Stories from the Casa and Sr. Maru

The Haitian Village (March 2022)

Dear friends of the Casa de los Pobres in Tijuana, Mexico from Fr. Gil Gentile . . .

Here is another update from Sr. Maru Espinoza about what the sisters are now calling “The Haitian Village of Santa Julia”. There are more than 130 Haitian refugees (men, women, and children) living on a small parcel of land that the Casa owns and where the sisters used to hold catechism classes. The sisters have provided small tents and a large pavilion-type tent that provides some extra protection for the small tents. The sisters from the Casa also provide all the food, blankets, medicine and household goods that the refugees need. Here are Sr. Maru’s words that she sent on the 1st Sunday of Lent:

I had not written about the Haitians because even though things are progressing, in a way they remain the same. They are now finally enjoying access to water, thank God. We have put some sinks outside so that the women would not be sitting on the ground, washing. So now they are very happy with the sinks. The little kitchen that Sr. Armida’s brother and workers from the Casa and the City of Mercy worked on is finally finished, thank God. Now we need new appliances, such as a stove and a refrigerator. The electricity is also finally working. There are big lights on in what we are calling “The Haitian Village of Santa Julia,” and now at night they are not in the dark, thank God, But now we have a big dilemma: since they have access to basic electricity, they have pulled wires and there are endless cables in the camp in their tents. Yes, each one has a cell phone that needs to be charged.

The other day a man sent me a video to tell me that his tent had gotten wet, and that he had slept standing up. I was very concerned when I saw the cables and wires that he had on the floor of the tent and with all the water from the recent rains flooding the floor of the tent.

Armida and I had already seen this serious and dangerous problem, and we hope that the electrician ends up with a good solution. For now, the HBA (Haitian Bridge Alliance) brought them some solar and battery-powered lamps, so that they have light inside their tent/camp, but obviously those will not charge the cell phones.

 We also have a sick man there at the camp who has not been eating or sleeping. Armida and I took him to the doctor and after analysis and X-rays, it showed that he had TB and HIV. Two groups that help migrants were and still are going to provide medical consultations.

Yesterday, the HBA group threw a little party for the children. It surely is difficult for them not knowing the language, so it is a good thing that the HBA is coming. Although there are some Haitians who do know Spanish.

Padre, I don’t think I told you that almost daily we are sending new tents and tarps to the refugees. Very often, the zipper on the entrance to the tent breaks or tears. I think that’s because they use it a lot to get in and out.

Rice, beans, chicken, meat, canned sardines, spaghetti, oil, vinegar, are things that we are sending almost every day.

 Also, we are sending more blankets too, because the ones we’ve already sent get wet, and in this rainy, cold weather there is no way to dry them. They also use the blankets to put on the “walls” of the tents or at the “doors” or the entrances to their tents.

Haitian Refugees in Colonia Santa Julia, Tijuana, Mexico (January 2022)

Update from Sr. Maru Espinoza, MFP:                                                                           

“Every day we are doing something for the Haitian community – ‘the little Haitian town of Colonia Santa Julia’. We are very grateful for the help of Mr. Memo Gomez (a brother cursillista). We bought 3 outdoor storage units, that are like little houses, and he very generously picked them up from Lowe’s and brought them across the border – no easy task!”

“On Wednesday I went to visit the people in Santa Julia. There weren’t many men around and only a few women sitting outside of their tents washing pots and other things. I went to look at the portable bathrooms that we rented and the portable showers. I met three women washing their clothes seated on the ground, and they seemed happy, and they greeted me warmly.

I met a man and a woman there who speak Spanish. We spoke about life in the camp, and I asked him if he would be willing to prepare a list of things that the people need and send it to me, and he agreed. He is also the head of one of the teams. He sent me the list which was long: rice, sugar, chicken and many other items. There were so many that we had to send them with one of the trucks from the Casa because they wouldn’t fit in a taxi. When there are just a few things we ask them to come to pick them up and return by taxi which we pay for.

