Day #3 Update from Nogales

Today was the day we had set aside for distributing tickets redeemable for blankets, gifts or food. Working closely with the Bomberos (Firefighters) and members of the Monster Team Nogales (“guys with jeeps”), teams of three (Canadians and Americans) travelled to various areas of the city determined to be in need. We ensured that at least one member of each team could speak both Spanish and English.

Word spread quickly as each team arrived in the various neighbourhoods. People lined up in the hope of securing the tickets needed to receive the much-needed items. Volunteers issued various tickets, depending on the type of items the families are most in need of. The tickets would be redeemable the following day during the highly-coordinated distribution from 9 am until noon.
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Almost 3000 tickets are distributed in a single day; redeemable for everything from food to gifts, coats to blankets. As with Christmas gift programs in Canada, teens typically are the ones with the fewest age appropriate gifts, so the volunteers supplement by giving them blankets. The youth here don’t seem to mind or feel slighted, they are happy to have been thought of at all.


It is heartening to hear the people respond to our question “how many niños” with a proud honesty despite their poverty. They reply “six” and the next would tell us that they have none. They are unbelievably patient and grateful.

As we distribute the tickets we are forced to make hard decisions. I hate this part of the project. It is so difficult to try to measure poverty. How do you tell someone barely keeping their head above water that they are not “poor enough” to receive a ticket? These decisions are painful. Soul crushing. You have be strong enough to say “no”, when everything in you is screaming “please take two”. But you must to ensure there is enough for the families and children in the next colonia (neighbourhood). And the colonia after that. And after that.

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My team was dispatched to the dump. I was there last year and was appalled to see that the number of ‘homes’ in this area has doubled. It is heartbreaking. My job this time was to take photos, which allows me to distance myself to some extent. For this I am grateful. Witnessing the conditions they must live in—must raise their children in—is incredibly difficult for all of us. Even the Bomberos. They have no electricity and any clean water must be bought with the meager amount they earn scavenging through the dumpsite for anything that can be sold. It is a living; though barely.

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It takes us only three hours to complete our mission and return to the club. On the way, we stop so the Bomberos can push a stalled vehicle to a downgrade where they can try to restart their engine. All of the Bomberos vehicles are equipped for such ‘emergencies’.

After lunch, most of the team returns to the hotel for some down time. A few of us go on to see the Number One Fire House. It’s the oldest fire house in Nogales. I visited the House my first trip to Nogales. I was even given the privilege of sliding down the pole!

The Bomberos are very proud of the work they are doing and they should be. Last summer they offered a summer camp program, and 400 children got to go to camp! Many for the first time ever. There is no cost to participate (the families couldn’t have spared the money if they did) and if the photos they showed me were any indication, the kids had a fabulous time!

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The Bomberos showed me the compressor equipment that had been donated to them. The compressor allows them to refill their air tanks more quickly and efficiently than in the past. This is important with a community with an official population of 250,000 people to protect. The Fire House has only 30 professional firefighters and another 115 volunteers. They receive their training in Arizona, then return to their country to train other firefighters, firefighting teams, and volunteers. They are proud to be known as the best firefighting team in their State. They continue to perfect their skills, and hope one day to be the best in in the country.


I am proud of my own club’s efforts to help this team where we can, so they can meet this goal. Jim Aslin of the Rincon Club in Tucson has also taken on the Bomberos as a project helping to equip an ambulance that our club sent down last year. This year we were able to present three jackets from the Waterloo Fire Department. As always, they are grateful. Every little bit helps, they say.

By eight we have returned to the clubhouse to finish the few final preparations, share some food and laughter with friends old and new, and prepare ourselves before the final day. Some of us stayed for hours afterwards, having fun. Wonderful to see both kids and adults line dancing or performing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  The youngest son of Past President Apolitico could make a living with his screams!


Later, President Fito and I talk about the challenges his club faces. He tells me that all Mexican border towns and cities struggle with the same problem. People from southern Mexico and South America flocking to the border expecting to find the “American Dream”.

They dream of getting across the border—no matter the reality. Because they have no plans to stay in Mexico, they don’t set down roots. They do what they can to survive until the day they can begin their dream. But their dream is impossible.

What this will do to generations is frightening to me. The Mexico that I know well is not the beautiful tourist cities with their warm beaches and abundance of food and drink. It is the reality of a northern border cities, which can be harsh, cold, and unforgiving. My friends here are sad that this is the Mexico I know.

Yet, even in their adversity, there is an incredible beauty in the people of Nogales. Their culture, their faith, and their incredible gratefulness. It’s what keeps drawing me back.

Cheryl Ewing
Kitchener, Ontario
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Nogales Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener