Over a five day period, February 18-22, 2017 Norris Hermsmeyer and Pam Hyink, President and Secretary, respectively, of the Boulder Mante Sister City committee returned for a visit to Mante to investigate safety conditions and discuss opportunities for reengaging with the Mante community. Through their trip, Norris and Pam found that four common myths about Mante and the sister city relationship are false. Moreover, life in Mante has returned to normal and is safe.
The Boulder Community Hospital suspended its annual medical campaign to Mante in 2011, citing a spike in drug-related gang activity in the Mante area. In concurrence with that decision, the Boulder-Mante Sister City committee also suspended visits to its sister city in Mexico. Since then, there have been several medical, cultural and teacher visitations by our friends from Mante to Boulder.
Myth #1: While conditions seem safe, people, particularly women, did not go out at night.
During the period from 2010 to 2014, the people of Mante drastically changed their lifestyle because of the gang related activity in the area. Most businesses closed down when it became dark and folks hunkered down in their homes until the following morning. Conditions have slowly changed in the past three years and conditions have returned to a normal state. Norris and Pam arrived in Mante on a Saturday evening to find a crowd of some 300 or so Mante folks gathered for entertainment in the main plaza area. Numerous vendors offered food service to the crowds. As we drove around the community later we noted some restaurants open past ten, a couple of 7-11 type stores and pharmacy’s that were open twenty-four hours per day.
When asked about the myth that women do not go out at night, or if they do go out at night they would not go alone, we learned that women, often accompanied with their children to be out at night in Mante. Most women would feel safe driving between communities or to the border at night, but would probably plan those trips in daylight.
In part, to support the safety of the community, some 800 military members are stationed throughout the Mante regional area.
Myth #2: During the term of the medical campaign, doctors from Boulder were not able to interact and teach their counterparts in Mante.
Dr. Carlos Manrique (ObGyn), who participated in the first medical campaign in 1990 and most of the medical campaigns there after stated that he grew very fond of Dr. Ted Appel of Boulder in the early years of the campaign. He stated that he learned so much from his Boulder counterpart, particularly by exposure to medical equipment which was not available in Mexico. He further states that he was more than happy to share what he learned with his colleagues after participating in each campaign.
In the years since BCH suspended the medical campaign in Mante, they have on numerous occasions sent cataracts kits to Mante, recognizing that cataracts are a major problem in the Mante area. Until recently it was not common for workers in the sugar cane fields to wear sunglasses when they were working in the fields. There are no doctors of ophthalmology who can perform this surgery in Mante. The kits have been directed by the DIF (county health) to medical personnel in Victoria or Monterrey to be used to assist the poor from the Mante area who need the cataract lenses to restore proper eyesight.
It was suggested by local leadership that should BCH or other medical teams consider return to Mante in the coming year, or so, that a priority would be for skilled practitioners of ophthamology.
From several sources we learned of the need for maintenance assistance for medical equipment that the local hospital has, which is inoperable. Technical assistance does not exist anywhere in the state. Qualified technicians in Mexico City are too wedded to their own hospitals to be made available elsewhere in the country. It is suggested that use of “facetime connections” between BCH and the Mante Civil Hospital might correct some of the problems with equipment in Mante
Good news does exist. A used Special Transit (now Via) vehicle which provides a hydraulic lift for wheelchairs that was donated some 7-8 years ago is still in operation providing transportation needs in Mante. A dental van which was donated through a Rotary Foundation grant to the DIF (county health) is still in operation. A “jars of life” unit donated to the Mante Red Cross by Boulder rescue has been called into service on many occasions over the years to provide extraction from vehicle accidents.
One of the saddest reports we learned was the failure of the mammography van donated by BCH to operate. The greater story is that no useable equipment exists in Mante to provide for early breast cancer detection. The only medical practitioner in the field of oncology in Mante is a retired (but active volunteer) medical doctor who would be anxious to learn current medical practices and support techniques for men and women in her community dealing with cancer.
Myth #3: Since Boulder visitors have not returned for so many years, Mante has sort of forgotten about its sister city relationship with Boulder.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was stated over the years that the medical campaign involved some 300 volunteers in the Mante area to host the medical campaign. Probably the greatest number of those volunteers served as host families for the medical team from Boulder. Close personal relationships developed which continue through email and Facebook connections today.
Of the bonds that have been created, the bonds developed between teachers from Boulder and Mante are probably the strongest. Meetings during this visitation highlighted that teachers from Mante as well as Boulder hope the exchanges between the teachers can be reignited soon, if not this year, at least in 2018.
Myth #4: During the bad years, people of Mante did not feel safe, even to the point of not going to church.
In the culture of Mexico, this is easily not the case. Churches of Protestant and Catholic denominations continued their services throughout this time, possibly avoiding nighttime mass.
There are two active Rotary Clubs in Mante, the Mante and the Canoas Rotary Clubs which continued to meet throughout the entire period of unrest.
Things in Mante are the same, yet Mante has kept up with the times. An offshoot of Wal-Mart now exists in Mante, some new pharmacy businesses and new restaurants. Yet the plaza looks very much the same and the shops in the business area are very much alive with activity. We noted that the roads to Tampico and Victoria were in very good condition and that litter along the roads is much reduced as the people of Tamaulipas take on greater responsibility for the cleanliness of their communities.
