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Piña Palmera Newsletter, March 1996

Centro de Atencion Infantil

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Dear friends and supporters,

Here is the first Newsletter for 1996. I hope you are all well even though this winter has been unusually cold in the northern hemisphere. We have even felt it here in Zipolite, but I guess we cannot compare...

The past month of December was an unusually difficult time for us. If you didn't receive a Christmas card, thank you note or if we have not yet answered your correspondence, please forgive us. It all started at the beginning of December, when a man in Puerto Angel sued us for stealing his land. This is of course untrue and besides, all the land in Zipolite is communal, i.e. it belongs to the community and cannot have private owners. In 1987, the village of Zipolite held a big meeting at which all the villagers signed a document which donated the land to the "Centro de Atención Infantil "Piña Palmera". The man in Puerto Angel possesses false documents and now the case has been taken to the local court in Pochutla. We have two lawyers, and an architect, who are helping us without asking for anything in return. Even though the accusation is false we have to defend ourselves and it is taking both time and energy.

On the fifteenth of December we were exposed to an attempt of armed robbery. Two men entered our office and threatened our accountant's assistant with a knife and a gun. The assistant didn't know where the money was (and, as it happened, we didn't have any money in the office that day anyway). After asking him three times for the money the robbers shot a bullet into the floor and ran out.

This happened in the middle of the day and the workers of the Palmgrove heard the gunshot and many of the men began chasing after the robbers without thinking. Edel and Claudio, both 24 years old, caught the men but unfortunately both were injured and the robbers escaped. Claudio suffered a knife wound in his left side that punctured his lung. He is well and back to work again after two months of rest. Edel had worse luck. He received a bullet wound in his head and was immediately transported to a bigger hospital in Oaxaca. There a surgeon took out the bullet. Edel remained in a coma for three days. On awakening, he was paralyzed in his right side and couldn't speak.

Today he is back at the Palmgrove, well looked after by his family, friends and coworkers. Everybody is doing their best to contribute to his rehabilitation. Edel himself has a very positive attitude and is well motivated. Already, he can walk with the help of a cane and he communicates with signs, facial expressions and some of the words that have come back to him. We are all glad and relieved that Edel survived in spite of this terrible event. Soon he will return to work on the maintenance of the Palmgrove together with Huicho. (Luis-Alberto, Juana's son.)

However, a new year has begun and we all hope that this one will be better than last. There is a great deal of activity and energy at the Palmgrove. In the playground two German volunteers, Martin and Stefan, are working on a new and exciting construction for children with and without disabilities. In the garden the ecological education is continuing with five steaming compost piles and new plants everywhere. The carpentry is also full of activity and the rehabilitation group have their hands full with a lot of new users of our services and new villages that want to initiate C.B.R.

One of the most common questions that I am asked is: How many children do you have now? The answer is between two and two hundred. I myself have two children; Robin, 7 yrs old and Darrah, 9 yrs old. Paco, who is 10 yrs old, lives with us too and we also count Malena, 13 yrs old, into the family.

But, of course, most people asking me about my children refer to the amount of children living at the Palmgrove. Many people still think of the Palmgrove as an orphanage. It is with a certain pride that I can tell you that we have long ago left that model behind us. Less children live at the Palmgrove now than six or seven years ago but we have developed into a resource centre for many more children, with or without disabilities, and their families.

We started out as a children's home twelve years ago, but since then we have realized that as a home and/or orphanage, you have very little opportunity to influence the surrounding communities, and can only reach a very limited number of children. Instead we have increasingly opened up to the outside community and we are convinced that children need to be with their families and in their communities. We try to show the parents how they themselves can work with and support their children, with or without special needs. Our goal is to make sure that as many children as possible in this area will have access to education, rehabilitation, and the possibility to grow up and actively participate in the social and productive life of the village.

Volunteer report from Alexandra:

I arrived at Piña Palmera in September 1995 with training and experience in Psychology, a bit of Spanish and no idea of what I was going to be doing do the next eight months. I spent the two week introduction period trying to learn as much as I could about Piña. Nobody seemed to be sure exactly what I should do here, not least of all myself.

