Project Piaxtla Updates
The following outstanding events involving Project Piaxtla have taken place this past year:
Reconstructive Surgery by the Stanford Medical Center Team—Meets Political Resistance
Last November a team of three plastic surgeons from the Stanford Medical Center, led by Dr. Donald Laub, and accompanied by an anesthetist and two nurses came to Sinaloa to operate on some of my patients who desperately needed reconstructive surgery but could not. afford it. At the invitation of the Governor of Sinaloa and in cooperation with the State Health Department the procedures were performed at the Civil and Children’s Hospitals. in the State Capital. Eighteen patients were operated, most of them with severe burn or birth deformities, especially cleft lips and palates. In addition to the patients whom I brought, others arrived from all over the State, more than eighty in all, many in urgent need of surgery. Most of these remained untreated because of insufficient time, yet the team, deeply moved by the extent of the need, determined to return to Sinaloa on a regular basis. The next visit was set for the end of April, and once again the Governor extended his invitation.
This time a team of medical men from Stanford arrived in Culiacán. But unfortunately, word of the project got back to Mexico City, stepping on the tender toes of national pride. One angry article in a Mexico City newspaper stated, “Either the Stanford people are crazy or… they think themselves to be in darkest Africa as Stanley knew it.” “We Mexicans are not guinea pigs.” An official order was dispatched from Mexico City forbidding the U.S. doctors to operate. To appease the disappointed people in Sinaloa, the federal government flew a team of plastic surgeons from Mexico City to Culiacán. Patients had gathered from hundreds of miles around. (I myself had driven 150 miles to Culiacán with 24 persons packed into my Jeep truck). The Mexican surgeons performed four operations. These were photographed and well publicized with articles acclaiming that “Mexico can take care of her own medical needs !” The Mexican surgical team then returned to Mexico City and the scores of untreated patients returned to their villages.
Of the patients I brought, several children with severe cleft lips and palates, who could have been restored virtually to normal, must resign themselves to grow up not only with unsightly appearance, but virtually unable to speak. One young mother of seven, whose hand is crippled by scar contractures from a burn in early childhood, again has lost hope of having her hand made functional. One little six year old boy with a congenital hernia will probably die of his condition before manhood. Etc… All because prosperous diplomats in Mexico City would maintain their country’s good image: “We don’t need outside help.” By the same token, Mexico has never allowed the Peace Corps. One sometimes questions the virtue of national pride.
We have not given up altogether, however. Dr. Laub from his end, and I from mine, have been working to reopen the doors which were closed upon us, and there is some hope in sight. The Government is completely behind us. Meanwhile I continue, as quietly as possible, with my work in the barrancas.
The Struggle for a Pure Water System in Ajoya
But the chief engineer shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We had government funds reserved, but the money…”
The prospects for the pure water system in Ajoya have also had their ups and downs. For nearly two years I struggled to raise the 15,000 pesos ($1,200) which the village needed to contribute in order for the government to supply equipment and engineer the installation of the system. 1 used every device and ploy I could think of to get the wealthy land barons to contribute, but although they wanted the water, they argued that the poor campesinos should contribute the same amount as they should, or they quibbled among themselves about who should pay more, and in the long run they contributed almost nothing.
It was not until last spring, when Mrs. Mary Kersliner of Cincinnati, Ohio offered to contribute half the cost if the villagers came up with the other half, that the land barons finally came through. With two representatives from Ajoya and the Municipal resident of San Ignacio, we drove to Culiacán and deposited the 15,000 pesos in a special account. Then we approached the Commission for Potable Water, which had promised to begin the project as soon as the money was raised.
But the chief engineer shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We had government funds reserved to start 30 projects this year, but the money…” He shrugged his shoulders hopelessly…“You see this is election year, and all the politicians in office will soon leave their positions. The money reserved for water projects has gone elsewhere.” He put his hands in his pockets. “Do you understand me?” We understood only too well. “And when will you be able to begin the water project in Ajoya?” we asked. “After the new Government comes in,” he replied, “in November.”
And so we are still waiting! But at least the biggest hurdle has now been passed and the project is a sure thing. Ajoya is the first on the list when the Water Commission begins to function again. It is only a question of time.
The Medical Dispensaries in Ajoya and Verano
On the brighter side, things have been going fairly smoothly in the dispensaries in Ajoya and Verano. My dispensary in Ajoya has been moved to an old adobe house which I purchased for $200. The Reyes family, with ten children, now lives there, too, having been evicted from their old house because Remedios (the father) sided with the independent campesinos in the latest land controversy. The new dispensary consists of two small rooms, freshly whitewashed, with sky-lights composed of plastic roof tiles we cut in Palo Alto from the plastic windshields of old fighter planes and molded in an oven. A small generator now provides light for night time emergencies.
The Simple Medical Lab in Ajoya
We have now started a simple lab in Ajoya where we can do blood counts, hemoglobin test, urinalysis, and other basic clinical procedures. Chris Walker, the nineteen year old daughter of Dr. Murray Walker, the anesthetist who came with the Stanford team, was instrumental in setting up the lab. She apprenticed at the Stanford Medical Center in preparation for spending two months in Ajoya. She did a magnificent job.
Robert Steiner Joins the Dispensary
In October there will be a full-time addition to the staff of my dispensary in Ajoya: Robert Steiner, his wife Dorothy, and their 15 year old son Bob. Mr. Steiner has been working with L.A.M.P., an aid program in Mexicali. At present he is studying lab techniques at Stanford, and will expand and improve our lab in Ajoya. His own and his wife’s activities in Ajoya will be completely volunteer. Their presence should allow me to spend more time in my upper dispensary at Verano, which is normally vacant when I am in Ajoya.
An Update on Martín Reyes’ Life and Academic Success
Martin Reyes, the boy whom I brought a year ago to study in the United States, has proved his desire to learn. Even though he skipped from the fourth grade in Ajoya to the seventh grade taught in a new language, he had nearly a B average by the end of the year, and, according to his counselor, he had mastered more English more quickly than any other foreign student in the school’s history. Much credit goes to the family of Bob Graham with whom Martín stayed, and especially to Shirley Graham, who worked tirelessly with Martín when he was first learning his English. This summer Martín returned to Ajoya, where he organized and conducted two classes in English, won the respect of his students, and earned a wage above that of most grown men. This autumn Martin has eagerly returned to Kennedy Junior High School in Monta Vista, and is staying with the Prosser family of Cupertino. (By the way, if interested persons could help out with some of Martin’s clothing needs, this would be a great help.)
Piaxtla Volunteer Miguel Angel Mánjarrez Studies in Californa
This year another boy from Ajoya is attending Terman Junior High School in Palo Alto.
This year another boy from Ajoya, 14 year old Miguel Angel Mánjarrez has come to the United States to study. He is attending Terman Junior High School in Palo Alto. Miguel is staying with the family of Dr. Murray Walker. For the past year, Miguel has volunteered his services in my Ajoya dispensary, where he has learned to package medicine and write instructions, to give injections, take blood samples and do white cell, red cell, and differential counts under the microscope, to measure hemoglobin content, cleanse and dress wounds, and even pull teeth. He has aspirations of perhaps becoming a village dentist, for which the need is great. Life has been a bit tough for Miguel since he has been in Palo Alto, especially since, after his second day of school, he fell from a rope swing and broke his arm. But he is courageous, and hopefully will do well. Both Martín and Miguel long to get back to their families over the Christmas vacation.