Newsletters from charitable organizations like Atzin are so often chronicles of good news and promising advances; but if truth be told, the reality can sometimes be the complete opposite.
Village conditions took a rapid nose dive in early 2020 and worsened during 2021. Bewildered women struggled to feed their children with no income. Too many men hung around in the streets, doing nothing useful, having lost their work as street sellers, some drinking 95% proof mixed with pop or openly using drugs, numbing emotional pain or gaining false strength in numbers. Children missed two full years of education, many never returned to class, giving up on literacy in order to earn money. Municipal government services limped along using WhatsApp, in effect almost disappearing for two years. And, to the extent the environment reflects the state of our inner world – the place where life is really lived - then the garbage carelessly strewn everywhere was a dispiriting statement of people’s emotional health.
In 2022, re-gaining any momentum in our education and health programs was like overcoming inertia, almost like starting over again, but this time, with the odds of success more complicated and riskier than ever. More than once, I had to ask myself whether the last twenty-some years of work by so many were for naught. Of course, our work had helped different individuals at different times, but overall, the villagers were descending further into a deep hole – of debt and poverty, of insecurity and violence, of toxicity, depression and anxiety, of illness and addiction – driven largely by negative external forces beyond their control. Over three years, we had lost hard-won ground. In these moments of reckoning, I felt more than discouraged, I was disheartened.
Then one day in early 2023, we visited Antonio in his simple home that was made of sticks and concrete blocks with a dirt floor. A year ago, bandits forced this innocent young man and his brother to kneel, hands clasped behind their necks, and shot them. Paralyzed from the waist down, and his brother killed, Antonio’s life with all its potential and possibilities had been abruptly altered by others, and through no fault of his own. And yet… he greeted us warmly, pleased to have visitors. Areceli, a health promoter in our Special Needs Program, returned his smile as he demonstrated his exercises and discussed the transport for his upcoming fitting for leg braces and arm crutches (a surprise donation from a generous couple).