My sister moved to Mexico City with her husband and two young boys about a year ago. Living in an unfamiliar country, far from her family and her friends has been an adjustment. With the recent earthquakes in Mexico, our hearts have been in knots. We received a heartfelt e-mail from her after what was a hectic and stressful few days. The reason I share it with you today is because I found it inspiring that during times of despair we seem to find hope. People come together to do good. While we are far away, and there is not much many of us can do (besides donations, thoughts and prayers), we can set out to spread that good. Help a neighbor, call a friend and tell them you love them, smile, donate clothes and toys to the less fortunate, pay for the car behind you in the Starbucks line, hold the door for others, big or little, get creative…but let’s be good.
Where do I begin? So much to tell you and so many emotions. I was supposed to leave for a business trip yesterday morning but after the earthquake I just couldn’t bring myself to be away from the family. I wasn’t sure if after a day or so I would reschedule my flight once things were safe, but even then, I just felt that I needed to be here in Mexico and that I couldn’t be somewhere else. It’s a strange feeling in the city. A bit like NYC after 9/11. There is a sadness and a stillness, but at the same time an enormous spirit of compassion and togetherness. I feel like my heart is here and this is my home now. These are my neighbors and my kids’ friends and their parents. This is our community. I really just still cannot get the thought out of my head that a school full of kids collapsed and that by pure and complete luck, it wasn’t my kids’ school. That I was so blessed and lucky to be able to be with my kids just seconds after the quake and hold them both in my arms safe and sound. That even my inconveniences were banal compared to what others were living. That I had no cell service, no transportation and that my kids had to walk a couple of miles with me to get home – all the while complaining and at points laying down on the ground because it was naptime and they were tired – all were insignificant compared to what I knew others were going through at that moment.
People continue to dig through the rubble and some people are still supposedly alive. The amount of volunteers is amazing and humbling. Everyone is doing their part. Mexicans and foreigners alike. People from all over the world flew here to help the rescue efforts. It’s amazing to me how people dedicate their lives to help others. Makes me feel so humbled by their generosity. They leave their kids and families to come risk their lives for complete strangers. It’s so incredible and hard to fathom. There are truly special people in this world… men and women of service (firefighters, rescue workers, nurses, doctors, etc). We owe them all so much gratitude.
Last night someone sent me a video of a guy (a famous Mexican comedian) who was at a shelter talking about the displaced kids and how they have nothing, and encouraging people to gather toys for them. It really hit home for me as I can’t even imagine what it would be like to sit in a huge gymnasium with Max and Lucas for two days with NOTHING…. no toys, no books, no TV, no activities and only a feeling of despair. It would probably drive me crazy and I can’t imagine the kids! (In all honesty, I think THEY would drive me crazy). One thing led to another and I created a WhatsApp group of friends and moms from Lucas’ pre-school who all wanted to help. We all decided to bring toys and activities for the kids (coloring books, puzzles, etc) and meet at the school to organize everything and pack it up and take it to a shelter with kids. It started as 10 of us and before I knew it there were almost 50 people asking to come by, dropping off bags of toys and stuffed animals and posting it in Facebook and other group chats. Complete strangers came and donated and offered to help. Both moms and dads stayed home from work to help. We all took our kids with us to help (which really wasn’t much help, but it was in an effort to teach them about giving back, appreciation, and compassion). It was a way to feel useful and do SOMETHING other than stay home and watch the devastating news on TV.
Eventually we had so many donations we couldn’t fit them in our cars. We had to ask for help with transportation and find trucks to take the boxes. We then began our adventure to find shelters that had kids and that would be willing to take toys (some shelters are only focused on the essentials and vital needs, which is understandable). We tried calling the shelters to find out but none of them even have phone numbers and the ones that did were obviously not picking up. We began our trek through the city to the heart of where the most destruction occurred in DF to an area called Roma/Condesa. The streets were full of volunteers, centers receiving donations, and everyone was wearing surgical masks in order not to breath in the pollution in the air from all the fallen buildings. The smell was of concrete and dry wall. Regular people with hard hats and shovels volunteering almost on every block. Incredibly well coordinated donation centers with hundreds of people lined up to receive and sort. Unfortunately the first two centers we visited were not taking any donations as they were saturated and needed to take the night to sort through the boxes they already had and get a better sense for what they needed before they accepted more. (Ultimately this is a good problem!).
After driving around in the rain in a caravan, we did some major Internet stalking and figured out one more center which might be in need and have children. We arrived to the center in Benito Juárez which was a sports facility turned into a shelter. They gladly welcomed everything and confirmed that they had plenty of children who would love the toys! An assembly line of volunteers lined up to help take all the bags and boxes into the building. I was able to make my way to the end of the line to the final point where the boxes were received and where the families were living. It was so moving to see them there… to imagine what they were living and all they had just lost. It brought me to tears, but also made me so happy to know that hopefully the boxes of toys might alleviate a tiny bit of the sadness those kids were feeling. Throughout the day various opportunities arose to send the boxes to donation centers. I was so reluctant because I didn’t want to take the risk that the toys might not end up in the hands of those who needed them in a timely manner. That they might sit in boxes for days or weeks until a large nonprofit organization had enough time to sort through the boxes and decide where to send them. I became slightly obsessed with wanting to make sure that I could see with my own eyes that these items found an appropriate home right away. I was so lucky to be surrounded by a group of people that felt the same way and were willing to continue late into the day/night until we found the right place. That’s why seeing the shelter and actually having been able to drop them there ourselves was so emotional for all of us.
I feel so blessed to have been able to be part of the relief efforts, even if just in a tiny way. It feels important to be involved and to take part. I am so proud of my boys for their help and for having chosen the toys they wanted to give away to the “niños sin casas.” It was so incredible to see their faces when I tried to explain why we needed to do this and what had happened to these kids. I’m not sure they totally understood, but their hearts were in the right place and they too felt special for being part of something bigger and being involved. Various times they asked me “mami, me estoy portando bien? Am I being nice and kind? Are you proud of me?” The heaviness feels a bit lighter when you see the relief efforts. I wish we could do more. I hope we can all continue to do more. ❤️