Gradually, as I spoke to more and more people I discovered a common concern regarding some of the younger children. It was not so much that people thought that they had severe learning difficulties or emotional problems but more that they could foresee some of these children having difficulties later at school or in life in general.

Working with children who show signs of having problems in the future made a lot of sense to me. Much of my work in England has been with young adults whose emotional problems and/or learning difficulties have become quite serious. They have problems studying, working and often in relationships too. I believe that had they received help as young children some of these problems would not have been so bad or could even have been prevented.

The main goals of my work with the younger children involve building their self-esteem and self-confidence, understanding how to have good relationships with other people and encouraging creativity and learning. This may sound quite complicated but almost all of these things seem to enter into every session we have. It's rarely easy work but often fun! A lot of thought goes into the activities and how problems are dealt with and I feel that progress is being made already, after just 4 months.

I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the forward-thinking people who guided me when I first arrived in Piña. I hope this area of work continues long after I leave here and that more people come to understand it's value and purpose.

Alexandra Cooper
volunteer, Piña Palmera

Light Notes

There is an expression used here that I like very much; "dar la luz", which means literally to give light, but is used to say "to give birth". As my partner and I await the birth of our first child I often wax reflective amidst the preparation and organization for our new joy and responsibility. I would like to share one or two of my thoughts with you in these lines.

My name is Burt Henry. I have been involved with Piña Palmera for two years now. I came with the idea of doing some gardening and seeing how we could involve the children here in the sensory Mecca which is the world of beautiful plants and really fresh food. Through the dreams and hard work of many I see our garden grow, as my work here has also evolved. As needs change and new doors open most of us find ourselves participating in more than one facet of the work here. Every time this happens to me I feel I learn twice as much as I teach.

I was born with Retinitous Pigmentosa, a progressive eye degeneration that almost leads to near blindness. Soon after arriving I was asked to share experiences with two young men, one totally blind and the other rapidly losing his sight. Through these and other discussions and my personal experiences it became clear to me the depth of the isolation experienced by most blind people here. There is very little government help for the disabled. Those who live here must help themselves. The big fight is to overcome ignorance and fear within family and community. This darkness is much deeper than that of a life without sight.

In the last year I have started teaching Braille, basic living skills, and generally how to get along with and without the help of others to a few of the many visually impaired people in our area. We are working with teachers and other interested volunteers in communities to further this work.

We were visited this last week by Tom, a mobility and orientation instructor from Mesa, Arizona. To qualifiers - just Tom, because we never exchanged last names,-this could be the informality of the coast, or our intense shared interest; mobility. Mobility and orientation are the techniques used by blind to navigate through the highways and byways of life. Tom will be in the neighborhood for six months. I look forward to working with him, and hope to share his last name and some of his ideas with you all in the next newsletter.

Burt Henry

PD. Tom's last name is Brew.

A short "Hasta Luego" from two, no, three, beloved volunteers that are returning to their country:

My family and I have lived here for 1 1/2 years and now we are off to our own land in Wisconsin, USA. It is an extremely exciting time here, with three villages actively working with C.B.R. (Community Based Rehabilitation), and the Mexican therapists feeling much more confident and adept (everyone calls themselves therapists instead of assistants now.) and more patients coming for intensive therapy regularly- The therapy team is busy!

Yesterday there were 9 countries represented at dance therapy. 21 volunteers from Mexico and around the world are on board in our wonderful village. The carpentry is buzzing with toy-making, therapeutic adaptations, wheel chair repair along with the "regular" furniture building and endless maintenance. I have learned innumerable things from Spanish to hand washing clothes to quick hot composting and more therapeutic techniques. I have been sick and tired and inspired and wizened.