Norris and Pam would both vouch for the fact that they felt as safe in Mante as they would feel in Boulder. It is hoped that teachers, medical teams and cultural exchanges between the communities can commence again with all parties feeling safe if basic measures are followed.
Thee Boulder Mante Sister City relationship is an outgrowth of an annual medical campaign to Ciudad de Mante, Mexico developed by Boulder Community Hospital (Health–BCH) and several outreach programs with Boulder Rotary and First Presbyterian Church in Boulder. Boulder City council approved the relationship on December 7, 1999. A formal proclamation uniting the cities of Mante and Boulder was signed in Mante in January, 2000 and again in Boulder on July 7, 2000 at Folsom Stadium.
Shortly after the medical team had been in Mante in 2010, reports became available of drug related gang activity in the Mante area. After monitoring the situation for several months, Boulder Community suspended the 2011 medical campaign and put on hold returning to Mante until safety issues were no longer an issue. In concurrence with that decision, the Boulder-Mante Sister City committee also suspended visits to its sister city in Mexico. During the interim period there have been several medical, cultural and teacher visitations by our friends from Mante to Boulder.
From October 7 to 13, the Boulder Mante Sister City committee hosted two guests from its corresponding committee in Mante, Mexico. One of the guests was Dr. Jose Guillermo Sainz, a family doctor and the other was Luis Alberto Cruz, an architect and past president of the Mante Rotary Club.
The purpose of their visit was to reignite the sister city relationship in Mante by taking back stories and video about Boulder to share with the residents of Mante.
Alberto and Guillermo said that the door is now open for Boulderites to return to Mante. The height of the criminal activity in Mante occurred about five years ago, which caused the Boulder Community Hospital to cancel its annual medical campaign. For the last two years, however, conditions have improved dramatically. People now enjoy normal routines including shopping, visiting and going to events in the evening. As an example of current conditions, it was noted that Rotary had hosted some 18 youth exchange students in recent years with no safety issues. Guillermo was particularly interested in having guests return to Mante for fishing, especially fishing for black bass. Alberto and Guillermo agree that while Mante is not paradise, it’s as safe as any place in Mexico these days.
During their stay the following topics were discussed:
- A reigniting of the teacher exchange between our two communities. It was noted that several teachers still remain in touch by email
- Our Mante guests viewed the “city in a suitcase” at the Boulder History Museum which has many items from Mexico that can be loaned out to student and scouting groups who wish to learn about Mante. Alberto and Guillermo are interested in creating a “city in a suitcase” about Boulder which could be circulated in Mante.
- Guillermo reported that the dental equipment purchased by Boulder resident donations and a grant from Rotary have been incorporated into service in Mante and are valuable tools for dentistry in Mante.
- The Mante guests were introduced at Boulder Rotary, where that club was reminded of the many Rotary grants that had been completed to equip the hospital, rehab facilities and clinics in Mante. The Boulder Club was reminded that they are sister clubs with Mante Rotary.
- Our Mante guests were introduced to Dr. Rob Vissers, the new CEO of Boulder Community Health. A discussion followed about smaller medical teams returning to Mante and the possible assistance Boulder Community Health might provide in equipping the new rehab facility in Mante. This could possibly be in connection with Project Cure.
- The Mante guests expressed an interest in the short term for help with speech therapy and audiology screening.
As a result of this visit, it seems possible for a small delegation from Boulder to visit Mante in the near future for assessment and reconnection of our two committees and communities.
A special thanks to Elfa Rodriguez for her hosting of our visitors throughout their six day visit to Boulder.
On Jan. 19, the Boulder Emergency Squad donated a “jaws of life” and accompanying generator to the Boulder-Mante Sister City Committee. In turn, the Sister City Committee arranged for shipment of the equipment to Cruz Roja (the Red Cross) in Mante, Mexico.
Representing the Boulder Emergency Squad in the picture is Andrew Moschetti.
The jaws of life is an hydraulic rescue tool used by emergency rescue personnel to assist vehicle extrication of crash victims as well as other rescues from other small spaces.
According to Erick Diaz, this tool will be of great value to the Red Cross in Mante, which responds to emergencies beyond the city limits of Mante where the fire department does not go.
In early April, 2012, the Mante Sister City committee presented the painting “Gratitud” by artist, Professor Silvia Maldanado Gonzalez to Boulder Community Hospital in appreciation of the twenty annual medical campaigns to serve the needs of the poor in Mante, Mexico. The painting will be placed in a special alcove of one of the new Boulder Community Hospital buildings under construction on Arapahoe Avenue.
As the 20th anniversary of the first Medical Mission to Mante nears, the Boulder-Mante Sister City project continues to make great strides in developing the relationship between the two cities. On May 14th, 2009 the Board of Directors met at the Boulder Community Hospital (BCH) to review the progress of ongoing projects, celebrate past successes, and look forward to the future of the Project.
Youth Board Member
Nicki shared her experience of working and living in Mante for seven months. She mostly worked with Andreas teaching English to local residents and did help out with the Boulder medical mission in Feb. Nicki distributed some 8×10 black and white photos that she had taken and developed during her time in Mante. She has since delivered these photos to Rich Lopez who will see if BCH will allow them to be displayed in one of their campuses.