Sistema Nacional Para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia or just DIF (pronounced Deef) is a Mexican institution of social assistance focused on strengthening and developing the welfare of Mexican families. I’m not sure how people qualify but they do need to make application to get help.
One of the ways DIF in Mazatlan helps is by providing breakfast and hot lunches to school children. They also provide ‘scholarship’ monies to eligible children to cover school supplies. Some additional emphasis of DIF is to help juveniles in trouble, children who are abused, financially penalizing parents who’s children are peddling on the streets and working to see that all children are in school. This is a sampling of the programs offered. They don’t give money or food vouchers.
The current president of Mazatlan DIF happens to be the mayor’s wife. She is very interested in educating the gringo population about what is going on in Mazatlan, particularly with DIF.
A gringa (originally from Oregon) who has lived and worked in Mazatlan for over nine years has been hired as an Information Consultant (not her actual title) to the gringos of Mazatlan. Lisa works in an information center in the Plaza Zaragoza which is an easy walk from our home.
Lisa is fluent in Spanish, friends with the mayor’s wife and truly knows what is going on in Mazatlan. She is the gringos’ voice to the mayor. Lisa invited us on an excursion she was sponsoring to help gringos see firsthand how DIF programs work in action.
Last Thursday we boarded a van with 12 other people to visit a small Puebla about 40 minutes north of the city. This is still part of the Mazatlan municipality.
La Palma Sola is a proud community of about 150 people.The residents of the community all dressed in their best to greet us. We sat in the shade of the veranda of the DIF kitchen. This 12×14 building is the comunity kitchen for La Palma Sola. DIF selects a group of women to prepare the daily meal. Food is provided monthly by DIF. The women plan and prepare the meal once a day. This ensures everyone in the town has at least one meal a day.
While the meal was being prepared, Lisa translated as the town ‘historian’ shared the story of La Palma Sola. You can see the DIF cocina (kitchen) in this picture. The town’s pride and claim to ‘fame’ was being the sight of production of an award winning ‘wine’. This wine was actually Mezcal.
The town grew up around the Mezcal producing hacienda. Most residents worked for the distillery or with supporting businesses, ie. Tiendas (stores), schools, on the farms etc. According to the local historian, taxes drove the distillery out of business. However, one must also consider the supply and demand for Mezcal. Closure of the business left many people out of work. Naturally there was an exodus from the community. DIF has intervened to help the town stay alive.
The historian was a woman who was proud to have been born, raised and attended school through the third grade in La Palma Sola. She then became the teacher for the elementary grades when her mother retired. After becoming the teacher, she too went back to school. There is still a functioning elementary and secondary school in the town. Although, there are only about 30 children in the community.
The town also boasts a health clinic with a nurse and doctor who visit regularly. The nurse was there when we visited and showed us the clinic. The clinic was fairly modern and well stocked with equipment and supplies.
Our lunch consisted of fresh cheese from a local dairy farm where cows are milked by hand, fresh roasted salsa, bean soup with bones (sopa con huesos), fresh tortillas made on an open fire and dessert of jello salad with cream cheese. We also had the typical horchata drink or water. No Mezcal today. DIF does not provide meat. The ‘bones’ were purchased from the $5 peso fee charged per meal. Five pesos is about thirty five cents.
After lunch we were given a tour of the town. They have a functioning church and new town square. The homes around the church and square have been well maintained. The community has kept part of the original mezcal hacienda in the historical state with furnishings. The former distillery owners no longer live in the community. One community member opened her newly remodeled home for us to view. It was hot and windy and dusty. Señor Douglas found a place to buy a cerveza to enjoy while the women in the group toured.
Here are some random pictures around town.
The DIF representative made it very clear that they never give out money. Rather, they provide for families and children in these other ways. In La Palma Sola they provide the community meal, breakfast and lunch for school children and scholarships for school supplies. There are other agencies that also provide help in Mexico.
Mexico is still a very poor country with very corrupt politics like the U.S. and other countries round the world. There are many, many working poor trying to subsist on $80 pesos or $6.00/day as we recently learned in the Baja agricultural strike. No amount of government handouts can make up for this gap.
Well friends, we had a lovely day of ‘learning’ and sharing in the hospitable and inviting community of La Palma Sola. I hope you learned something from your little ‘visit’ to Mexico this week.
Adios and ve con Dios.