On valentines day I visited the poverty stricken suburb of Tepehua, considered to be one of the poorest barrios (neighbourhoods) in the sate of Jalisco, Mexico. I met a woman who runs a local community centre there called Tepehua Centro Comunitario AC, where people from this neighbourhood can come to get clean, see a doctor and get fed once a week for free.
Drug use and alcohol abuse are rife in the community, and many children are not registered for school as they do not have proper documentation (birth certificates, inoculations etc). The people that come to the community centre are mainly women and children, the men preferring to stay on the streets, as most see it as un-masculine to need help.
Local ex pats and local Mexicans work together to help out in the kitchens, serve food and clean up, it's a nice vibe with everyone helping out and getting stuck in. On Friday mornings every week women and children come to get a good free nutritious meal. There is also a free clinic for health care, a dentist's office and a play area that kids can use safely. They have a small clothes shop where donated clothes are sold for 1 or 2 pesos. They also have a sewing machine room that the women can use to make things to sell on the street to make a little money for themselves. Their next project is to open a trade school for adults, who would pay a small contribution to learn a trade skill which may help them to get better jobs. The community centre is very much about helping people to help themselves.
One of the families that comes here is Jenny (below) a drug user who is 25yrs old and has 4 children under 8yrs old. I went to visit their 'home' on the outside of a slum 20 minutes from the community centre. It was a small hovel of one room covered by a tarp with one bed for 5 to sleep in. They share the space with a dog and 8 puppies, there is no running water and the fire they use to warm themselves inside the room is giving the children lung infections, it was a sorry state to live in, and all I could think was what happens when it rains... luckily this area is said to have the second best climate in the world, so on that front they might be lucky.
The Tepehua community organisation raised $2000 to build Jenny and her husband a breeze block room but unfortunately they put the deed in the husbands name and once it was finished he kicked out Jenny and their children and brought another woman to live with him. Apparently this is not un-common, with most homes or land in mens names, the women and children are the ones who suffer. The organisation are once again applying for funding to raise the $2000 to build a room which will now be in Jenny's name, where her and her children will have a clean safe home.
The Tepehua centre provides free healthcare, food, training and hope to many families, particularly women and children. They are fighting against an age old system of poverty, plus another age old problem of humanity - drugs. The local area has a meth factory and many of the adults and teenagers succumb to the meth to escape their impoverished lives. I was going to go to the Meth factory and try and get photographs inconspicuously but then I remembered Breaking Bad and the thought of getting killed by some crazy drug making psychopath in a Meth factory in Mexico put me off, especially as just 4 hours from here in the state of Michoacan the Knights templar drug cartel is in an open street war with the police.
This little community centre has it's own war in this destitute neighbourhood but they are slowly winning in my opinion, especially with the children. If these kids continue to come to the community centre throughout their childhood, they just might be able to crawl out of the poverty they were born into. It won't be easy but those who are in real need will always find their way.
For more information please visit: www.tepehua.org