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.