We know it takes a village to make a difference. And Oaxaqueños and gueros know how to do this. Last month I asked Jacki Cooper Gordon, who volunteers with EnVia Foundation (and is also president of The Oaxaca Lending Library), if she would receive a box of 100 face masks to distribute to them. Of course, she said. EnVia agreed to distribute them to the women they work with in villages throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.
These 100% cotton masks were sewn by Sam Robbins in Columbus, Ohio, and shipped to Oaxaca by my son Jacob Singleton who received them in Huntington Beach, California. Sam is a quilter and had a stash of fabric. It was only natural that she coverted the cloth to masks, responding to our call, and sent along extra cloth.
Jacki received them at her apartment in El Centro and transferred them over to Viviana Ruiz, the EnVia managing director, for distribution to the pueblos.
Many of you know EnVia. They offer micro-financing to three-woman teams who want to start or grow a small business. After proving their success and ability to repay the first round of financing, they can become part of a cultural tour. That’s how EnVia provides funding for its loans — there is a cost to attend the tour and the funds raised are used to provide the loans. It’s a win-win because there is Zero Percent Interest on the loan. This is unusual in a climate where big box Mexican stores can charge over 80% interest to borrow to buy a stove or refrigerator, for example. Using this system, people can never get out of debt and there is no federal regulation on interest rates.
Jacki is a cultural guide. If you have gone on her tours, like I have, you know what an excellent resource EnVia is to many families in many small pueblos along Federal Highway 190. In the photo above, in the background, is EnVia van driver Norman, who helps with so much more.
To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:
Cristy Molina Martinez is my eyes, ears, hands and feet on the ground in Oaxaca. She is a teacher who lives in Teotitlan del Valle. She has been working to make and distribute masks throughout the Tlacolula Valley for the past two months. She writes me almost daily with updates.
We are making and distributing more and more masks as the virus spreads and is likely infecting many people, though there are no tests to prove it, unless, says Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras in San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya:
People are only tested if they are exhibiting strong symptoms. By then, it will have already infected friends and family members, too.
Last night I got this message of thanks from Cristy, who is paraphrasing a Teotitlan del Valle woman who came to her house in search of masks:
“People are still coming to my house asking for masks. A woman came and told me, really please, let the people who are making this possible, say thank you, you are so kind and helpful for this problem. We need more people like you. She was really really grateful for the masks. ‘We are so grateful,’ she said.
“She took 12 masks and she was so happy. I know she will use them. Because she told me that two older people came to her house to ask where the masks were being given out. She was really thankful. I didn’t ask her name.”
“I am still working on getting masks made and distributed. Two people died last night. We have had eight losses. We don’t know the reason. Yesterday morning the president told the village that the market will close for a few days. We will just have market on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday now. We will see how this works.
“Yesterday, we gave the village president a document telling him we are helping with the cause. We continue to produce information materials and videos about prevention and how to use the masks.
“I took 120 masks and gave them to the president so he knows the project and if he needs more, he can come to my house and ask for more. We told him that the paper masks are only good for one use and are making garbage. He was really happy with this donation.
“On Sunday, I gave 30 masks to Alan Goodin for Santiguito. Rosario just finished making 200 masks and Matea will complete another 100 masks today. My friend in Macuilxochitl is handing out masks and the next 100 will go there!”
We could not do this project without Cristy. We could no do this project without YOU. We could not do this project without the mask makers and friends in Oaxaca who are helping to distribute. Thank you!
Epidemiologists say that we must be wearing masks for at least 3-12 more months. I don’t know how long we can keep this project going — as long as we have support from people like you and as long as there is a need!
We branched out from masking making and distribution last week by raising funds from four donors to buy a Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor for the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, health clinic. Village volunteer officials contacted me with this special need.
