As we all know by now the historical gem that is Ciudad Mier, a Mexican town on the Rio Grande border with Texas, was recently depopulated by the ultraviolent, bloody Zetas in a move to consolidate territory as they battle their rivals, the Gulf cartel.
We could never have imagined this type of cleansing of populations in our own backyard, reminiscent of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan during the Taliban rule and other tragedies.
Many people bravely came to the aid of the internal refugees from Ciudad Mier that were accepted with open arms by their brothers and sisters in neighboring Miguel Aleman.
This is the story of one successful effort to deliver aid, love and support, orchestrated by a wonderful “Abuela”.
Sitting in my home, hoping my eyes and heart had somehow misinterpreted what I had just seen, I began to watch the video a second time.
There was no way to deny the truth, I understood the horror perfectly and I was sobbing at the realization.
How did we get here? What can be done to bring all the violence, pain, and suffering to an end?
I could never have imagined drug gangs would be successful in claiming an entire municipality and intimidate a whole population to abandon their beloved "Magical Town", chosen so for its beauty and historical and cultural past.
How could anyone have predicted the cruel irony of this legendary town’s banner, el Pueblo Magico.
Before this year if Ciudad Mier was Googled the response would have encouraged a visit on a tour that would include the sites of the first battle of the Mexican American war and the last battle of the Civil War.
Today those search results leading to the beauties and wonders of the magical town of Mier have all but disappeared. Much like the proud people who were forced from their homes with threats of death, they have been relocated and replaced by the tragedy of cartel violence, abductions and murders.
I am a grandmother and a humanitarian. I love this country with a passion. It is the land of my ancestors; my roots and my culture.
I see the disintegration of this beautiful country and feel, as all good people do, we are enslaved by this horrific violence and powerless to stop it.
We see no end, not in our life time, nor that of our children. My hope only begins when thinking of the future generations, that of the children and their children. But will it all be too little, too late?
What will happen with the children of this war? With the orphans? How are they being affected? How can they NOT be damaged and scarred?
It's these children I worry about most. They have unknowingly, out of necessity, created survival mechanisms to cope with their fears and anger. They have become desensitized.
Studies claim this desensitization is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but how can it be? How can it be post trauma, when it's ongoing and escalating?
What type of people will this drug war produce? What type of adults will these children become? Children are losing their ability to become emotionally moved. What will the future hold for children whose moral, character, judgment and emotional development was so greatly compromised by violence and tragedy during such crucial stages of development?
Will they lose their ability to feel? This is my greatest fear.
Drug consumption and addiction increases as the cartels dump excess supply on the streets of impoverished colonias and rich enclaves.
If Mexico does not stabilize soon, one can only imagine what will happen when the next generation, previously exposed to violence, beheadings and atrocities, become adults.
My humanitarian work primarily involves and aids the educational and medical necessities of disadvantaged children. However, after seeing the video of the people of Mier now living an uncertain life in a Lions Club converted to a make shift shelter in Miguel Aleman, I was compelled to help.
What I wanted for the people of Ciudad Mier was not only to deliver much needed supplies, but to send them a message: The world now knows what has happened to them and they matter deeply to us. We are outraged and we care. That was my mission.
It took less than 5 days for my team and I, working day and night, to plan, coordinate, and prepare the supplies and two days to drive through multiple states then through the no man’s land of Tamaulipas, to deliver them.
The mission was accomplished through the heroism of my team and their drivers. We were as successful as we could be under the given circumstances.
My team carried hope, enthusiasm and courage going where danger lurks around every corner and violence and chaos explode without warning.
On this particular mission, my team included a teenage boy who had offered to help with personally delivering supplies to the children and elderly of Mier.
Benito is a special child: loving, caring, thoughtful, and a longtime volunteer for my foundation. Always with a smile, he was willing and eager to help.
I had mixed feelings about having allowed Benito travel to the shelter.
He comes from a very small town which is controlled by Zetas. Although there was a brief outbreak of violence last year, there has yet to be an actual struggle for this town between the Zetas and their rivals.
This has allowed his town to remain unmarked and deceptively peaceful.
Benito didn't know about drug cartels and territory wars. He has never witnessed a shootout and never heard or seen the destructive impact left by a grenade. He doesn't know about kidnappings, extortions, and has no idea that torture, mutilation, and decapitations are every day occurrences outside of his world. He had been sheltered, as children should be.
Benito was changed in Miguel Aleman, his rosy glasses were lifted, his innocence was lost. It was there, while listening to children tell him their stories, he said goodbye to childhood and became a young man.
He has learned not only the truth, but that it is incumbent on us to act to make a difference, especially when it is painful, because it is there that few venture.
On the way to the hotel, after the mission, Benito sat in silence. He now knew the true evils that lie in wait, he was hurt and afraid.
His Mother, in attempts to distract him and lift his spirits, turned on the radio only to have Benito scream: "NO! Please turn it off and don't speak!." She did as he asked and when the silence returned her son began to sob and shake and scream:"Why? Why is this happening? What will happen to those children? and the 'buelitos? Why don't they stop this?" He cried into the night.
I have included the reports Benito's mission report from and a letter from his Mother, who also went to Miguel Aleman shelter. Benito's report depicts the depth of what he has heard and learned on this mission, and how it affected him.
Abuela Gloria Bueño
A letter from Benito's Mother:
Gloria, let me please tell you about Benito.. when we were there he was very excited helping with the kids and older persons. Lucero (Benito's little sister) also helped us by giving the backpacks and school supplies to the kids... but Benito ..I saw him very excited from the start.
When he started hearing the stories he told me that he was worried about the kids who were going through all this.
