How Juchitán and Ixtaltepec Are Surviving the Tragedy

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By Brooke Gazer

September was miserable month for Mexico. On September 7, the southern coast of Oaxaca and parts of Chiapas were scourged as an 8.1 earthquake shook the region for ninety seconds. This was the most powerful quake in the history of Mexico. Then only twelve days later, a 7.1 devastated parts of Puebla, Morelos and Mexico City. Huatulco was left unscarred, but during the entire month, the country felt like it was riding a roller coaster, as aftershocks kept peoples nerves on edge.

The commercial center of Juchitán and the nearby artisan town of Ixtaltepec were among the most seriously affected by this horrific event. Juchitán lost electrical power, the hospital was demolished, and seventy percent of the city’s homes and businesses collapsed. Hundreds of patients requiring serious medical services were literally stacked up in the gymnasium of a school that was lit by kerosene lamps.

Ixtaltepec was completely devastated with over eighty percent of the homes destroyed, along with all the artists’ inventory and equipment. One can only try to imagine the hardship inflicted on these hardworking people who have lost everything. But the timing could not have been worse. September is the rainy season and Oaxaca experienced heavy rainfall in the weeks following this tragedy. Families who were grateful just to receive a plastic tarp for shelter, were sloshing around in eight inches of water under that tarp. I cannot comprehend surviving under those conditions.

Our gardener, who has family in Juchitán, reported that the government is issuing affected families cards with funds that they can draw on. Families whose homes are salvageable receive $20,000 MXN (± $1,000 USD). Those whose homes were totally destroyed will, over about six months, receive up to $120,000 MXN (± $6,700 USD). While this is not enough to rebuild a family home, it is a start. It is also a huge financial commitment on the part of the Mexican government. Aside from the region mentioned here, there were literally dozens of similar communities in Oaxaxa alone that were equally affected. With so many recent disasters, resources in Mexico are being stretched beyond a breaking point.

These funds are to purchase things like bricks and mortar to rebuild homes. But with many businesses also destroyed, how will people feed themselves while they rebuild? The positive news is that Oaxacans are resourceful and already they are reorganizing their lives and helping one another

Colective 7 jaguares (7 Jaguars Collective), a permaculture group that works across Mexico, came up with an inexpensive solution to the housing crisis that left 40,000 people homeless. A yurt is a circular domed tent that originated in central Asia. It is relatively inexpensive, quick and easy to build, seismic proof, and portable. The materials; a PCV piping, waxed cord, steel wire, and a tarp covering, cost $6,500 MXN (± $350 USD); the Seven Jaguars are teaching families to construct these 4 meter x 4 meter shelters for themselves.

The Comité Melendre, a nonprofit in Juchitán that promotes positive transformation for the Zapotec community, has devised a unique program that will help. Potters in Ixtaltepec have been unable to continue their livelihood because their kilns were destroyed along with their homes. Also lost in the quake were basic earthenware cooking pots used to prepare traditional corn-based dishes; thousands of families are unable to prepare their own tortillas. “Adopt an Oven” project involves advancing potters the necessary funds to rebuild their kilns. In return, they will produce much-needed cook ware. Ten pottery workshops were participating in the presale of these large earthen cooking pieces, which will be distributed to families affected by the earthquake.

Donations of $600 MXN (± $32 USD) were requested. Funds raised would allow potters to rebuild their kilns and affected families to begin rebuilding a normal life. To ensure accountability, the program promised to send each donor a photograph of the families they assisted. Originally, organizers hoped to generate enough to produce fifty ovens. Within a week of announcing the program, donations poured in, providing funds to produce 1000 pieces. However, with 40,000 left homeless in Oaxaca alone, the need is still great.

How can you help?

Local members of AMPI, the Mexican Professional Realtors Association have banded together to aid affected communities in our region. One Huatulco realtor put the word out on Facebook and within days of the disaster over $21,000 CAD were donated via “Pay Pal Fund Me”. Some of this money went to providing immediate relief to the victims: food, water, clothing, and tarps for protection against the elements.

They continue to collect funds with the goal of restoring some semblance of normality to the various affected communities. Rather than choosing specific families to assist, they are putting the funds toward large structures that can be used as temporary shelters with sanitation facilities for many families. It may take years until the homes are rebuilt, but eventually these structures will replace schools or recreation centers which have also crumbled. With their homes destroyed, children are currently living on the street; proper sanitation is a serious issue.

You can donate to this project by clicking on the following link.

Brooke Gazer operates an oceanview B&B in Huatulco.