To all who think of volunteering, consider at least a year to really be productive and become an active part of the whole community. Being here with our son through his kindergarten and half of first grade has been amazing and rich. Piña is the ultimate kid's village. Forest, our son, counted 45 new friends, (just counting kids!) He leaves bilingual, understanding many disabilities and loving chili peppers. We have another home here and we'll be back. Many thanks to all of the good works of the new coordinator council and all of the workers and volunteers that make this rapidly growing Piña possible! And thank you to Vernon Memorial Hospital of Viroqua Wisconsin, for contributions of splinting supplies, children's walkers and many other helpful items for making and adapting therapeutic devices!

Ilana, Rikardo and Forest Jahnke-Pestcoe.

Acupuncture in the Palmgrove.

This department was opened in Piña Palmera three years ago. In the beginning, treatment by sticking needles into the patient was very strange to the majority of the people living in Piña Palmera, as well as the workers. At present, we deal with approximately 30 people per month, with an average of 3 or 4 sessions each. The majority of the handicapped children, other children and workers attend regularly to ask for help as required.

In addition, two months ago we started training ten workers from different departments in Piña in the principles of acupuncture and digitopuncture. This training course will last for 30 sessions - one per week.

Finally, let me tell you about the herbarium of medicinal plants which we hope to have in the future. We have begun to investigate and collect medicinal plants growing locally, as well as investigating the possibility of growing other useful plants at Piña Palmera, which are not found in this region .

We are establishing contact with groups and people who can help us and enable us to carry out this project and teach us more about the use of food as medicine.

Martha Cecilia Ornelas
Acupuncturist Coordination in Piña Palmera.

Almost a year ago, a new way of coordinating the work of all the different departments was established in Piña Palmera. Each area coordinator has responsibility for informing his/her team about various problems and discussing possible solutions with them. There is a weekly meeting of all the coordinators who choose two people, from amongst themselves, to act as general coordinators for Piña, for a period of one month. The pair changes each month.

Advances in coordination:

Among the various benefits, achievements and advances of this system, attention is drawn to the following:

  1. It has been possible to standardize criteria of work within departments and generally throughout Piña.
  2. It has been possible to resolve problems promptly, with concrete solutions, in a practical manner e.g. wheelchairs which require maintenance; construction of special seats for the adaptation of the toilets for the severely handicapped children at the Special Education School in Pochutla; and the integration of children in the work of the kitchen garden.
  3. A mesa de niños (children's table) has been set up to guarantee a suitable diet under adult supervision.
  4. The participation of volunteers has been facilitated according to the needs of each area.
  5. At present responsibilities pertaining to work are divided, more than previously, among all the workers in the Centre.

Report from the Social Work Department.

A social work department was formally introduced to Piña Palmera in January 1995. In this department a numerical system has been introduced to keep a check on all the files of patients who attend the centre for consultation purposes. At present there are 634 persons registered on file, of whom 40% are actively receiving attention in the different departments of Piña Palmera. It covers all kinds of handicap, including Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Down's Syndrome, mental retardation, the consequences of poliomyelitis, deafness and various sorts of deformities etc. 80% of those cases come from very low social economic groups, for whom Piña Palmera must absorb nearly all the total cost of the medicines and rehabilitation which they need.

From May 1995, to the present time, 11 handicapped patients, under 18 yrs of age, have been sent to the Shriner Hospital in Mexico City from which Piña has already received much important and valuable help. They have generously offered consultations, operations, and orthopedic apparatus, all free of charge. It has also been a great help to these children and members of their families to have been able to stay in Flavia Anau's house in Mexico City during their consultations and surgery, and especially during the period of rehabilitation which they underwent there. Sometimes they had to stay for some months in the city and, even though the medical treatment was free, Piña Palmera paid for transport, medicines and food.

I came here, to Piña Palmera, 3 1/2 years ago. At first my work was developing in the area of education with groups of children and adolescents who live here. Now my relationship with the patients and their families is much closer. I have learned a lot about handicapped people, thanks to the Physical Therapy team and the recently formed Community Based Rehabilitation team. Since my arrival, the process of learning about what has been going on here has been very exciting. Finding out about the customs and traditions of this area has already been an important factor in an ongoing process. Piña Palmera supports and encourages these local traditions, unlike many other institutions.

