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Piña Palmera Newsletter # 35 December 1996

Centro de Atencion Infantil

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Hello dear friends and supporters!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We have not forgotten about you and we hope in our hearts that you have not forgotten about us either. I hope that all of you are well and I also want to excuse myself for the delay in sending out these Newsletters (# 34 and # 35) Most of you will receive the 2 together because we had a problem with the address list and the distribution. Fortunately this problem is solved now and the next Newsletter will be sent out by Kevin Dilley in Washington State. That will be a big help and it will also cut down on costs.
To cut down on costs is always a priority for us but now it has taken on another meaning. We are lacking money for about half of our budget next year. Now it looks like we will make it through January, but from February onward we will need more help. HELP! If all of you that receive this Newsletter (over 300 people) just send us 10 or 20 dollars a month, that would really make a difference! Can you spare 10 dollars a month for the children at Piña Palmera? You can send checks directly to us or preferably through Slade Child Foundation. (It is definitely safer.). Thank you for helping us care for the children and adolescents with disabilities here on the coast of Oaxaca.
At Piña Palmera we are right in between the Days of the Dead and Christmas celebrations. The Days of the Dead, which are celebrated from the 31st of October to the 2nd of November, are the biggest holiday of the year here in Oaxaca. This is more obvious in the countryside where many families still ignore or don't celebrate Christmas. Old customs are changing fast and in the cities Christmas is now a big Holiday too. On the Days of the Dead every family puts up a flower decorated altar where they offer food, sweets and drinks for their dead friends and relatives. We always make an especially nice "ofrenda" for Panchito, (Frank Douglas) the founder of Piña Palmera who passed away ten years ago. On the second of November we go to the graveyard in Puerto Angel to visit his grave and put flowers and candles on it. Panchito was a well known healer and very much loved by many people so there are always a lot of other friends that come by to visit him that day too.
As usual the Palmgrove is buzzing with activities. The weather is very hot and sunny but that doesn't keep us from working. We now have 38 employees and about 18 volunteers who work here and over 300 active patients. Every month we receive 10 to 15 new patients.
One of our new volunteers; the physiotherapist Marlene Kaas, is now going to tell you about her impressions of her first six months at Piña Palmera.

From advanced techniques to common sense:

I have now been here for almost six months and have realized that you don't need much to do a lot. At home in Sweden a special auxiliary device or technical aid could be decisive for good development in a child with functional problems. Here the same aid may not do any good at all. The culture and the environment is totally different from Sweden. For me it is fascinating to live with these wonderful and different people. To work in the villages is both interesting and frustrating when you see how people live there.
Piña Palmera is a unique place with its warm-hearted people, flea-bitten animals, high palms and for me, boring food (rice, beans and tortillas three times a day is not what my Swedish stomach likes...no, to be honest we also get salads, fish, eggs, chicken and potatoes now and then.)
Piña Palmera is constantly changing and developing. In the rehabilitation team there has been a change recently. My colleagues felt it was difficult to define their tasks and their workload was very big. We have now divided the group into three separate areas. One group works with only with Community Based Rehabilitation (C.B.R.) They will document, evaluate and organize the work in the villages. Another group works mainly with maintaining case histories and doing socio-economic studies. This is important as only 10 % of the families have the ability to pay for treatment.
I work in the rehabilitation team which consists of four very able Mexican workers and (at the moment) five volunteers with different professions from all over the world. We work with physical, occupational and speech therapy, and education and training both inside and outside of the C.B.R. project. The question remains of whether the amount of work has decreased, but the rehabilitation workers have got a clearer view of their tasks.
It is great that there are so many volunteers with different education here at the moment. We have decided to take advantage of that opportunity. Rex (psychologist from the US:) has with the help of Liz (Speech pathologist from Australia), Ewan (Occupational therapist from Australia), Sandra and Betty (Speech therapists from Cuernavaca, Mexico) and Anna, gave a three-days course in communication and behavior problems. The occupational therapists, Helena and Ewan, and the occupational therapy students Pernilla and Elin, have offered a course in "activity as therapy". We physio-therapists; Ulrika, Emily and I, continue with further education in physical therapy examination, in which the rehabilitation team needs more training.
It has been nice for me to give room to the other professionals, who will go back home in a couple of months (except for Helena who will stay here with us). Because of that I've had the opportunity to get to know my Mexican colleagues and to evaluate their knowledge and areas of interest. I feel the demands are very high on the rehabilitation workers as they are expected to do almost everything, that we in Sweden share among a team of professionals.
Flavia, who work in the C.B.R.-group, and I, have been in Nicaragua for a week this fall. We participated in a conference about Human rights and Democracy arranged by Forum Syd from Sweden. It was a very interesting and productive week. I am proud to tell you that we were the most democratic organization that participated in the conference. A big interest was shown in the decision making process of Piña Palmera.
The days after the conference we visited 15 or 20 different places, everything from non-governmental organizations to the Nicaraguan Health ministry. We found many similarities between the way we work and how they work in Nicaragua. The biggest difference was that there they work with C.B.R. on a national scale. We gathered a lot of useful information which will be used to develop and enrich our own C.B.R. program. Unfortunately both Flavia and I got sick after the trip. I had two kinds of amoebas and nothing got better when I discovered that my bed was full of fleas. Then I really longed for my mother. Now I have got my energy back and I am working full time to plan a course about Cerebral Palsy together with the other rehabilitation workers.
I feel it is a great privilege to be able to work here at Piña Palmera with the wonderful Mexican staff and all the other volunteers. I will probably meet both good and bad things during my coming years here, but nothing is impossible, the impossible only takes more time!

