The following piece is part of our ‘Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series that will run until Mother’s Day 2014. We start with a women’s group in Nogales, Mexico Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC).

WomensDayQuoteSometimes when we dig deep to understand the root causes of our problems, making change seems impossible, but in Nogales, Mexico women are building community with full a holistic understanding of the challenges they see everyday, and with hope for the future.

The free trade agreements of the 1980s and 90s wreaked havoc on traditional economies in the global south and the industrial economies of the United States. Among the many problems the free trade model developed, the free flow of capital and products across borders hit impoverished communities particularly hard as restrictions on movement of people across those same borders made it impossible to ‘take advantage’ of the promises of economic prosperity.

mpr-nafta-BorderExplorerIt is now common understanding that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now in it’s 20th year, destroyed local agricultural economies in Mexico. Corn, the traditional and cherished  staple of life in most of rural Mexico, was ‘dumped’ in the markets from U.S.  industrial, “Big Agriculture” operations at cheaper prices than farmers in Mexico could produce. With their livelihoods decimated, farmers headed north across the U.S./Mexico border, picking up low paid employment to send remittances back to Mexico to feed their families. Women too headed north to shanty bordertowns to work in the booming, NAFTA-induced maquila industries, where U.S. and Asian companies set up shop to assemble electronics and clothing, taking advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental enforcement.

In a global economy organized for maximum profit, community, health and environmental resilience are the first to be sacrificed.

To make matters worse, a booming trade in illegal drugs and weapons took root in regions where the lack of community and opportunity for massive profits made that an inevitable result. In response, both the U.S. and Mexican governments militarized the border and invested in repression rather than health and safety – creating an even more insecure environment for community to flourish. The focus of the war on drugs actually increased the profit margins and the violence necessary to build the drug cartel empires, which now has caused over 80,000 deaths in Mexico.

Because the economic pressure to seek employment in the United States is coupled with intensive militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, thousands are dying in the desert, attempting to enter the United States. A conscious U.S. policy has pushed migrants to cross through the harshest, most inhospitable region –  creating a ‘deterrence-by-death’ tragedy to undocumented immigration.

The community of Bella Vista in Nogales, Mexico

The community of Bella Vista in Nogales, Mexico

But in this bleak and discouraging setting, women are doing something truly remarkable in Nogales, Sonora, across the Arizona border. They say ¡NO MAS MUERTES! (NO MORE DEATHS!), and are building the community they needed for health, resilience and safety.

The Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC) is a grassroots community center of primarily women and children in the impoverished Nogales neighborhood of Bella Vista.

Once members of the Center gathered together and realised that young children in the community were being left at home alone as their fathers crossed the border for work and their mothers put in long hours in the maquila factories, they started providing a place for kids to be during the day – with healthy meals, outdoor games, singing, theater and non-violence training.

Children spend the day together at HEPAC

Children spend the day together at HEPAC

Little by little they have built a thriving community where everyone contributes. When a group that survived by picking garbage joined the Center, for instance, they worried that they had nothing to offer. But now beautiful green houses are constructed out of reclaimed water and soda bottles to create shade for vegetable seedlings.

HEPAC’s vision is to create a healthy community in Nogales where people don’t feel forced to risk arrest and death in the desert in a desperate attempt to provide for their families. They see everyone’s strengths and abilities as a resource for the whole community, and have grown to provide nutritional workshops, adult education, kids camps and women’s micro-economic projects.

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You can support the project by buying this beautiful copper necklace made by women to commemorate and honor the migrants who have died in the desert, and to provide a source of income for the members of the community center. We’ve brought some to Global Exchange, and are selling them at cost to support the work of HEPAC. Place an order (limited amounts available).