The results which we achieve here are based principally on the love and respect of our fellows. It could be said that here the human aspect of life far exceeds the material, although this objective does not allow anything to be more important than the continuation of our work

Martha Esparza
Social worker

Felicitas' Operation.

My name is Felicitas and I'm fifteen years old. I was operated on at the Shriner Hospital in Mexico City. When I left for Mexico City I was very afraid of what the operation would be like. I was more afraid of the anesthetic than anything else and all the way there I was thinking, what if I stayed under the anesthetic? What if I didn't come out of it? That didn't happen, however, and I'm very happy that it didn't.

When it came to twelve o'clock on the day of my operation, I was nervous and praying to the Virgin to help me. Martha was with me until they took me into the operating theatre. We were chatting, but I didn't pay much attention because I was trembling with nervousness. Before giving me the anesthetic, the doctor asked me if I was cold. I told her I was not then she said, "Why are you shivering? I told her I didn't know why.

While the anesthetic was being administrated, I was chatting with another doctor. He asked me where I was from and I answered him, but right after that, I saw that the lamps were spinning and I didn't notice when I fell asleep.

When I came out of the anesthetic, I had an awful pain in my hip, where the surgery had taken place, but I wasn't in plaster- I only had a little patch.

On the third day I was to be discharged. Already the pain had gone. The doctor told me I would not be able to, and should not, get up or sit down by myself. I would have to stay in bed, either on my back or face down, without bending my hip, for eight weeks, which I spent in Mexico City in Flavia's house. My Mum and my little brother, Pepe, were with me all the time. The days were very long and boring. I could do nothing but read and watch T.V., but everything was fine because I didn't have any problem with infection in the wound. At times I did have pain, but when Martha took me to the hospital as a matter of urgency, the doctor told me that it was because I was lying in bed with my feet stretched out in one position all the time, but that I should put up with it and not stop doing what they had told me to do. I had to do everything lying down -wash myself, eat, and dress myself etc. I found it difficult but, fortunately, now I'm fine and back at the Secondary school, where the teachers have given me the chance to catch up on the classes I missed.

The new thing that I notice about my body is that my hip is even and firm because, previously, when I had lain in bed, either on my back, or face down, my left side was always uppermost. it couldn't lie in a line with the right side. In addition, my left foot is already less floppy than before.

Comment from Martha: Felicitas had an operation, called Suter, on her left hip. The purpose of such surgery was to obtain greater stability in her hip and feet, and to prevent her escoliosis (spinal deformation), from getting worse. In April she will have a further check-up to evaluate the results of the surgery.

Report from the C.B.R. team. (Community Based Rehabilitation).

In September 1994 we introduced Community Based Rehabilitation (C.B:R.) using the model in the manual from the World Health Organization (W.H.O). We started by revising the manual in order to adapt it to the region. We presented the concept of C.B.R. in three different communities. In all three places we participated in big general meetings during which we talked about what C.B.R. could bring to each village, our main contribution being the training of local rehabilitation workers.

Rehabilitation committees responsible for carrying out the project were formed. The idea was that these committees should include people with disabilities, political and religious leaders, doctors and local authorities and that through these committees, the survival and continuity of the project would be guaranteed. None of these committees worked out and the project in San Mateo Piñas has suffered temporary setback largely because of this.

In Pochutla and Nopala the work flourished thanks to the enthusiasm of those training to be rehab. workers (local volunteers). We received a request from a group of people from Huatulco (a tourist resort 50 km away from the Palmgrove) to set up C.B.R. there too. The group from Huatulco mostly includes well educated middle-class women, some with disabled children, and greatly differs from the two other groups. Pochutla's group consists mainly of high school students, providing them with the opportunity to carry out their obligatory social service. In Nopala the volunteers are somewhat mixed. Many of the rehabilitation workers there are teachers, some are students and others are people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities. Due to the disparity of the groups and the different structure of the communities ( see Newsletter # 31) the project has taken on a different form in each of the three communities.

