Manos Amigas is a mission group whose main goal is to support and assist the community in Anapra/Poleo, Mexico. It is a partnership between donors and sponsors in the United States and recipients in Anapra/Poleo. A core team in Anapra/Poleo listens and identifies needs in the community. Then a core team in Kansas City gathers resources and support to assist with the needs. We do not give handouts. We give a hand up. Families and students who receive support are expected to participate in the work of the mission. They build community by helping each other.
Anapra and Poleo are impoverished communities on the west side of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. One community blends into another and it is hard to tell the difference. Originally the government allowed people to squat on the land and build as they were able. The land is desert sand that is very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter, and very windy in the spring. Homes start with scrap materials such as pallet walls wrapped in tar paper and pieced carpet roofs. As time goes by families are able to purchase cinder blocks and pour cement floors one room at a time. Eventually they may be able to add a second story. There is no insulation to minimize the extreme heat and cold.
Utilities evolved from self-installed electric cables running through the streets to electric meters at each home. Water evolved from cement holding tanks outside to pipes in the house that freeze in the winters. Toilets evolved from outhouses to ecological toilets or septic tanks to a sewer system that is not adequate for the growth in the area and sometimes spills into the streets. About 10% of the streets are paved. The rest are sand that is sometimes packed and sometimes loose and strains the constitution of a vehicle. A neighbor told us that cars come to Anapra to die. Most people use the public bus system which are old worn-out school buses from the United States overfilled with riders.
The population in Anapra/Poleo fluctuates depending on the work available at the factories. The factories are owned by the United States, Korea and other countries. They assemble units to export using cheap labor. People from southern parts of Mexico like Durango and Oaxaca move to the border to make a better living at the factories. They make $65 – $80 per week working 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Through many years and more than a few changes, the mission has maintained a focus on listening to and working with the people in the colonias near Ciudad Juarez. The mission work began in 1983 at St. Mark’s Parish in Independence, Missouri with an outreach to communities in Texas and New Mexico. Work in the colonias began in 1990 under the name Guadalupe Association. Throughout the 1990’s a core group of people in the Kansas City area and Colonia Rancho de Anapra area worked together to meet the immediate needs of a growing community. The main focus was on medical assistance, educational support, and housing. A mission house called Casa de la Cruz was built on land generously donated by two sisters, Gregoria and Leonora de la Cruz. This house served as a gathering place for volunteers and provided a place for tutoring and other educational programs desperately needed in the community. A school sponsorship program began linking children in Anapra with sponsors in the Kansas City area, covering some of the financial burden of education. Casa de la Cruz is still managed through St. Mark’s Parish.
In the early 2000’s there was a revitalization of the core group of volunteers on both sides of the US-Mexico border. An immersion experience by parishioners from St. James Parish in Kansas City, Missouri opened new doors and new opportunities. The people in Colonias Rancho de Anapra and Lomas de Poleo expressed a need for a Vacation Bible School program to provide a safe place for the children to go and learn during the summer months. In 2004, the Colonia Lomas de Poleo saw its first VBS program. This VBS program lasted for 5 weeks and served 80 – 120 children each day. Other Kansas City area parishes including St. Matthew the Apostle, St. Sabina, Holy Family and Immaculate Conception joined with St. James to support this vigorous VBS program.
From 2005 to 2008, the VBS program continued to grow with more than 150 students attending each day. Adult and teen volunteers from Anapra/Poleo stepped forward to help while the Kansas City parishes worked to provide supplies, support, and additional hands during the weeks of VBS. The school sponsorship program continued as well, providing financial assistance to more families each year. A new volunteer house was built on the property of one of the core team members and the core group chose a new name for the mission: “Manos Amigas para una mañana mejor” or “Friendly Hands for a better tomorrow”.
Violence in Ciudad Juarez and surrounding areas kept the Kansas City volunteers away in the summers of 2009-2012, but the work of the mission continued. More volunteers in Anapra/Poleo stepped up and served 160-200 children each day for VBS. The school sponsorship arm of the mission celebrated the first college graduation of a sponsored student and more than 60 children benefited from sponsorship.
Volunteers from the Kansas City area returned in 2013 and were once again touched by the spirit of the people they encountered. Despite the brutal violence, the community continued to grow strong. A wonderful library built and supported by Lakeland Church complements a lovely public park. There is still great need, but the years of work and connection between Anapra/Poleo and the Kansas City area has produced many success stories. The work of Manos Amigas continues to change lives and hearts on both sides of the border, truly making it a better tomorrow for all.
The members of Lakeland Church are involved in school sponsorship and meeting many of the ongoing community needs.
Parishoners of St Sabina provide financial and prayer support for the mission. Children in the St Sabina VBS are very active in supporting the VBS in Mexico.
St James parishioners have a long history of supporting VBS, student sponsorship and winter heating needs of the mission.