With love to all of you,
Marlene Kaas, Physical therapist

Family News

In many ways we're like a big family at Piña Palmera and as with any family we share both sorrow and happiness and share important moments together. This spring we had a big party to celebrate Celestino's eighteenth birthday. Celestino has muscular dystrophy (Duchenne) and has used a wheelchair for many years. He gets weaker every year and now he is only able to move one hand. But he still paints beautiful pictures and makes colorful small cards which he sells. A volunteer ; Steve Riley from England, did a great mural on the back of our new office. It was one of Celestino's paintings enlarged onto the whole wall. Celestino was there directing the painting and it was finished just in time for his birthday. You can imagine how proud he was! We were all proud really, and the painting is very happy and beautiful.
Three new children were born this year: Irene and Adalberto, who first came to the Palmgrove as patients (both have had polio) and now work here, got their second child this summer; a little girl named Crystal Liliana. Carmela had her fifth child this fall and it was finally a boy, which she has longed for so much. Domitila had her second baby, a girl named Daniela, two months ago and I am expecting a baby myself at the end of January.
This coming Saturday there will be a big celebration at Alva's and Faustino's house. Their daughter Angelica is going to marry Gaudencio from Mazunte. (Marcelino's stepson.) Angelica and Gaudencio met eight years ago when they both lived at Piña Palmera and they have been going steady ever since. Gaudencio (Wencho) is now 22 years old and works at the Turtle Museum in Mazunte. Since he was ten years old he has spent his summer vacations here at the Palmgrove. Then he lived here while studying in secondary school and high school. Angelica is now 19 years old. She lived here for a while when her father was in jail. We also helped her through secondary school and after she moved back with her family she used to come and eat here and do her homework.
This summer we also had a big and wonderful wedding at the Palmgrove. Ulrika Wallbing, our beloved physiotherapist from Sweden that has worked here for three years, married Alexander Kenney, who also has worked here as a volunteer. Alexander is a photographer from New York although he has worked as a carpenter here at Piña Palmera. Ulrika will tell you more about their wedding later in this Newsletter.
There are many children that have grown up and moved from Piña Palmera. Many of them come to visit every now and then. Some of them we see in Pochutla or meet in the villages. Many of you are sure to remember little Ofelia who lived here for six years. She now lives with her mother in Puerto Angel and studies in Pochutla. She visits us often and it is always great to see her. (She moved back with her mother about three years ago because the mother's social and economical situation had improved.)
Líder from Comitan, Chiapas, who only has one arm, lives and works with our friends Eric and Susanna in Oaxaca. Serafin also lives there and his brother José still lives with us. Both Serafin and Líder have grown up and they have learned a lot with Eric and Susanna, it is a wonderful opportunity for them.
Jaime, who was one of the Palmgrove's very first "students" when we started twelve years ago, lives with his parents in Zipolite and is studying his first year in high school. He receives economical support from us that pays for his schoolbooks and bus fares and he also receives new leg braces every other year so that he can keep on walking. Jaime comes here on Saturdays and helps us with cleaning and maintaining the grounds together with the other students that live here. He is doing very well in school and has plans to become an accountant.
Dalia, who lived at Piña Palmera for many years and received support to finish Secondary school, moved back with her parents two years ago and now comes to work with us on weekends with the severely disabled children that live here.
Do you remember Oscar and Aron? Oscar left Pochutla a year ago to work with a traveling amusement park. No one has heard from him since. Aron is working in Huatulco and rumor has it that he lives with a girlfriend. Victoria, who also lived here many years ago, lives with her mother in Pochutla. Sometimes she sells paintings that she has made at the market and she just recently asked us to help her make frames.
Malena's little brother, Martin, lives with his father and stepmother in Mazunte and her sister; Bertha, works at a restaurant in Zipolite. Her cousin Rosa, that also has lived here, had a baby a couple a weeks ago; a little girl. Rosa's boyfriend has gone to the US to look for work, as do so many other young men from this area.