During the fall of 95 the rehabilitation team from the Palmgrove trained altogether 40 local rehabilitation workers, who now have started to visit families with disabled family members in order to show them how they can conduct rehabilitation in their own homes. In cases where a person needs more advanced rehabilitation he/she can be referred to Piña Palmera. Another task for the local rehab. workers is to develop ways of successfully integrating disabled people into their communities, preferably with the help of teachers and local authorities..

Piña's rehabilitation team is responsible for the instruction of the local volunteers and it meets with them regularly in order to answer questions, give advice and generally support them in their work. The team also takes care of patients referred to it and remits them to specialist care and operations in Pochutla, Oaxaca, or Mexico City, whenever necessary.

Piña Palmera is responsible for informing people about C.B.R. Piña pays the rehabilitation team and make sure that its members receive training. The Palmgrove also finances trips to, and treatments at, hospitals in the highly frequent cases where patients or their families prove unable to pay the costs.

The local rehabilitation workers have just started to work in their communities. What will happen with this project in the future remains to be seen. In many cases things don't work out the way we planned and we are constantly reviewing our ideas, depending on how the project develops in the different communities. The story will be continued in the following Newsletter.

The rehab. team.

Piña Palmera and new techniques of communication.

The times are changing even here and though we still don't have a telephone at the Palmgrove and our fax in Pochutla only works every now and then, we now have e-mail! This is thanks to Mr. Gäran Collert at Sparbanken in Sweden who donated a small computer. The address is:

I usually check my e-mail twice a week, in Pochutla or Puerto Angel. So far it has facilitated communications with friends and supporters in Sweden, U.S.A., Great Britain and Mexico City.

Anna Johansson de Cano Wish List

Donations (not packages) can be sent to

(Please put :"to Piña Palmera" on the check.)
Tel: (202) 508 38 60 Fax: (202) 508 3843

Donations can no longer be sent to Esther Goldman at Gentle Brothers and Sisters. She has done a great job, basically alone, all these years, helping us with copying and mailing the Newsletter and forwarding donations. We are grateful for her service over the past twelve years and are aware that many things would not have been possible without her.

Our address is:

Tel and fax:

Our bank account in México is:

Please notify us if you make a deposit so that we can acknowledge it with a receipt.

In Memoriam,

We regret to announce that three dear friends of ours passed away this fall. We sadly say good-bye to Mary Veghte a strong, generous and adventurous woman that drove all the way from Oaxaca to the Palmgrove even though she was over eighty years old. We also say good-bye to both Dorothy Cline, a warm friend, volunteer and enthusiastic supporter of the Palmgrove and Susanna Martinez from Zipolite, a midwife and curandera, both of whom left us suddenly and too early. I suppose it always feels as if people leave us too soon...

Thanks to all of you; friends, organizations and companies, that help to make our work possible!

This time I will send my special thanks to Gerard and Ute Skladal at Ericsson S.A. de C.V. who not only contributed with money, but also donated an IBM computer, file cabinets, and all kinds of furniture which were transported from Mexico City with big trucks from Ericsson.

I also wish to thank Ivy Del Pozzo from Atlanta who came here with four big bags full of material for rehabilitation and our infirmary, and Wholesale Medical Supply, Electro Medical Supplies, Owens-Minor, and Ronda Rose at the Visiting Nurse Association, all of whom donated the material that Ivy brought us. .

In addition a lot of thanks must go to Pat Wickinson from Hacienda Heights, California, who has supplied us, for a few years now, with casting material and other medical supplies that she has sent down here with Jim Clouse.

Our thanks also go to all our friends in the Club de Damas Escandinavas in Mexico City who put in a lot of work organising lunches, bazaars and lotteries and who have supported us for many years with money, but also with clothes, kitchenware, bed sheets and much more besides.

We are also grateful to our two friends in Puerto Angel, that donated money to buy 10 wheelchairs.

Of course there are many more people that should be included in this list and though all of you are equally important it would take up a lot of space to mention you all. Every one of you are always welcome to visit us and see with your own eyes and feel in your heart all of which I cannot describe in the Newsletters. Thanks to all of you!

Anna Johansson de Cano (Director)

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