I reached out to readers and received immediate response from Kate Rayner, Toronto, Canada; Claudia Michel, Portland, Oregon; Boojie Cowell, London and Mexico City; and Deborah Morris, M.D., Coates, North Carolina. Debbie advised me on brand and helped make a selection from a hundred or so used models available on eBay.
The vital signs monitor was a big purchase, and we are so grateful to these four women for their generosity to be able to say YES, WE CAN.
This piece of machinery will give doctors the tools to check oxygenation and do continuous monitoring with accurate temperature and blood pressure checks, according to Claudia Michel, who is also an RN. Oxygenation is an essential reading for early detection of Covid-19. When oxygen levels decline, that is a sign there is illness. I have a portable pulse oximeter at home and use it regularly to monitor my own levels.
We also used funds to purchase gallons of hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol and two portable pulse oximeters for the village clinic to take into people’s homes. This is in addition to giving the clinic hundreds more masks to distribute as an official appeal to the village to wear them and keep social distancing.
Yesterday, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras picked up 100 more face masks in El Tule for the health officials to distribute to the people of his village, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya. The masks were the second order I placed with Arte Textil Orozco, the workshop that wove the cloth that was then sewn by Stephanie Jeronimo.
Since Phase II of the The Oaxaca Mask Project started on May 23, 2020, we have ordered, sewn and distributed 1,810 masks. This includes 100% cotton fabric donated by Patrice Wynne, Abrazos San Miguel, and more from Karen Nein in Eldorado, New Mexico.
We’ve sent money via Western Union to mask makers in Oaxaca, San Miguel del Valle, and Teotitlan del Valle. We are also using PayPal to send money because it is fast and direct for those who use it.
Bordados Xime, a fancy apron-making workshop in San Miguel, has shifted over to making masks and we are supporting them. We paid for our first order of 100 that will be distributed to the residents of this Zapotec village.
The map of Mexico shows RED. There is a high rate of infection everywhere. People are now asking for masks as infection rates rise in Oaxaca. Stay-at-home orders from the Governor are in place until June 15. We have orders out now for 500 more masks that have not yet been paid for.
News this week is that markets are closed and will only be open on a rotating basis. (Some on a Oaxaca listserv are saying markets are closed for the next 10 days. I’m not there, so I don’t know.) Masks have been required for entry. Officials taking temperatures and requesting shoppers to use hand-sanitizer often.
There are official three-diagnosed Covid-19 cases in Tlacochahuaya. Our mask recipients on Sunday were taxi drivers, moto-taxi drivers, and the general public. Here, too, health officials were grateful to have the masks and participated in distributing them.
Moises, a Zapotec language activist who lived in Santa Monica, California and worked for Verizon before returning home to Tlacochahuaya, tells me that the real issue is testing for all of Oaxaca. “Testing is only performed when symptoms appear, but by that time there have been contacts, and it might be too late.” He is recording a video in Zapotec for his village to explain Covid-19, symptoms and prevention measures.” Testing is run by the epidemiology department of the state government, Moises tells me.
Public health messages are essential for Zapotec communities of the Oaxaca valleys. Many of the older people, those who are most vulnerable, do not speak much if any Spanish, and hearing warnings in their indigenous language is essential.
Thanks to Alan Goodin, a resident of Santiguito (Santiago Ixtaltepec), who picked up face masks today from Cristy Molina Martinez at the crossroads. Alan will give them out to friends and neighbors who need them.
Meanwhile, we are doing what we can, and we know that mask wearing can reduce infection by as much as 80 percent. Masks don’t just filter air. They promote social distancing. Epidemiologists are telling us that this virus will not go away and that to stay safe mask-wearing will be part of life in the foreseeable future.
Now, we hear that Teotitlan is limiting funeral attendance to 10 people and has put up a blockade at the entrance to the village to limit access to people who don’t live there. Yes, there have been funerals. Few people believe they are Covid-19 related; some do. Without tests, there is no proof. We do believe that the doctors who asked for the vital signs monitor understand how this infection is transmitted and want every tool at their disposal for prevention.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for caring.