Anna Johansson de Cano

Jose learns to see again

The first thing I saw when I came to Piña Palmera five months ago was a boy, perhaps ten years old, with big, thick eye-glasses. He walked quickly, almost running, but clumsily, as if he didn't trust the ground below him. He came up to me and said "Hello" and put his hands on me. His grandmother also came to say hello and she told me the boy's name was José Vasquez Reyes and that he was eleven years old. She also told me that he had been blind when he came here a few months ago. Now he was learning to use his eyes again after an operation. José's story made a deep impression on me and I noticed that he still used his hands more than his eyes to see.
When I met José, Burt and Tom worked with him to teach him to use his sight. Tom Brew (a special education teacher for blind and visually impaired children) taught him to walk without a stick and how to run. He set up a wire, in-between two Palm trees, with a little tube of bamboo on it so that José could hold on to the tube and run as fast as he liked without be afraid of stumbling and falling. What a feeling to see José run free and fast as other children of his age. Now José runs as often as he can. It is wonderful to watch him!
When Tom went back to Arizona and Burt traveled to Canada with his wife, Araceli and I continued to work with José. Because he never went to school and in general had received very little stimulation while he grew up, we had to train him in all areas. We did a lot of work trying to teach him to use his sight. That was difficult. To begin with he couldn't walk on a chalk mark on the floor or put together a three piece jigsaw puzzle. Many times it was frustrating both for José and me.
But one day he managed to walk on the line on the floor without stepping beside it and we hugged and shook hands as we do when something goes well for us. Shortly after that he also managed to put the puzzle together and I almost cried when we shook hands.
One afternoon when we went to the beach José lost his thick eye glasses in the ocean. What bad luck! Now once again he could only see shadows. So it was decided that Martha, our social worker, would take him back to the Hospital In Mexico City, (Hospital para la prevención de la ceguera.) where he had received his surgery, in order to get his eyes checked and try to get new glasses. At the hospital the doctors thought it was time to do another operation on both eyes and to insert intraocular lenses in his eyes. Two months later José came back to the Palmgrove. I waited anxiously for him. Would he be able to see me when he came back? Would he be able to recognize me with just his eyes or would he have to hear my voice or touch me? What a surprise when he came! He ran towards me and shouted: Ale, now I'm here again! I was so happy. It was wonderful to see that after those two long months when he had been away from his beloved grandmother and all his friends, he really could see much better than before!
Although I felt happy to see him again I was also sad because here my work with him ended. Now José will be preparing to go to school and in the future he will move back to his village with his grandmother. I will always keep him in my heart. Good Luck José!

Alejandra Galicia, volunteer

Letter from Ulrika:

Hello friends!
I am sitting here by the computer feeling very happy. A lot of things have happened since I last wrote in the Newsletter. My contract got extended for six more months so I will stay here until March -97 together with my husband Alex. Yes I have gotten married too!
It was a fantastic wedding! The ceremony and the party took place here at Piña Palmera. Wonderful! I can't seem to find words enough to express my gratitude to all our friends here at Piña Palmera who helped us with the preparations. The women cut decorations and made small heart shaped brooches as souvenirs for all the guests. The men in the construction team built a bow which some of the women decorated with flowers. The children who were here at the summer camp had "wedding preparations" as one of their activities. They learnt to cut and make decorations and how to do paper flower arrangements and they also practiced songs they would sing during the ceremony. It was like being in Santa Clause's workshop.
Our families and friends arrived from all over the world; Alex parents and sisters came from the US, my parents from Laos, my sister and some of my friends from Sweden. It was marvelous to have them all here together!
Alex and I didn't have to worry about a thing because all of our "helpers" arranged everything perfectly well! The boys from the summer camp went singing to bring Alex and his best man to the altar. The girls came and got me and my father while singing a different song. Anna and Balbino held the ceremony in three different languages; Swedish, English and Spanish. They were the perfect people to marry us!
We had booked the most popular dance band from the region and after lunch, following the local custom, everybody from the village came to dance. There were at least 300 of us dancing wildly to the rhythms of salsa music. According to Swedish traditions the bride's father paid for the party and my father said during the dinner that he could never have imagined a more wonderful wedding! It was so much fun. My cheeks were aching from not being able to stop smiling or laughing. All around me I only saw love. We are so privileged to have received so much warmth and happiness from our three families; Alex's, mine and Piña Palmera!
Back at the Palmgrove, after the honeymoon, I organized my work for the coming six months. One of the most exciting tasks I have now is to produce a video documentary of the CBR program with Alex. He is a photographer and responsible for the filming. We have been filming and working on the manuscript since October. We will also consult the rehabilitation team so that the film will reflect their experiences and opinions too.
At the moment we are looking for funds to edit the video. It will probably take around two months because we plan to do one in Spanish, one in English and one in Swedish. The purpose of the video is to spread our experience of Community based rehabilitation and to exchange knowledge with others who are interested in working with rehabilitation on this level. Because my contract ends in March we need two months salaries and a budget covering transportation, studio time, phone calls etc. If any of you are interested in helping us or have an idea of where we can look for funds, please contact us through Anna. You can reach her on E-mail: or fax: +52-958-40342.

