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It was April 29, 2022, and I was at the Vision in Action mental asylum in Juárez with my seventeen-year-old grandson, Chet. This was Hot Dog Day when volunteers from El Paso led by Art Moreno make their monthly visit to prepare a meal of hot dogs, sodas, and chips for the approximately 120 patients. This monthly feast is always a welcome break and a cause for great excitement.
Chet was struggling in school, so I brought him to Juárez to see what really tough lives are like. He immediately jumped in and helped serve the hot dogs. Then I noticed him talking to an attractive young woman. Named Erika Acosta, she was seventeen years old, and she had been here several times for drug issues. She gets clean, returns to her family in Juárez but soon relapses.
Her English was excellent, and she offered to teach Chet Spanish. He was awed by the whole experience. Later I ask friends in Juárez to help find some sort of aftercare program for patients like Erika, some way to watch over them so that they don’t relapse after they are released? But there is nothing available in the whole city.
I see Erika twice more. On October 28 she is in a cell because she has been acting out. There are two other young women there – Gabriela and Daniella. What is going to happen to them when they go home and then relapse again? Then the terrible news comes. On Monday, November 21 Erika is found dead; she has been strangled.
Breaking the vicious circle in Juárez
In the meantime, Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador better known as AMLO is much in the news. On Sunday, November 27 some 1.2 million Mexicans marched in a huge demonstration of support for him. This was to counter huge demonstrations against him two weeks earlier because of his proposal to take more control of the electoral system.
Despite the high crime rates and a weak economy his approval rating is about 60%; this compares to 41 % for President Biden. When I think of his first four years in office, however, I think of Erika and our total inability to find basic mental health services for her. I think of the west side of Juárez where I have never seen a government health care worker, where there are no clinics, no health services.
I think of Vision in Action which receives no government support even though it is the largest facility for the mentally ill in Juárez, a city of 1.2 million people. The answer, at least in the short term, is the same one that motivates the many humanitarian organizations that work on the border. Do it yourself. Don’t just complain because some political leader has failed to carry out his campaign promises.
In this case, we are putting together a proposal to expand the medical assistance available at Vision in Action and I predict that we will find supporters as we have for other projects. Will it be in time for young women like Gabriela and Daniella? Please contact me if you would like to help.