He worked very hard and was very happy with us working there in the shelter. He truly gave his best, giving smiles and encouragement and spreading the message of hope and love, to each and every one of them; we all did.
We thought they were fine, the mission was a success, but Gloria, as we took the truck to go to Reynosa, Benito and Lucero started to cry so much...I asked them why they were crying and they told me "for those kids who had to stay there."
Benito said: "Mom if I could take these poor kids and old people home with us I would.", but unfortunately that was not possible, he was powerless, and that is why he cried.
I told him and was very clear: You did it Benito! We came to give joy and satisfaction to all of them with all the things that Buela Gloria sent for them. We took them hope and a small peace of mind that people know what is happening and care. I said, please do not think you have done nothing, we did our best, and those people are so happy we went to them., but he is still so very sad and worried for those poor kids..
Benito's Ciudad Mier Project Report:
My Experience in Miguel Aleman
19 Nov, 2010.
We left on Thursday, November 18, on a trip to help the people of Mier, Tamaulipas. The trip was a little tiring, but our mission was to take a little joy and satisfaction to those people, and we did.
When we arrived, we were greeted and received by the first lady of Miguel Aleman. She was very nice and very pleased to see everything we were going to deliver to the people in the shelter.
Miguel (the photographer) and I decided to start talking with children and anyone else who wished to speak with us or give us an interview.
I soon found myself with a lovely 103 year old grandmother. I could see in her face and in her eyes the sadness and pain she had suffered after having to abandon her home. Sitting next to her was her 83 year old daughter who was equally saddened. I was, however, able to steal a little smile from both of them when I told them the encouraging message Abuela Gloria had sent.
Interview with Ciudad Mier Children:
I asked some kids: "Was your family affected by the violence in Ciudad Mier?" and one of the kids answered: Yes, his family was affected and still is because their Dad was kidnapped and they have not heard from him, or of him, since.
Another kid told me he had survived a confrontation between armed men directly in front of his house. He said when it finally ended, dead bodies littered the streets. Some of them had their throats cut and others had been gutted.
Another girl said she had seen the body of one of the gutted men just before a woman ran out and tried to cover it so nobody else would see it.
Interview with adults:
One lady told me people from the municipal government have been threatening them because they don't have the funds to keep maintaining the shelter. She said she heard they told some people that if they didn’t find jobs soon they would either close the shelter or bring in “bad people” to run them out. She thinks the local government is involved with bad groups of people.
A few ladies said they had friends that decided to stay in Mier so their homes would not be looted, but after 4 p.m. nobody is allowed to leave their houses.
An older gentleman told me he was very happy to have things given directly to him as it is seldom they are actually given what is donated to the shelter.
It is sad and terrifying to hear their stories. They are going through an extremely dangerous situation and I hope with all my heart it ends soon. If the possibility existed for me to bring these people home with me, all the elderly, children, and adults of Mier, of course, I would do it. But some things aren't in our hands and even though we want to do it, we can't.
We were practically run out of the shelter
We had finally organized all of the things we were going to give out when out of nowhere the shelter organizer took the microphone and asked us to move all of the donations off of the tables and to the side. She said it was lunch time and she needed to feed the people. She told us to suspend out activities and we could continue after the people had eaten. We asked for just a little more time to finish, but she said she couldn’t wait, the people needed to eat and she already had people who were passing out from hunger. This was a vicious lie.
Julia, our project director, spoke with this person and asked if they could allow our foundation a little area where we could reorganize the things we had brought and hand them out to each person while they ate, but they said NO!.
They said we if we trusted in them, we could go and hand out the donations to 30 people as a symbolic gesture and leave the rest to for them to hand out later.
Julia said she couldn’t do that because she had orders from Buela Gloria to hand deliver the items to each person individually. The shelter director didn’t like that and asked for 10 men to volunteer and help us get everything we had out of the shelter. She said they had 50 seconds to get it done and if not they were going to be left without eating. Then she started to count.
I literally had to cover one table with my own body. We had blankets set up on it to give to the elderly and when we were told to move all of our stuff out, the people pounced.
An entire week of work and dedication was ruined by that lady in just 50 seconds.
Thank goodness we had already given to all children their backpacks with school supplies, toys, games and so on.
The people there got really upset with the attitude of the shelter organizer, Honestly, I think the title DISORGANIZER would have been more appropriate.
We rushed to gather up and secure all the goods we had brought to give to the people because we were practically kicked to the street. Luckily we were able to reorganize quickly and continue with our mission: We gave each person a big bag with items just for them.
I was in charge of personally giving blankets to each of the abuelitos in the shelter. A man told me he was very thankful for this because had we left them with the organizers they would have never received them.
I feel very proud to have once again been part of a one of Buela Gloria's projects.
I am also very proud and happy that we did NOT give the organizers the satisfaction of keeping any of the donations for themselves. We were able to insure everyone received what they needed by handing out all of the donations, sent with so much love from Buela Gloria, directly to the people of Mier ourselves.
We were exposed to great danger, I know, and I thank God for allowing us to come home safe. The faces of the joy of those buelitos and children was WORTH IT!!!!
These expericences make you value more the people you have around you, and the things you have ... I thank God for the family he gave me and for the people who love and surround me ...
Benito's Miguel Aleman Photo Album
Many families of Mier abandoned their homes out of fear. They are temporarily living in Lion's Club banquet center in Miguel Aleman.
Some women cried while listening to the message of hope and solidarity sent by Buela Gloria
Healthy baby #5 born they day before we arrived. We wanted to find his Mother at the shelter after seeing her in an interview in this Al Jazeera video.
Baby #5 family interview
Abuelitas from Ciudad Mier