It is a long time since you last heard from us here at the Palmgrove. So much has been happening and there is now so much to do. Two hurricanes and an earthquake have past but: WE ARE STILL HERE!
On the 8th of October last year Zipolite, and Piña Palmera, were hit by hurricane Pauline. A month later hurricane Rick also struck the area. It is impossible to evaluate the extent of the destruction caused to Piña Palmera; not a single building was left without structural damage, many were totally destroyed. In addition to structural damage, medical supplies and equipment, rehabilitation and adaptive equipment, carpentry tools and machinery, educational resources and books, kitchen equipment and personal belongings were lost or destroyed. 15 of our staff members lost their houses and all their possessions.
Less than a week after the first hurricane the Centre was functioning again, using provisional structures. All the disabled residents were returned from the local hospital and Dr. Balbino's medical office in Pochutla, where they had been temporarily accommodated.
When the hurricane hit the Palmgrove Balbino and I were in Mexico City attending a conference of organizations that work with people with disabilities. Balbino Returned to the coast on the first available while I stayed in Mexico City with Flavia and my nine month old daughter Manuela. With me I had my computer and as I started to receive phone calls and messages from the coast I wrote letters on the Internet about what had happened. David Grant, a volunteer who worked at the Palmgrove managed to save his computer from the flood water and as soon as the phones were reconnected he also send out information about what he and everybody else at the Palmgrove were going through. One of his letters is enclosed in this Newsletter. The communication on Internet spread like wild fire and we have had a huge response. I especially want to thank my brother Olle and Tom Penick who helped with the web pages.
A big thanks to all our great friends who immediately responded: sending condolences messages and phone calls full of love and reassurance and donated essential materials and money. Thank you, owing to your help we were able: not only to survive and get the Palmgrove re-functioning quickly ; but also to distribute life saving food, clothes and medicines to over 1150 families in over thirty different communities.
A special word of thanks must also go to Palmeras Vänner (Friends of the Palmgrove) in Sweden, the Iberoamericana University and FAPRODE in Mexico City, the Canadian Embassy and private donations that arrived through Slade Child Foundation. With these emergency funds we have been able to rebuild our carpentry shop, this was almost completely destroyed in the hurricane. We have also been able to salvage wood from fallen palms. Even though we lost 60 to 70 palms in the hurricane there are still many left, however the Palmgrove looks completely different, much sunnier and hotter. We have repaired the fence around the Palmgrove and bit by bit we have cleaned up the whole place. Many damaged buildings, which will eventually be demolished, have been repaired so that we will be able to continue our work during the construction.
We are now planning a complete rebuilding project. This will include 31 new buildings laid out in the style of a small village community. Our dream is, not only to create an efficient modern rehabilitation centre, but also to construct an environmentally friendly installation built in the traditional style of the region. A centre that is adapted to the needs and customs of the people who use it. Running concurrently with the construction work will be an educational program. The aim is to give local youths, both male and female, disabled and able-bodied, trade apprenticeships in the following areas: general building, carpentry and cabinet making, electrical and plumbing.
An earthquake, measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale, hit the coastal area of Oaxaca on Monday the 2nd of February 1998. Thankfully no lives were lost, but many houses, schools and other buildings, already damaged or being repaired after the hurricane, were further damaged. The communities in the mountains were worst effected and until this day many families sleep outside, afraid their houses will fall down.
Maga (Margarita Hernandez) who has worked with us since 1989 writes about her work in Candelaria:
I write to you to share with you things that happened after we were hit by hurricane Pauline, the sadness I felt when I saw the destruction at the Palmgrove and to see my house totally destroyed and the joy when we realized that everybody at the Palmgrove were OK and everyone else in Zipolite too.
Despite of everything I continued to be preoccupied because in Azulillo, 15 minutes drive from Candelaria, we work with a family that has four disabled children and who are very very poor. I was really worried about them because their house is made out of sticks and I said to myself: My God, if their house fell down, where have they gone?
We couldn't go and visit them for the first two months after the hurricane because the roads were destroyed. As soon as the roads were repaired we went to see them and I was happily surprised when I saw that they were doing fine and nothing had happened to their house.
We work with a group of disabled children in Candelaria. I go there together with Susana, the speech therapist every two weeks normally. The 8th of December we were able to go back for the first time. You can't imagine the joy and happiness we felt when we found that almost all the children had made advances. I give their mothers credit for this because they really put in a lot of effort in learning their children's exercises and they have continued their children's rehabilitation and exercise program even though we couldn't come and work together with them. This is really a beautiful group because both mothers and children participate and work hard.
The fifteenth of December we went back to Candelaria to do a little party together with the group so that we could congratulate the mothers that are working so wonderfully with their children and motivate them to continue giving confidence, security and lots of love to their children and tell them that this confidence, security and love is stronger than any hurricane.
I can't describe the intense happiness I feel when I see the advances of the children, and may God continue to give me health and more love so that I can keep on working helping disabled people with their rehabilitation! I always keep in mind that everything is possible with love, patience and dedication!
A special greeting to Ulrika and Alexander Kenney that will become parents themselves this year!
Margarita Hernandez, physical therapy assistant.
David Grant writes about hurricane Paulina on the 12th of October 1997:
I don't know if any of you heard of Paulina, but it was no cliff-hanger. Everyone lost everything. I managed to save my computer and a guitar and some clothes and a short wave radio.
It came without, warning. It started about 12 noon; I was writing email when the power went off, which is not an unusual thing here when it rains. So I shut down the computer and lay down to rest. I woke up from my nap and went to the kitchen for something to eat, while I was there the wind suddenly became violent, There was only me and another Swedish volunteer in the kitchen, so we scarfed and headed back to our abodes. On my return I discovered a palm tree had blow down and cut through my trailer like a knife - smashing the section where my head was not five minutes before. I packed up some things and headed for one of the other building to ride it out; it didn't want to be ridden. It bucked. Hard.
All the buildings with thatched roofs had collapsed and blown away. I was in the special ed. building (la casa nueva), with solid cement walls and ceiling, but with only mosquito screens for windows. The water blew everywhere in a cold mist like shot from a gun. The flood came suddenly, in a few minutes the water rose over ten feet. We had to stand on tables to get above it, kids and big people were screaming, kids in wheel chair were in water up to the chests. The special ed. building is built several feet above the surrounding area. But it wasn't high enough. After about twenty minutes the river broke through the sand barrier to the sea and began to recede. (My trailer survived the hurricane and the palm tree, but the flood filled it like a fish bowl destroying everything inside, all my notes, interview tapes clothes, I saved my computer by bringing with me to the special ed. building and putting it up near the ceiling on a shelf.)
The flash flood left us an island, across the way we could barely see the others in the office. Someone managed to fight their way across fifty yards or so of the brown water (it looked like the scene of the garbage dump in Star Wars, with all the garbage swirling about). Linked garden hoses made a tether so people could begin to be transported across. The water was still up to my chest; I'm 6'2" so that a lot of water when you're carrying kids and trying to keep your balance. As one fellow said, "This is why we have hydrotherapy training!" Luckily we didn't have to use any of our life saving skills.
It's a couple days now sine the hurricane. Now we are trying to repair the special ed. building, the only standing building other than the office and a storeroom. There is mud three inches thick cover the floor. All the cabinets with clothes have fallen over, it looks like a bomb was dropped on the place. The roads are broken and all the power lines are down, along with trees blocking access, After a couple of days, people cleared the way, using machetes, no FEMA here or army corps of engineers, everything is done by hand.
The first night we all went into the nearby remaining homes, twenty to a room where I was, I didn't sleep, couldn't sleep. Not in a chair very well. Now things are getting organized. Gifts of food are arriving. I found the battery in my trailer work, so we have lights in the little house I'm staying at now, which doubles as a storeroom for the incoming supplies.
I'm just trying to give you a brief picture of what this disaster was like. I been through the LA earthquake, a coup in Chad, but this is the worst. I'm exhausted from all the picking up, cutting away and branches with a machete, struggling with a generator that doesn't want to run. A couple of eggs, rice and frijoles and a warm beer hit the spot, but it sure would be nice to order out for pizza. The winds gusted up to 200km during the hurricane; estimates are of at least 200 dead or missing in the state of Oaxaca. Watching the community pitch in and rebuild is inspiring. I feel very a much a part, more now than ever. I'll have had some good emergency training and experience now!
David Kendall Grant, M.S.Ed, Ph.D. Candidate
The Program of International Development/Intercultural Education
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Candelaria, (8111 inhabitants), one hours drive away.We also work with community based rehabilitation in Pochutla, La Crucecita and we are introducing the program in Puerto Escondido.
Tiltepec, (1670 inhabitants) three hours drive.
Benito Juarez, (1179 inhabitants), one and a half hours drive from Zipolite
Palma Larga (392 inhabitants).
Two visitors from Quebec talk about their stay at Piña Palmera
Piña Palmera is a way of life. We have been here 3 weeks now, we like it very much and it will be painful to leave. Piña is not only a "Center for Rehabilitation and care for children with or without disabilities" as they say, it is a real community, where handicapped persons are cared for but also live alongside 7 families with children of all ages; young babies, teenagers, and young adults, with grand mothers and aunts included for good measure. Our little trailer house, lent by Piña, (It survived the hurricane but not without becoming "handicapped") is located in the heart of the centre so we are really part of life here.
What strikes me most is how democratically the community functions, and how the local people are involved in all areas and all levels of decision making. This is reflected in the interest the local workers and families show in their work, one can see it everywhere in Piña, people helping each other and not counting hours. Another thing that can't fail to make an impression is the will of the centre to enhance the life of disabled people, not only through physical treatment, but also by giving them the opportunity to participate in the social and economic life of their community. The construction workers will be local people, preferably handicapped or otherwise unemployable. They will be taught on the job, as the project takes form. Piña is now recruiting volunteers to help with the construction work and teach at the same time.
