By Todd Bates
This is part 3 of an on-going series of articles about a foreigner living in a traditional Mexican neighbourhood (colonia). Please visit www.vallartatribune.com and click on Columns for the previous ones. The goal has only been to demonstrate how easy it is to make your neighborhood better with a little effort and a couple of pesos.
My next step in cleaning up the neighbourhood, after encouraging the collection of garbage in communal bins placed along the street, was to encourage the residents to regain pride in their streets through beautification.
We started with the empty garden plots that were over grown and not generally cared for. Carlos, who is a part owner of the Tia Cleta bike store, spent over three hours working with me to break the different layers of concrete to allow us access to the soil below. It was sweat inducing labour but now there is a beautiful, small garden in front of his business.
At the same time, I was fortunate to have another neighbor, David, offer to assist, and he pruned some of the trees that were becoming overgrown. With plenty of education and experience he knew exactly where to cut to minimize the trees’ stress. You never know what your neighbours have in experience, until you ask. Had I taken a minute to reach out initially it would have been much less work. I won’t make that mistake again!
Once I started my efforts, my neighbours realized my intention and then, slowly but surely, started to join in; specifically Cesar who always seems to be ready once I start a new project.
Next we installed plants that have some color but, as well, some plants that offered scent. This provided a two-fold solution; people love it and dogs do not. A little effort, encouragement and low and behold, we now have ten garden plots; well maintained and appreciated by the owners and, as well, the people that walk by!
The next task was, and this is a sensitive topic for me as I am not Mexican although I live here, but the residents continually used it; education of cleanliness.
I decided to make ten small signs that I could mount on poles and the trees, to ask the people walking by not to throw trash on the ground.
Again, this was a subtle effort to reinforce what each of us can do to improve our area. This was coupled with the garbage cans so it would be easier to maintain.
One resident, Guadalupe, who frequently travels to other areas around the city, mentioned that she appreciates how much tidier the neighbourhood is, and that she now that she sees it is possible she will work to maintain it; something she mentioned she did not expect previously.
The last task in my efforts was security; particularly quality lighting.
I noticed, shortly after coming into my new area, that once the sun was down, my street was darker than the inside of a cow. I spoke with some of my neighbors and asked them if they would pay the electricity for the sensor lights if I paid to have them installed. They whole-heartedly agreed and now we enjoy two outdoor lamps and, literally, the next night, we had more people walking where they never did previously because they knew they were more comfortable with better lighting. Each night is better as now the residents beyond our area know that this is the safest area to walk through.
Lighting is not only added security, but also visibility particularly for the elderly, our most important population; that they can now see better the walking areas, as well as the inconsistencies in the sidewalks. These lights give them a little extra freedom to move about during the night.
Other residents have been on me about installing more but we made a deal that until topes are installed (my second to last intent, and that they said they would convince City Hall), that they will have to wait. I want to, but a deal is a deal.
It is important, that the local residents are involved as this is their area and once they understand that further improvements are up to them, I expect more community involvement. With that said, these changes take a long time and, for me, it is the path that we walk each day, and not the goal, that is worth the effort.
I know that I am making a difference, by the words of the long-term residents, who are so supportive and generous, but also the younger generation that say, “thank you for your efforts.”
I am known as the “American that helps us”. The only issue for me is that I am Canadian. Either way, I am proud of my work and to simply illustrate how easy it is to make a difference; you can too.
My next series of articles, which will be the start of my latest and most profound effort at giving back to the community that has been so generous to me; we, my company, are sponsoring an underfunded school to allow the children to achieve the best they can be.
RE/MAX Puerto Vallarta is looking for volunteers, donors and simply good Samaritans to ensure that the children of the School of Mojoneras have the opportunity that we all have had. Stay tuned for more details coming soon.
By Todd Bates