Mexico (MNN) – In 2017, Mexico saw one of the highest homicide rates in several years with nearly 30,000 murders. Just recently, the US State Department issued a travel warning for five Mexican states. One of the main factors in this recent spike in violence is drug trafficking.
Sadly, children are not exempt from the consequences of illegal drug activity. Compassion International recognizes these challenges in their outreach to communities in Mexico. As is the case with their work in other nations, Compassion is working to break children out of poverty and the challenges that go with it, in Jesus name.
Snapshot of Mexico’s drug problem
Mexico’s location has a lot to do with the level of drug activity taking place within its borders. Drugs typically travel up, either from South America or Mexico itself, into the United States where there is heavy consumption of drugs. These include marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. In fact, Mexico is the leading foreign supplier of many drugs including marijuana and cocaine. Less than a decade ago, the sale of marijuana from Mexico into the United States generated the largest income for drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.
As more and more states in the US legalize marijuana and more people grow it within US borders, drug cartels are switching up their game, turning to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.
But the problem isn’t just about the passage of drugs through Mexico or the violence this activity creates. There is plenty of drug use going on within Mexico, especially among younger generations.
Mexican youth particularly vulnerable
Omar Villagran is the National Director of Mexico for Compassion International. They work with nearly 200 local churches of different denominations in eight different states. They focus on communities where poverty is prevalent in order to reach tens of thousands of children in need. But drugs are just one of the many problems they encounter.
He says, “One of the biggest [challenges] is the family disintegration. In the very poor communities, families disintegrate because father and mother– they have to work. And sometimes the father has to migrate to other places and so the families are by themselves and the mother has to work for the children.”
He explains that the lack of male leadership is taking its toll in these communities. And because there are few resources in these areas, some youths will leave home to try and find better opportunities in education and employment in bigger cities. But, Villagran says, they don’t have the resources to pay for education in the cities.
These conditions create fertile ground for another issue: “There is a presence of drug dealers in most of the communities where we are working.”
And their presence in these communities directly impacts kids in a couple of ways. First, Villagran says, “It creates lots of problems with the students because sometimes drug dealers begin to involve them very young as what they call ‘hawks’ (that we say in Spanish ‘alcones’). They are those children that help them to advise if the police [are] close or the military presence is there.”
Secondly, Villagran says is this: “The teenagers are beginning to consume the drugs. And in Mexico, the drug consumption begins early and normally it begins with alcohol. And then marijuana, and then cocaine. And that begins around 12-14 years old… So it’s a big problem in Mexico– that the traffic is transforming to be now a consumption problem.”
The drugs, poverty, and loss of family structure has all but blotted out hope in these communities. But Compassion International is working to inject hope back into the lives of people caught in the cycle of poverty. The first step, Villagran says, is to bring the families into what is going on through the Compassion’s child sponsorship programs.
“We always try to incorporate or involve the parents in the children’s education. And so, what we do is we create different activities in order to incorporate the parents.”
Secondly, the Compassion projects work to address the heart issues that have led many people down dark paths.
“We are working to raise self-esteem because family disintegration is a big cause for the children to be involved in drugs. The feeling of being lonely or lack of good self-esteem,” Villagran explains.
The projects help to give families, especially their children, a sense of belonging and purpose. Along with education, medical care, and good meals, the projects in Mexico include field trips, sports, and other activities to engage children with purpose. Villgran says they are bringing something positive to these communities when they teach children life principles like excellence, stewardship, dignity, and self-respect.
But for true and total transformation, Villagran says these children must know Jesus. The Gospel, he says, helps people see a different perspective on life. And so these programs are also giving children an opportunity to learn more about Jesus.
There are a number of ways you can respond to this story. Start with prayer. Pray for Mexico as they grapple with the violence and drug abuse taking place within its borders. Pray for the leadership to develop proactive policies to fight these trends. Ask God to transform children through the Compassion program. Finally, pray for the consumer countries like the United States to deal with their side of the problem.
Header photo courtesy of Compassion International.