Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bridges and Habilitation

Earlier this month, I very much enjoyed listening to this story as I prepared our morning coffee. Although I did not know the people or projects described, I did know the setting, and the story felt familiar in at least two ways.

BSU students at PLUSAA in León
First, the project described is very much like the work of the Polus Center in León, Nicaragua -- more specifically the local projects supported by its Coffeelands Trust. As in the projects described by journalist Mónica Ortiz Uribe in northern Mexico, the clinics in Nicaragua -- PLUSAA and Walking Unidos -- empower people with limb loss or other severe injuries by providing prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. The latter are made from simple, locally available materials and are adapted to local terrain. Even more importantly, much of the work is performed by people who themselves have suffered such injuries.

I was very pleased to hear that a very similar set of projects is underway in Sonora, northwest Mexico, near my former home in Tucson, Arizona. Both the objectives and the methods are very much like the projects many  students have visited with me in León. The immediate goal in all of these projects is mobility, but the ultimate purpose is to allow people to develop independence and an ability to contribute to the well-being of their families.

Both in Mexico and in Nicaragua, the projects are driven by local individuals and partners from the United States. In both cases, support from the U.S. Federal government plays a small role. In Nicaragua, this has been in the form of grants from the State Department's Agency for International Development (US-AID), directed at ameliorating some of the harm done by the 175,000 landmines that U.S.-backed insurgents placed throughout the country in the 1980s. In the case of Sonora, Mexico, aid has come in the form of equipment donated by the U.S. Northern Command.

Image: Wikimedia, 2010 view of Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona.
Note the presence of a huge wall through the city, though short-term crossings in both directions are common for work, shopping, or even fast food.  As with most U.S.-Mexico twin cities, the population is larger on the Mexico side. In this case, it is more than a ten-fold difference, roughly 220,000 versus 20,000.
This brings me to the second way in which the radio piece was instantly familiar. It does not describe the cartoon version of the borderlands that has been created for political purposes over the past several decades. Rather, it describes a spirit of cooperation and recognition of mutual interdependence that I observed during my seven years in the Arizona/Sonora and Texas/Tamaulipas borderlands, and that is described beautifully in Border People by historian Oscar Martinez.

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