Since I arrived, I have worked in the carpentry shop, given a hand with the toy making and repair work, as the son of a carpenter, I appreciate this type of work.
Piña Palmera is a simple way of living without violence or competition. Every body seems to help each other, especially the kids with the disabled people, the girls with the babies and everyone working as a team. Everybody has his own job even the kids. I am presently working in the kitchen, Auntie Juanita, the kitchen coordinator, is always smiling and prepares excellent meals. It is a way for me to learn about the preparation of different vegetables and fruits and to exchange different ways of working. I participate also with Dance therapy and sometimes help the kids with their duties. I was really surprised to see how the activities are going on in the carpentry shop, the ecological garden, where they make compost and recycle paper, all the activities including disabled people.
I feel that I am well accepted here even if it is for a short time and I feel very secure. For me Piña Palmera is like a big family, a small world within a big world. Thanks to EVERYONE1 Hope to be here again!
|Justin David Vogler wrote the following report. Born in England Justin studied Carpentry and Cabinet Making at Jacob Kramer College Leeds. After working for several years in the UK he moved to Honk Kong where he formed and managed "The Handmade Touch Ltd" a general building company specializing in quality interiors. After leaving Hong Kong in 1996 he spent two years working as a building and carpentry contractor in Santiago Chile. Justin came to Piña Palmera in December 1997 to work for two years as a volunteer.|
The three aims of the construction project are; design and build a centre that will operate with a high degree of efficiency and be resistant to future natural disasters, ensure that the work of the centre is able to continue unimpeded by either the hurricane damage or the building process and thirdly to incorporate the fundamental philosophy of Piña Palmera into the construction process.
For the past five months Architect Raul Fernandez Cristlieb, and his team have been interviewing the coordinators of each department of the Centre, identifying their practical needs and assessing future needs and expansion requirements.
The project includes a proposal to raise the level of a substantial part of the land that belongs to Piña Palmera. In the past fourteen years the Centre has twice been flooded. After much deliberation the architectural team have decided that this costly landfill is the only realistic solution to safeguard against future disasters. In addition to this proposal the architects have been working on designs that, while incorporating traditional features and materials, are strong enough to withstand the hurricanes, floods and earthquakes that have become a part of life in this part of Mexico.
The Architectural project began in earnest after Hurricane Pauline destroyed a large part of what was Piña Palmera. The time needed to develop and find funding for his project meant that temporary structures would have to be built if the Centre was to continue functioning. After two weeks of furious activity salvaging and cleaning the building began. The first priority was a place where food could be prepared hygienically. An existing open structure was repaired, closed off and converted into a temporary kitchen. Further repairs where made to other damaged structures in order to provide accommodation.
Once the kitchen was running efficiently and everyone had a roof over their head, attention turned to getting the Centre functioning once again. The carpentry shop was re-built with a second floor thereby creating sixty square meters of storage space and additional temporary accommodation. Following a structural inspection of the concrete roofed special education building it was decided that the children should be moved to a separate location. A wooden scaffold was erected to re-enforce the damaged slab. Three days later an earthquake shook the building, sending a shower of concrete blocks onto the floor where previously the children had slept... We counted our blessings.
The search for construction materials is well underway, in the last two months we have been able to procure one hundred and forty cubic meters of stone. We are presently trying to salvage trees that were uprooted in the hurricane. Despite the great difficulty of cutting and transporting this timber, we feel a moral obligation to try and save this precious natural resource that will otherwise go to waste. We will shortly be starting manufacture of adobe blocks.
In the past months much thought and planning has gone into how Piña Palmera is going to merge the construction process into its every day life. It is not only important to involve the existing community but also to incorporate the Centre's fundamental ideology into the project. It has been decided that the construction should run jointly with an educational project. The aim is to provide young people; both able bodied and handicap with trade apprenticeships in General building, carpentry and electrical work. The course will last for the duration of the construction and be made up of both classroom-based theory and practical experience on the construction site. The theoretical part of the course will teach construction techniques but also literacy skills, mathematics, technical drawing, health and safety and small business management. It will also be compulsory for all workers in the construction to take courses in both health and prevention of accidents and disability awareness; employees from Piña will give these courses.
Mina Diaz de Rivera
Donations (not packages) can be sent to
Slade Child Foundation
Post Office Box 44246
Washington D.C. 20026
(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 38 60 or (301) 464 64 73
Anna Johansson de Cano
"Piña Palmera" A.C.,
Apartado Postal 109,
c.p. 70900, Pochutla,
telephone and fax: +52.958.40342
Webpages: http//palmera.webway.se and http://www.laneta.apc.org/pina/