They got the land for a park donated to the community of Santa Cecilia, and they cleared it. They got trees from the Ecology Department, and planted them. But in the dusty neighborhoods around San Luis Rey, on the north end of San Miguel, where about 90% of the residents originally come from rural communities, many people have livestock to supplement their family’s meals. And so not only street dogs but also other animals wander through the park and damage the tender shoots of the newly planted trees.
“What we need most right now to put up wire fencing to protect the trees,” says Magdalena Perez, social worker at Casa Girasoles, a community center that serves five low-income neighborhoods around and including San Luis Rey: Santa Cecilia, FranciscoVilla, Insurgentes and Montes de Loreto. “We want not only to provide green areas in these communities that have none, but also to instill ecological consciousness. And we want to provide recreational spaces for children, so our next priority is playground equipment.”As deluxe housing developments crop up all around San Miguel, rents and prices for basic needs soar far beyond the reach of people earning the minimum wage of $48 pesos per day. Just as globalization and policies like NAFTA have forced many campesinos off their land into urban areas, real estate speculation and the influx of foreign capital in traditional cities like San Miguel forces low-income inhabitants out of the desirable central areas into outlying districts. Thus the growth of communities like Santa Cecilia has outstripped the availability of public services. Ironically, most of the adults who live in these impoverished areas are employed in San Miguel, as domestic help or in construction, or they migrate to the U.S. to work.Casa Girasoles is a unique project that exemplifies what can be done with very minimal resources backed up by local support and commitment.
A state program for “Marginalized Urban Zones” (ZUMAR) funds only two small salaries, to coordinate self-help services and educational activities. Through the unremitting efforts of the staff and local volunteers, Casa Girasoles has initiated and provides a community space for a number of programs: a small health-care clinic, bakery, sewing workshop, beauty salon, and a number of classes for adults and children.For adults there are aerobics and dance classes, and for children, English, theatre, art and martial arts. Although these types of classes are available in San Miguel, many residents of the areas around Casa Girasoles cannot afford the 8-peso bus fare to and from town (that’s equivalent to an hour of work for many residents), much less the enrollment fees. All the classes at Casa Girasoles community center are free for local residents, with a nominal fee charged for materials, and the teachers donate their expertise and time.The health clinic provides free medical consultations and low-cost therapeutic massages and natural medicines prepared by local women, three of whom have recently completed a 2-year course given by a national network of traditional healers.
In the bakery, a group of women make whole-wheat bread, both for auto-consumption and to sell in the streets of San Miguel, thus promoting better nutrition for their families as well as providing some income. Negotiations are under way with the Mujeres Productoras group, to sell fresh bread at the Ya Tsedi Behña store in San Miguel. The sewing and beauty workshops provide services primarily to local women.In order to fund the purchase of materials for the park, the community of Santa Cecilia, with the support of Casa Girasoles, Mujeres Productoras and the Center for Global Justice, are sponsoring a benefit tour and luncheon on Wednesday, March 28, starting at 12 noon. Participants will first visit the park, and then proceed to the Casa Girasoles community center to visit and meet with the people who work in the clinic, bakery, and classrooms. Translation will be provided. A lunch of homemade Mexican food, prepared by women of Santa Cecilia, will also give visitors an opportunity to discuss the park and other projects and to exchange experiences and ideas.