Lots of Love to all of you
Ulrika Wallbing, physiotherapist

Would you like to come here as a volunteer?

A lot of work and development at Piña Palmera has been made possible only because of the volunteers. Lately we have had as many as fifteen volunteers, or more, here at the same time. The volunteers come from all over the world but the majority are from Sweden. Recently more volunteers from Mexico have shown interest in coming here, which we find very positive.
if you are interested in working as a volunteer here at the Palmgrove let us know at least six months ahead of time. Volunteers must be able to talk Spanish and stay here at least six months. We offer food and a bed. (The volunteers share rooms with each other.) Unfortunately we barely have enough money to pay our employees, therefor it is impossible to offer any kind of economical help to volunteers.

Wish list

Our address is:

C.A.I. Piña Palmera A.C.
Apartado Postal 109
c.p. 70900 Pochutla, Oaxaca, MEXICO

Tel and fax: 52-958-40342

(Please call to make sure we have received it because many times it doesn't come through.)

Our bank account in México is: INVERLAT, Pochutla, Oaxaca, # 50258-8. Please notify us if you make a deposit so that we can acknowledge it with a receipt. Cheques can also be mailed in registered mail. Make them out to : C.A.I. "Piña Palmera" A.C.

Find Piña Palmera on the Internet!

We have our own homepage at: http://www.laneta.apc.org./pina/
Our Newsletters can also be found at: http://www.eden.com/~tomzap/pina.html (You're there now), and you can write to us at: pinapalmera@laneta.apc.org

Donations (not packages) can be sent to

Slade Child Foundation
L'Enfant Plaza
Post Office Box 44246
Washington D.C. 20026-4246

(Please write the cheque out to Slade Child Foundation but add that it is for Piña Palmera and they will send the whole amount to us.)

Tel: (202) 508-3860
Fax: (202) 508-3843

Please note: Donations can no longer be sent to Esther Goldman at Gentle Brothers and Sisters.

Thank you!

We want to thank all of you that have worked here as volunteers and all of you that have helped us with your donations and your gifts! Thanks to all of you, dreams are coming true!
This time there are many people that deserve a special thanks, like Mrs Kenney who donated life-jackets and floating devices for hydrotherapy, she also sent down medicines and art material, and our friend Ivy del Pozzo that ones again has brought down medical equipment!
A big thanks to our friends in Oaxaca that organized a wonderful and very successful benefit dinner for us. Especially I want to thank Susanna Trilling, Thornton and Jane Robison, Mary Jane Gagnier de Mendoza, Valerie Nadeau and Shawn Spitzer that also gave us a special contribution in memory of their son: Nebi, Roberta French, Gary Titus and everybody else that helped selling tickets and organizing this great event! THANK YOU! The plan was to raise 1000 US for the Palmgrove and that goal was tripled and the final account was 3000 USD!!
Another very special thanks goes to our friend Eva Grace whose donations always come as happy surprises when we most need them! This year we also thank the Scandinavian Ladies Club in Mexico City for their invaluable help and "Club de Damas Diplomaticas" for their contribution to our workshops with "Rio Abierto". We also are grateful to the United Nations Women's Guild that this year again remembered us with a donation.
There is a very special anonymous donor in Mexico City that has paid for all our trips with children to Mexico City for operations and consultations. Thanks to him many children have been attended to and most of them have received care and attention at the Shriner's Hospital in Mexico City that also have been of great help. The Shriners Hospital has offered us surgeries, leg braces and consultations all for free!
More thanks go to Teresa Garcia Garcia, Rodolfo Morales, Arnulfo Mendoza, Victor Velasco Altamirano, Elinor Glassman, Eric Ulrich, Kim Borrego, Ineke Grondstra, Isabel Alvarez, Eduardo Meixueiro, Eric Mindling, Marsha Glaziere, Elpidio Cruz, Cesar Lara Cisneros, Cipriano Ramos Carreño, Irene Garcia, Irene Sanchez, Josefina and Carmen Avendaño, Cheryl Lamp, Roger Brooks, Stan Gotlieb, Carolyn Goodrich, Gloria Cruz., Paulo Cesar Cuevas, Victor Mariño, Graciela Pedro Silva, Ramona Ortiz, Margarita Hernandez, Alejandro Ortiz, Monserrat Perez, Judith Alavez, Carolyn Kreisman, Rogelio Muñoz, Diana Wilson and Barbara Hutchings.

Anna Johansson de Cano (Director)

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