Mexico (Buckner) – [EDITOR’S NOTE: This two-part Buckner International post shares the story of how workshops, tutoring, and volunteering have affected one family in particular.]
Under a warm sun, Lluvia Citlalli Hernandez Aguilar, the sole Buckner social worker for the Chiapas state of Mexico, makes her way down the steep gravel and rock road that descends into the Tuxtla-Gutierrez neighborhood known as Trituradora, or “Rock Crusher.”
Hernandez passes several homes before entering the fenced yard of Selene Castellanos, 19. Her home is remarkable among its dreary, unpainted neighbors. It’s a mix of cinder block, a more durable construction material, and tin. The house is painted a bright aqua color. The front garden lining the gravel driveway is alive with color.
As Hernandez walks up the small drive, she’s greeted by Castellanos and her mother, Guille, who are selling fruit and vegetables from the racks of their miselanea, or small store, in the home’s front. On the left, adjacent to her home is a large, open room, where she beckons Castellanos to join her. It’s another feature that makes Castellanos’ home so unique among others. Not only is it her home, built by local Buckner volunteers, it’s also the Buckner Family Hope Center that serves her neighbors.
As Castellanos’ home is unique among others, so is her story. Earlier this year, Castellanos came to a nearby location where Buckner was conducting a project, asking for help for herself and counseling for her family of five, who she said were “stressed.” She also wanted help with the family’s home, which she recalls was “a disaster.”
“Physically, with what we had we were making it work; we were trying to succeed,” she says. “As a family we needed more. We didn’t like the conditions we were in. We practically lived in a shelter, because it only had three walls and a roof; the floor was dirt. Due to the slope of the land, there was a lot of water coming in. It would practically flood the house.”
While their home was a wreck, her family life was similarly stressed. “It was very conflictive. We have always had our faults, but then we had more because of those conditions. We were more stressed because we didn’t like how we were living.
“My father was upset because he felt he could not offer us more,” she remembers. “My mother also had to see my little siblings beg, so she also asked more from my father. My little brother began to become very focused on video games [to escape], and my little sister became very rude. I was almost never home; it was better that way, to always be out of the home.”
Castellanos went to the Buckner project, which was being run out of a nearby building, for help with her education.
Volunteers began tutoring her, and the change was immediate. She began to succeed in school and before long, started to help the children around her.
Juan Carlos Millan, country director for Buckner Mexico, reflects on the Castellanos family transformation; he’s been following their progress since they were among the first helped when Buckner Mexico began work in Chiapas two years ago.
“Her family is really different,” he says. “Her father now acts like the father. He was never involved in things like Buckner and never involved in their home. Now they can tell you they all have more communication. They can be a family, more comfortable; they feel safe at home.”
The Castellanos family success story is indicative of what Buckner Mexico hopes to do in Chiapas: achieve self-sufficiency emotionally, physically, economically, or educationally. And for Castellanos, giving back not only meant volunteering as a tutor, it also meant serving as the host family for the Hope Center and as a donor for the land it sits on.
“For me it is a great joy, a great happiness, a blessing…a great blessing,” she emphasizes when asked what the Hope Center attached to her home can do for her colonia.
Pointing to the Castellanos family’s progress, Millan says, “Our vision is to transform hearts. We want to change everything in the community and even in the family, but it happens if you start to transform hearts. Selene very much does exactly this. She can influence even the community. She understood she can even influence the country, if she pays attention to what she’s doing. She moved her family to listen and make the changes that are important. And they influence the community, tell the families that they can do more and together make many changes.”
The Hope Center is the platform Buckner uses to reach deep into the families of Trituradora with services, aid and hope.
Along with tutoring children, one of the goals of the Hope Center is to provide something for each part of the family in order to strengthen the whole.
“Buckner provides workshops and discussions with the mothers and fathers because generally, in this area, the father works all day, and the mother is in charge of taking care of the kids,” Hernandez says. “So there comes a point when it becomes stressful. Part of our project is to strengthen the marriage of the father and mother. We understand that they work, but we program the activity so that they can ask for time off.”
Looking at the Hope Center and the neighborhood it serves, Hernandez reflects on what the place means to the community and moving families from clients to those with servant hearts.
“To build this, everybody helped. I mean everybody,” she emphasizes. “Some think it was the mason who did it. No, some were painting, some were picking up in the garden with the children. We have a volunteer who is a biologist, and he told us when to plant the plants, and we came and did it. The children did it with so much love that everything grew.
“It is beautiful for us to see,” Hernandez says. “There were times when we would get stressed, but whenever someone was stressed, there was someone else who would pick them up. It carried on and became a chain in which everyone supported one another because we got through the moments of stress.”
Because of the educational help she received and the servants heart she had, Castellanos “began to develop a taste for education. I discovered a passion to study,” which led her to finishing high school and has helped her in being admitted to one of the area’s top universities, Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, to study environmental engineering.
But her “biggest” transformation, in her words, is the change in her relationship to Jesus Christ.
Prior to working with Buckner, she says her spiritual condition “wasn’t very clear. I did not know about Christ. Yes, I had my own concept of God, but, like everyone says, ‘I know God and so I believe in God.’ But I think that He is the one who helped change who I was. His love, only his love, is what transformed me completely.
“Before, I felt I was a person going through the world without a destination. But now, I know I have someone who listens to me, who sees me, with whom I can talk to and tell all my troubles to. From what I have read in the Bible, well, we can see what He is asking from us, and it is there where I am noticing what I am doing.”