In the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains lie towns and cities embedded with rugged character and history. There are also many and varied surrounding neighbourhoods, the population of which is undetermined. The poorest of the poor people who inhabit some of these 'Colonias' endure a harsh climate and an even harsher economy. Their homes are made from scavenged material, and provide little protection from the elements which send cold winds through gaping holes in their makeshift walls. Living with the climatic conditions that this mountainous area present, these gracious Mexicans rely on the charity of churches and service groups to provide some simple necessities. It is in two such towns in Northern Mexico that the District 7080 Shoebox Distribution Team undertakes to show Rotary generosity, as well as gain some insight into the contrast between our first-world conditions and the plight of our friends in many third-world countries.


This year, the team comprised the largest Canadian group that has visited the area to distribute gifts on Three Kings Day.  The Nogales Rotarians were undaunted by the size of the team, and the local hospitality towards the 18 members was as warm and enormous as ever! We welcomed especially into our group five young adults from Ontario who stood equally beside the seasoned Rotarians and worked energetically and definitively for the good of the project. I was honoured to work alongside these young people and I can envision many more successes as they take on unselfish challenges such as this one!


Our journey began on January 2nd as we made our way from our respective homes in southwestern Ontario. Thanks to the consistently sunny welcome provided by Rotarians there, we stayed a day or two in the Tucson, Arizona area to gather as a team, and orient ourselves - assessing and setting goals. Then, having arrived in the small city of Nogales, Mexico the team 'encamped' and planned to make reality out of the dream that has been in so many hearts. We embraced and worked toward a vision of Christmas gifts for the poor children of the area, knowing that what we are really doing is making a short-term dream into an unceasing ripple.


In the Colonias around Nogales, we made our way deep into the parts of the community that were accessible only with the help of off-road vehicles and experienced drivers. Thus on January 5th, we gave away tickets, promising boxes of gifts and bags of groceries to over 2000 local residents. We participated in a ten year tradition that Rotary has established in Nogales by giving gifts to the poor on Three Kings Day. 'Fiesta de Tres Reyes' is a celebration of gift-giving following the example of the Three Kings who brought their gifts to the Christchild in Bethlehem. Rotary honours this Mexican occasion by distributing the shoeboxes on the same feastday, and the local people anticipate the fiesta with great excitement. They congregated at the Nogales Rotary Clubhouse on January 6th , bringing their tickets to receive an age-appropriate gift or a basket of food items. The team was blessed endlessly by their hugs, smiles and clear expressions of gratitude for the simple presents.


Some of the original team then traveled on for a second project under the generous hospitality of Sierra Vista, Arizona Rotarians. We partnered for the first time in their Mexican 'Shoebox' distribution, and received the same cordial welcome for which Rotarians worldwide are famous. In that locale, in Agua Prieta Mexico, we gave away gifts and school supplies to students in four schools, and enjoyed a personal glance into the classrooms of the region, and interacting with both teachers and students of a variety of ages.


Arriving home to Canada happily exhausted and brimming with photographs and stories, the Shoebox Distribution Team is eager to share their experiences. To have witnessed the gratitude of each smiling child and thankful parent as they receive their presents, and to have worked side by side with other volunteers is life-changing and matchless. As we shared time with these gracious people I wondered endlessly why I feel such deep emotion in these simple moments, and I realise that we are called most importantly to walk side by side and share our respective journeys. That, I believe is how our lives are measured - in a hand warmly held, a mile traveled, a moment given, a smile that needs no translation. We place our footprint firmly beside these, our fellows, and try to leave only the best imprint behind ~ as they surely leave their footprint beside ours.


The team's purpose now is to convey this gratitude to all donors. It is also our common goal to continue to support the people of these Colonias, and with help, we will seek to address the various needs, whether Christmas gifts, food or other relevant projects in the future. To the clubs who support this international service project, as well as the individual and private donors ~ we are endlessly thankful to have participated and we are honoured to have been given this mission.

(Thanks to Pat Dimeck, RC Waterloo for sharing this article)