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De Colores Foundation started as a tiny nonprofit organization helping neighbors at Tijuana's old garbage dump in the belief that direct assistance and presence offered opportunities for effective community development.
In 1999-2000, we extended our outreach to Peru, employing the same strategy of direct involvement. An international team of about thirty workers from Mexico and the United States purchased the land and built a home for children of other capabilities in Sabandia, province of Arequipa, in the south of the country. The home receives only handicapped children who have been orphaned, abandoned, abused, neglected, etc.
How was De Colores Founded?
Margie Benzie founded De Colores Foundation to assist the people of Tijuana”s old garbage dump in the neighborhood of Panamericano, Parte Alta. She met Mary Cormier playing tennis at the public court near her house in San Diego. The two shared a dream of helping those in need in Tijuana. Mary scouted around and considered the garbage dump area suitable to foster development of a small scale sharing program based on friendship and sharing. They included Margie’s sister, Kim Rebar and from time to time other volunteers. With fanfare nor ribbon cutting, they started driving across the border in Mary’s ancient VW Bus, the sandwich loaf version of the VW Bug.
When it did not break down on the way, it would arrive packed to the gills with food, school supplies, and myriad other goods that over time the residents would request. These would include medical supplies, small pieces of furniture, or whatever the ladies could convince their friends to share.
After a couple of years of service, they decided that they wanted to formalize the group and apply for non profit recognition. On a subsequent trip to Panamericano, Margie explained the situation to me. I suggested that we visit David Lynch who started a school in the transferred dump site behind Loma Bonita where I also served as chaplain.
Lynch’s group called Responsibility had set up a nonprofit corporation to support not only the school but also a clinic which was doing great work giving opportunity through education and community involvement to the children who worked the dump site. He told Margie how to go about creating and fulfilling the legal requirements. Without spending a dime on lawyers, nor accountants, Margie and her friend Susan Fields, brilliantly did it all themselves.
How did De Colores Foundation come to be?
Margie had a particular interest in helping people who needed prosthetic devices. A young woman with a small child had lost her leg and lived in trying circumstances right on the edge of the old dump site. Margie not only arranged for the artificial leg, but also built the lady a house.
Manuel left his home in the south of Mexico to seek a way to maintain his family. He rode the freight train to the border and continued on the same way to Los Angeles. When he jumped off the train, he fell awkwardly and severed his foot. Somehow he made it back to San Diego where he was living on the street. Margie took him in and started the process of rehabilitation. She found a technician who made artificial limbs who also happened to volunteer at the Casa de los Pobres in Tijuana. He charged $3000 for making and fitting the device.
Margie scrounged up half the amount and mentioned the struggle she was enduring to raise the other half to her niece, Frances Kerns who as working as a secretary to the nursing staff at Mercy Hospital. Frances advised her to go down to Mission Gorge and present her case to Terry Caster who helped people in Tijuana.
Margie found Terry Caster’s office and solicited the help. She confessed that Terry Caster did not know her, that it was a large sum of money, and that she did not know that under the same circumstances that if she were in his shoes that she would help. She remembers that Mr. Caster did not hesitate. He simply took out his check book and wrote out a check for the amount needed.
She took the money to the technician on University Ave who started the process. Within a couple of months, Margie drove Manuel to the border, gave him money for bus fare, a hug and sent him back to his family walking. Six years later, she answered the doorbell to find Manuel and his son who had made the trip back just to say thanks.
Twenty five years later, we still give thanks to Margie, Terry Caster, and all those who have not lost faith in the word of another, and cooperate to keep us all walking and moving forward.
Do we ever forget those whose generosity has embellished lives and fomented goodwill?
Upon returning to our home base of operations in Tijuana, we helped construct what was Hospital San Luis Obispo, now called Casa Buen Pastor, a large two story building with twenty hospital beds, complete maternity and neonatal unit, pharmacy, laboratory, dental office, and residential units.
From 2003 until the present, De Colores has focused its attention on programs of benefit for children with developmental challenges. We were donated an acre and a half site in the back hills of Tijuana for a center for therapy and residence of children with special needs. We have built from the ground up a physical therapy center which also serves as a conference center, chapel, a hydrotherapy building, along with a general services building, an apartment building with eight two bedroom, kitchen, bath, and living room residences called CANOA (Center of Attention for Ninos of Other Abilities).
In March 2010, Decolores was invited to participate in the United Nations Conference for the Americas and the Caribbean on Community based rehabilitation. Since that time we have been working in the local communities directly with the people, which facilitate transportation of handicapped youngsters and cost of services, thereby increasing availability. We are presently starting another CANOA in Chihuahua, Mexico to provide services to the local community in the hopes of also extending in the near future to Sonora, Mexico.