All of the proceeds from our B1 level book go to Las Patronas, an amazing grass-roots organisation based in a little town called Amatlán de los Reyes, an hour away from Veracruz, Mexico. Amatlan is on the route of cargo trains that take goods from Southern Mexico to border towns in the North. La Bestia (The Beast), as the train is nicknamed, is also the transport that many migrants coming from Central America and Southern Mexico take in order to get to the North and try to cross the border. Hiding in the train, it is really hard to get something to eat or drink. Las Patronas have cooked and packed lunch boxes to give people traveling on the train something to eat or drink since 1995. They have also put up a shelter to receive migrants that want to spend a night or two in comfort or also helping other migrants. These women have not just given food and water to people crossing Mexico on the Beast, they have also given hope to those that have seemed to lose it on the way to the US.
We asked our B1 book writer Sergio Durand to speak with Norma Romero, manager of the organization. She talked to him about their beginning, their daily routine, how they organize their activities and how they raise money to keep doing their great work.
Sergio: How did Las Patronas start?
Norma: This project was not in our minds, we didn’t know what was happening with the Central American migrants until one day two of my sisters went to get milk and bread and when they were standing next to the train tracks waiting for the train to pass, they heard some voices asking for help. The voices inside the train asked them to give them the bread and milk they had because they were very hungry. My sisters realized they were from somewhere else because of their accent so they gave them bread and the two cartons of milk. When they got home and my mum asked them where the bread and milk were, they narrated their experience thinking that my mum was going to tell them off but she didn’t. She told them they had done the right thing because maybe the people in the train were hungry.
Since then, we started observing that the train always carried people inside but we didn’t know who they were but they always seemed to be hungry. So my mum told us to get organized to cook some tacos for them. Some of us started cooking rice, some other beans and so on. That day we prepared thirty bags with food. When we heard the train we went out and tried to give away those thirty bags. They weren’t enough, however, we felt we did something important and that even if they weren’t enough we helped people that were just trying to get a better life. That was on 14th February 1995. That day changed our lives.
Sergio: That is a very inspiring story Norma, Thank you for sharing. My next question is about how you are organized. How many volunteers are there?
Norma: There are twelve of us. There were more than twenty five at the beginning but some people thought we were crazy for helping people we didn’t know. So some of our first partners just quit. There are eleven women and one man. Well, for example today it is Friday so it is our partner Vicky’s turn to check if there is enough food, what we need to cook, we need to check if the train comes so we have communication with the Tierra Blanca shelter (two hours away to the south) and they tell us what time the trains cross there so we have enough time to cook. So every woman is in charge one day a week. Other women go and get bread and vegetables to cook.
We have received help from many people in Mexico and overseas. Some people stay a couple of days, some others one week, some of them have even stayed for a month. Students from different schools have also visited us to live the experience of sharing. Sometimes we could say we are tired and we don’t work for a day but the situation is worse every day, not just in Central America but also in Mexico. In our shelter we receive people from Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca who are also looking for an opportunity to have a better life.
Sergio: It’s great you receive people in need no matter where they are from. Now, I wanted to ask you what a normal day is like. Do you have certain routine? What time do you finish?
Norma: There are two trains. One at about noon or one and the other about five or six in the afternoon. So we have enough time to cook rice, beans, tuna and bread. So our day starts at nine, our partner who is in charge of cooking gets to the shelter and finds out if there is enough rice and beans to start. Other women go and get the bread and vegetables that are donated. So when the food is cooked we prepare the bags with food. Every bag has five pieces of bread, a little bag with rice, a little bag with beans and another with tuna. Other bags carry the same but instead of bread we put inside ten tortillas. So some of them contain bread some others contain tortillas. In other bags we put sweet bread or fruit when we have them. We also collect plastic bottles and get some donated clean water. We wash the bottles and fill them in with clean water to throw them bottles of water too. That is only for the first train. We check the food, if there isn’t enough, we cook again for the five o’clock train. We normally cook around ten kilos of rice per train. In the winter season we also collect sweaters and blankets to give to people in the trains, whatever we get, we share with them. When we get clothes that are not for them (normally women clothes) we take those clothes to some communities near here. The Red Cross is helping us now during COVID times. Every migrant that gets to our shelter receives a health kit with toothpaste, soap and other things for their health.
Sergio: How do you raise money? Is it only through donations?
Norma: It is often through donations. During this pandemic it’s been really hard because people are not helping much. Normally when we realize we don’t have enough food or money to continue we go to a radio station or other media to ask for help, people normally help us a lot. Someone, for example, is buying the gas for cooking. That person says that he feels good for helping and he has been really helpful.
Sergio: Thank you very much Norma for your time, you are very inspiring and give us hope.
Norma: Thank you, we need to be together to keep helping. Only if people get together is when good things can happen.
Many thanks to Sergio and Norma for the interview. You can support Las Patronas by buying our B1 book, available here and by making a further donation to their bank account:
Número de cuenta: 0190082074
Clavé interbancaria: 012855001900820742
or by PayPal to email@example.com.