Hammond Creek Middle School teacher's outreach efforts take her to rural Mexico

·3 min read

Aug. 30—As Jamie Gonzalez handed out food, clothes and toys in Mexico on Christmas Day, she was reminded again "how valuable service is, and that your time matters so much."

Her three children, who were also present, had wondered what they could do, and she responded, "Just help them have a good day," said Gonzalez, who teaches native Spanish speakers at Hammond Creek Middle School. "People need that," and her children played games, including running races, with the tribe's youth.

"The kids were just happy, and the parents were very humble," she said. "There's a great need."

Gonzalez, her husband Marco, their children and about 10 others ventured about 30 minutes outside Chihuahua City, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Chihuahua, to deliver needed items to the Rarámuri, also known as the Tarahumara, a group of indigenous people who "have lost their way of life and means of employment," she said. They traditionally lived in caves and other rock formations, they speak an indigenous language, and they had been farmers, but for several reasons they've been forced out of their natural surroundings, and the land on which they reside now doesn't have fertile soil.

"They're still very traditional in language and dress, so it's hard for them to integrate into a contemporary (lifestyle, but) they're a really cool people and very resilient," she said. "They struggle, but they work."

"They've had to make rudimentary homes out of mud bricks, and you see lots of them selling goods," like handmade baskets, on the streets of Chihuahua, she said. "Even the children work, selling gum (and/or) cleaning cars."

"It's a really sad situation, and I don't want to belittle poverty (in America), but (here) it's not like other countries," where it's much worse, she said. "It helps you to feel grateful for what we have in our community and country."

Gonzalez and her family have long been friends with Enrique and Jennifer Gova, dating to when Enrique was a pastor at Rock Bridge Community Church, where the Gonzalez family worships, and Jamie learned of the Christmas outreach to the Rarámuri through them, she said. A running group, Chihuahua Race Adventures, led by Gustavo Quezada-Terrazas, raised funds to buy the supplies through club fees and donations.

Gonzalez and her family were already in Mexico to visit her husband's family, who reside near Mexico City, and included a visit with the Rarámuri on their trip, she said.

"More than 100 people waited in line to receive."

Gonzalez has made a habit of volunteering and providing to those in need locally, often through her church, and sometimes just by herself, but this was a unique experience, she said. In fact, she plans to return and hopes to raise funds so more supplies can be taken to the Rarámuri.

She also might try to organize a similar project closer to where her husband's relatives live, or even in the Dalton area, she said.

"There's so much need everywhere."

Volunteering, serving and giving to those in need has long been "my heart," a trait inherited from her mother, Gonzalez said. "We were not very privileged, but we always had enough, and we always shared what we had with others."

"Anyone in need could reach out to her," Gonzalez said of her mother. "She was disabled, but we'd go to their homes with food (or) other gifts."

"I hope my children will be influenced by me like I was by my mother, instilling that desire to help, even if it's just your time," she said. "Volunteering is a good way to spend your time and think of others before yourself."