to see the “Adocreto” (Adobe+Concrete) brick maker, which was purchased in part by the Del Mar Rotary. These local club leaders are excited about the work with Esperanza and suggest a contact at the local Universidad del Mar for us to explore our idea of creating a study and service program model for students seeking meaningful travel and service experiences.

Rio Grande is approximately 45 minutes up the coast from Puerto and we are picked up for the ride by FEM Director, Josefina Pataky, and Clara Nova, the FEM social worker who organizes the communities in the region. Clara explained to us that there are now up to 100 families in some stage of the process of becoming homeowners with Esperanza. Much has been accomplished by the local families with the help of Rigo, FEM technician, since the last group was here, according to Aimee Khuu, Program Director of Esperanza International. She is so excited to see that the water has receded in the “Los Olivos del Sol” neighborhood, as well as around town, where the first group of homes are almost finished. The town is dusty at the beginning of this dry season, and masons are working to put together the brick homes made of the soil and the labor of this coastal town.

Flagging down one of dozens of moto-taxis, we are given a ride around town to locate one of the finished houses. Coincidentally, it is the home of Aimee’s friend, Jesse, a single mom who has recently returned from Mexico City to live with her relatives. She is one of many who are benefiting from the assistance of Esperanza’s community development model. Others in her neighborhood are in the second group organizing to begin the process of preparing materials for the building of their homes.

Esperanza is a perfect name for this organization as we see the hope in the eyes of the folks who look forward to having a well-built home that they helped to construct. These homes are not only good sturdy shelter but they are rumored to be cooler than the local concrete homes because of the insulating ability and are made with some aesthetic design and concern for function. Large arched windows bring in breezes and covered porches offer a place to rest and visit with neighbors. Homeowners in Los Olivos also are able to purchase extra lots for adding gardens and fruit trees.


As I meet people of the communities in Rio Grande and talk with leaders from these groups as well as FEM, I am conscious of the mission to cultivate global citizenship. Though implicit in the work that is accomplished in the crossroad between the community and volunteer work, this EI objective is unfolding in the transformational process of developing these communities. The partnership between EI and FEM has created a way of bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and creating opportunities to learn from each other. The objective is not to teach and lead from one direction, but to work together and share with one another.

As I progress in my visit, I find that there is much we need to learn about how people operate in Rio Grande. Meeting with leaders Clara Nava, Javier Pacheco and Susana Torres, Don Sergio, Dona Tina and Rigo Rodriguez; FEM staff and local community organizers, sheds much light on this subject. Beginning with Clara, the social worker, we were introduced to the regional mangrove swamp management and tourism programs. Next, I discovered the long-lost Rigo, who has been missing from Tijuana over the past nine months. The construction and home building process has been directed by construction technician Rigo, who has worked with Esperanza for the past 8 years. Throughout this past year, he’s become a member of the Oaxaca community of Rio Grande in the production of the beautiful homes we celebrated this week.


Former subsistence wildlife hunters and turtle fisherman have been inspired instead to preserve the precious ecosystem that supports their unique way of life. These same families are now volunteering to patrol beaches along the coast where three turtle species nest year-round. We had the delightful privilege of accompanying eight of these men one calm and star-filled evening and saw three “golfita” Tortugas searching for nesting areas. Several of the nests gathered two months ago were releasing hatchlings that we accompanied to the shoreline as well as these females as they returned to the sea. One of the commitments of these leaders is to make sure the turtles have every opportunity to be protected from predators on the ground. Only one of every one-thousand hatchlings is estimated to return to the beach from which they were born ten years earlier; a wonder of nature is that they memorize the beach in those short moments from hatching until they reach the water.

Javier and Susana are elementary school teachers, who, together with educators from 30 other schools, have initiated a unique reading and writing program. Students publish stories about the environment as a result of one year of work, developing an ear for good story-telling and learning the elements of writing style. They are encouraged to create a supportive learning environment and have placed desks and chairs outside in the school garden, where students are able to read and write while in nature. “Profe” Javier is also a successful subsistence gardener, who raises goats and chickens, propagates trees to plant around town, and has taught the pupils about recycling. He and Susana and their three daughters live in a compound with their extended family.

Don Sergio and Dona Tina are the community leaders from the first group of home-builders in Rio Grande. They also live in a family compound and have paid to build a house for their daughter and her children to live nearby. The celebration of the first completed houses was held on their property and it was an inspiring presentation. 150 guests came for a potluck celebration complete with seafood soup, chicken en mole, beef brisket, fish tacos, ceviche, fresh coconut milk, juices made from hibiscus flowers, watermelon and more. A local band entertained the group and led local dance demonstrations.

All in all, it has been a fabulous week of adventures, learning and “convivencia”. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of our effort to expanding the volunteer program into the Costal Region of Oaxaca. Community members are delighted and awaiting the arrival of the next volunteers to the work sites. Stay tuned--It looks like Esperanza will be introducing the language study and volunteer group opportunities for volunteers this coming summer and fall.