Using food availability as a measure, more than half the population of Mexico lives below the poverty line. Within Mexico, on the remote coastline of the Baja peninsula, sits the city of La Paz, with a population of 250,000. The area attracts expatriates and adventurous whale watchers but also impoverished internal migrants seeking opportunity. Many families live in poverty without running water or electricity. In the surrounding hill communities (colonias), children often go hungry. Of families that are able to pay school fees, a small percentage can provide funds for school lunches. Circumstances worsened when Hurricane Odile hit the city in September 2014, flattening makeshift homes in the colonias.
In the center of La Paz is La Ciudad de Los Ninos y Ninas (Boys and Girls Town Children's Home), founded in 1952 as a shelter and place of education for orphans and youth from at-risk home environments. The orphanage houses 50-plus youth ages 5 to 22, and includes a primary school. Many of the children have been victims of physical, mental and emotional distress and abuse. Some have disabilities.
In 2013, wellness educator and practitioner Lynda Boozer began volunteering at La Ciudad de Los Ninos y Ninas and building relationships with local community groups and social service providers. Drawing on her background in cross-cultural programming, peacemaking and community building, she understood La Ciudad's desire to transform a large and vacant dirt lot adjacent to the orphanage compound. The lot is about half the size of a city block. The vision is for the phased development of a sustainable garden with raised beds, peace-themed mural, green space, play structures, and platform for special events, performances and celebrations. The dream for the orphanage includes ongoing experiential education camps, staff support on increasing the diversity of fresh produce in the children's meals, and urban agriculture as a potential source of sustainable income. With development of the orphanage as anchor, a network of relationships can be nurtured with volunteers at schools in the hill neighborhoods helping to meet the need for meals.
at an art-based workshop held in early 2014.
As an outgrowth of volunteer work in 2013, Lynda and other U.S. volunteers conducted an art-based workshop in early 2014 focused on personal development and the environment. Students created their own mosaic stepping stones. New relationships were established with local resource providers Ecology Project International and Raiz de Fondo, a non-profit supporting learning and leadership in gardening and sustainability. A collaboration is in place with volunteers at a local "colonia" primary school, Escuela Nueva Creacion, for a meals program in 2015.
In November 2014, through a collaboration with Mothering Across Continents, two Charlotte, NC-based groups identified Stepping Stones Mexico as a focal project for their philanthropic efforts. The Student Congress and OCS groups of East Mecklenburg High School, where 20% of students speak Spanish, are teaming up to fund raised beds within the orphanage compound. They aspire to share their own experiences with sustainable gardens as social enterprise through ongoing communications and a Study Abroad trip to La Paz. In 2015, the Mother Earth Group (parent company of restaurants, cafes and catering services) is devoting a portion of proceeds to Stepping Stones Mexico through its innovative initiative with Mothering Across continents, called "Passionate Plates."
mural, green space, play structures,
and performance space.
Project catalyst Lynda Boozer is working closely with La Ciudad Board members to craft a plan for the Stepping Stones Mexico park development. The physical structures, combined with arts workshops, staff and volunteer support, are grounded in what Lynda calls "connecting children to their deeper selves, one another, and the larger world." The gardens and park will stand as tangible representation of the growth and development potential of youth. The long-term goal is to use the success of Stepping Stones Mexico as a replicable model to meet similar needs elsewhere in Latin America.
Project catalyst Lynda Boozer holds an MS and DMin. She has been involved in international service since the late ‘80s. From 1993-95 Lynda served on the leadership team developing Manyanami ("we built it together") Peace Park, a still-vital community project in urban South Africa. Her personal mission is to "build passion and compassion in the world by inspiring a deep, embodied connection to all." She is particularly interested in the relationship between holistic wellness, internal peace and concepts of peace in the broader world.