In the despair that has gripped the United States of America in the last week that peels away once more deep-seated and unresolved racial disparities and undue police force that plague us, I have found succor in focusing on The Oaxaca Mask Project. These times demand us to be proactive to make change for the good however we can, wherever we are living now and where we come from.
I am deeply grateful to all who have contributed and those who still plan to. We continue to welcome your support.
The Oaxaca Mask Project Phase II started May 23, 2020. Since then, we have raised $8,830 USD from 134 donors. Eight seamstresses are employed and have made 1,410 masks to date.
By the end of this week, we will have given over 500 masks to the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic operated by the village and underwritten their purchase of gallons of isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitizer and pulse oximeters (used in the detection of Covid 19). Thanks to Cristy Molina Martinez and Samuel Bautista Lazo for their help to get masks into the hands of village leaders and to connect me to Armando Gutierrez Martinez, a health committee member.
The village tells me they need a portable Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor to buy used/refurbished in the USA and ship to them. I’m seeking a $700 donor to help us buy this medical equipment to ship to Teotitlan del Valle. Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m also happy to report that Alvin Starkman from Oaxaca Mezcal Tours got 100 masks into the hands of doctors and nurses at the Oaxaca public hospital IMSS. They did not have sufficient PPE and they were required to purchase same at their own expense. These masks were made by Rocio Bastida Cruz in San Felipe del Agua.
Karen Nein, from Eldorado, NM, sent high quality 100% cotton fabric to Kalisa Wells in the Centro Historico who got this to Beatriz at Telarcito Lindo in El Tule, where she and her staff are sewing 200 masks to be at the ready for those who ask us.
In San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras, a Zapotec linguistic activist and head of the cultural center, gave 100 masks to their village health officials to distribute to market vendors and shoppers. They have asked for 150 more for taxi and bus drivers, and others.
Patrice Wynne, owner of Abrazos San Miguel, contributed enough cotton fabric of their design for us to sew 400 masks. The box will arrive in Teotitlan del Valle via DHL this week. We are grateful.
I’m talking with Bordados Xime, a family operated apron-making embroidery workshop in San Miguel del Valle, just outside of Tlacolula, to sew masks for their village. I am guiding them on design and we will compensate them for what they make, of course!
Armando Sosa, a doll maker in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, continues to make masks for us, too. This gives him and his sister much needed income during this time of economic stress.
Kari Klippen-Sierra is getting masks to community service organizations through the Episcopal Church, and has given masks to Alan Goodin to distribute in Santiago Ixtaltepec, where he lives. Alan is helping a family who lost everything in the Abastos Market fire, too. We are planning to designate the next 100 being made by Alfredo Hernandez Orozco in El Tule to Alan.
We will continue to work with Rachael Mamane, Food for All, and her connections with puente.org, an organization of organic farmers in the Oaxaca valley and Mixtec region.
It’s hard for me right now to think about when our textile tours will start up again. I hope, as our travels are curtailed, that you keep Oaxaca and Mexico travel with me in your dreams!
We have cried this week. There were seven (7) funerals in Teotitlan del Valle, two on one day. There are cases diagnosed in neighboring villages and towns. For every published case diagnosed, the multiplier is eight (8) for the underrepresented numbers. If five (5) cases are known, the likely total is 40. The curve is no where in sight.
Mexico’s health care system is in disarray. Upon taking office, President AMLO (Lopez-Obrador) started dismantling the system to reorganize. There is little PPE and health care workers are taxed. The New York Times reports today that 25% of Mexico’s coronavirus cases are health care workers.
In all this, we are hopeful that the masks we offer FREE to people will mitigate the spread of disease in the Oaxaca valleys. Thank you for your generosity, your big heart and your gifts.
It takes a village to protect a village. You and I do this because we have a connection to people and place. We do this because we respect the creativity and hard work of Oaxaqueños. We understand. Thank you, again!
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
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