During my visit I learned that there were 4 sick people. One of them was the sister of the man who is helping to make the lists of necessary food items and other things. She had body pains and a fever. Imagine! There are 20 children and three pregnant women in the group. In total, there are 130 people! We quickly contacted the Director of Health and asked if his department could send out a doctor to assess the situation, but he said that he couldn’t do that and that the sick people would have to go to the public, General Hospital which is extremely far from Santa Julia.

We are following up with a new kitchen for the people. Sister Armida’s brother with some of the workmen from the City of Mercy in Rosarito (where the sisters have their hospital for mental health, Hospital San Ignacio de Loyola) are working to make the kitchen bigger because there are so many women preparing food for so many.

We have also bought large tarps and the people have covered their tents with them so that they won’t be so cold at night. The camp is located on a very high point and the wind and the cold just penetrate everything.

-Sr. Maru, MFP

Reopening of St. Ignatius Hospital for Mental Health (February 2022)

by Fr. Gil Gentile, SJ

Dear friends,

Below is a translation of an email that Sr Maru from the Casa de los Pobres sent me about the first step to fully reopening the St. Ignatius Hospital for Mental Health at the Ciudad de Misericordia City of Mercy) in Rosarito, Baja California. They have a new medical director who will train psychiatric interns at the hospital. They will be open for now only 1 or 2 days a week for outpatient treatment – that is until they have sufficient funds to reopen once again as a fully residential treatment hospital:

“Well, the long-awaited day finally arrived (Feb 2) to celebrate the Mass for the reopening of the San Ignacio Hospital (for mental health at the City of Mercy in Rosarito). Father Pepe was the celebrant, and we had a very nice day. Also accompanying us were Teresa Doyle, Sr. Kathy Warren, the Director of the Office for Religious (of the Diocese of San Diego) and Memo and Ruth Gomez, who were invited to represent your group (from Sacred Heart in Coronado working on the 1 million meal food packaging event at Cathedral High School in June and helping the Casa in other ways). There were about 10 people from UABC, the Autonomous University of Baja California, and the place was filled but not overcrowded.    

“Father Pepe gave a blessing to the young doctors (who will be working at the hospital). Unfortunately, the new Director of the hospital was not able to attend because he has Covid. Afterwards we had a meal with tamales and champurrado to celebrate the reopening and to mark the end to the traditional, popular Christmas Season. This is a customary meal that we celebrate on the day of Candelaria or Candlemas (the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple.)

“Two of our guests were women from Los Angeles who belong to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Ana and Silvia. During the meal they gave their testimony because both have had their children admitted to the San Ignacio Hospital. It was very good to hear them, especially for the young doctors, and they expressed why they preferred Hospital San Ignacio to other places. One said that when she arrived at the Hospital, she felt a great emotion because she felt that she was reaching a place of hope for her and her son. The other one begged the doctors to take care of her children; it was very emotional. A teacher from the University also expressed her gratitude for the reception and thus each of the young doctors expressed their thanks and joy for being in that place.

“On other things, our wonderful new friend and benefactor, Memo Gomez, was very excited to tell us that he spoke with a man from Tijuana who could possibly give us a good price on vegetables and fruits. That would be excellent, because you know how much they are needed for the dining room at the Casa and also for the Haitians. He also said that he had spoken with two Cuban doctors who live in Tijuana and are willing to help. I mentioned that I wish that they would be willing to go to Santa Julia to see the Haitians because nobody else wants to go. They are rightly cautious, but there are just so many who are in need! We already ordered thermometers so they can take their temperatures themselves.

“Things seem to be going well with the Haitians. The expanded kitchen is almost finished. Sr. Armida has been going from government office to government office for permits for the sewers and water; and the Mexican offices almost always say “come back tomorrow” and so Rosa (Sr. Armida’s assistant) and Armida go from one place to another, I feel sorry for them! We have sent mats to the refugees, and they have liked that a lot. Poor people! It has been very cold at night!

Let us continue to pray for them and for our ability to help them. And we continue to pray for all of our benefactors.”                          

-Sr. Maru Espinoza, MFP

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Haitian Refugees are Being Helped by the Casa and Other Groups (January 2022)

Sr. Maru Espinoza, MFP from the Casa de los Pobres in Tijuana:

“Well, more and more of the Haitian refugees continue to come to us asking for our help. Poor people! They come and they come, but thanks be to God there are more people who have responded generously to help us help them!

Donations have been coming in to help the Haitians. Very good! A group from Orange County that belongs to a Haitian Bridge Alliance organization came to organize the refugees bring them tents, food and donations.

And some people from San Diego have visited them. They organized them into 9 teams so that everyone can work better, and it is going well according to what they tell me.

Yesterday, a group from the Lions Club came and they put up a very large tent to protect them from the cold. In that large tent, they can put their smaller tents that we purchased for them.

And as always, we trust in Divine Providence!” – Madre Maru, MFP

Fr Gil responded:

“As always, what you are doing are the Works of Mercy – extending the hand of Jesus to these poor people. Thanks be to God that there are other people who are willing to help in so many different ways! All for the Glory of God!” -Padre Gilberto

If you’d like to help, please Donate here. 

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Christmas Mass to be via Zoom, Reports Fr. Gil Gentile (December 2021)

“Because of this pandemic and now the new variant, the sisters and volunteers are very cautious. And so rather than the grand Christmas fiesta with an outdoor Mass for many hundreds that I have been privileged to celebrate for almost 40 years, tomorrow I will host a Zoom Mass for the volunteers, medical staff and the sisters at the Casa, and others of the MFP sisters around Tijuana.

They will also serve pan dulce and hot chocolate to the people at the gates of the Casa.

The sisters have asked for special prayers since many Haitian refugees have been coming AGAIN to the Casa looking not only for food, clothing and medical care but also desperately needing a place to stay.

Four or five years ago, with the first wave of Haitian migrants to Tijuana, the sisters had almost 200 of these refugees living at the Casa. They were sleeping in every nook and cranny of the Casa – in the chapel, the dining rooms, the clothing room etc.

There was also a group living in a far-flung Colonia, Santa Julia, where the sisters taught catechism and would bring food, clothing and medicines to the people living there.

It went on for almost a year. Little by little, these Haitians were able to find low-wage jobs and places to stay and moved out of the Casa.

Now, a new wave of these refugees is looking to the Casa for help. And the sisters and volunteers of the Casa de los Pobres keep on keeping on.  🙂

God bless them!

The Poor of the Casa Face Unimaginable Challenges — Even in Death  (May 2013)

A woman named Nelsi A., 56 years of age, died suddenly of heart failure, on April 19, 2013, in her small home next to the Casa de los Pobres.

She lived with her husband who is older in age.  He sits in a wheelchair that he cannot move, as the floor is only dirt.

Nelsi came to the Casa for Bodega Day every week to get her food, and often she asked for her medicines for diabetes in the clinic.  She came everyday for breakfast, and took some to her husband.  Every Monday in our dining room, we give a banana at breakfast, all peeled. Nelsi came all the time to the Casa to collect the banana husks to use them to mix with dirt for the little plants that she had, and that she cared for to sell to get money.

When we learned she had died, we tried to find out where her body was.  The officials took her to the proper place after death for arrangements. Since there is no family around, she was going to be buried in the common place for the unknown.

Our Sisters have been dealing with the various people and offices so we can obtain the body to give her a Christian burial.

It has been very difficult, since there is no identification found by her husband at home. We keep trying and hoping for an acceptable identification.  Please pray that we do find it.

Sister Armida

Those Helped by the Casa Give Back

Enedina and Leonor Gonzales brought a symbolic donation for Casa de los Pobres.  They said when they arrived in Tijuana, they came to the Casa to eat and started to learn how to write. They are giving the donation with pleasure and gratitude.  Thank you!