Yanhuitlán, A PROMISE OF HEALTH's NEW OAXACA CLINIC
Surrounding Yanhuitlán and Dr. Soledad’s APOH clinic are 26 small pueblos and towns. Most who live here are of Mixtec ancestry.
The Mixtec are a proud and very independent people whose heritage and customs run deep. They are the 3rd largest indigenous population in all of Mexico and one of the poorest. Even the Mexican government admits that nearly 70 percent live in extreme poverty.
The people, who live in the Mixtec Alta, as the region is called, are survivors. They are the decedents of a once proud and defiant civilization that though battered by Aztec and Spanish invasions and torn by revolution, has survived. And though they have further suffered from economic hardship, these are the people who have remained.
With the passage of many years, as these mountain communities changed, often loosing population as families sought a better life elsewhere, they came under the jurisdiction of Yanhuitlán’s municipal government. Today, the local government of Yanhuitlán governs another 20 Mixtec communities. Some are close by. But others are in hard to get to spots in the hills and valleys that radiate from town.
Up and down the small, narrow valleys along mostly intermittent streams are a hodgepodge of settlements. Some, like Yanhuitlan, have existed since prehistoric times because of adequate water and soil for crops. Elsewhere are many smaller villages that support only a few families and are only able in good years to grow enough food for these families.
The hillsides are mostly steep and in places covered with pine forests. Others, because of overgrazing, are bare. The topsoil is gone, replaced by nearly impassable ravines. Mostly connected by a network of roads and trails, passage from one to another is a challenge. With rain, many turn into a sea of mud. Others are strewn with rocks and boulders that can easily ruin a tire. For some, the road just ends before arriving at the pueblo and only a trail points the way. Most residents have no car or truck. Walking, or if they are fortunate, riding a burro is how they get from place to place.
Cooking is done over wood fires. Laundry is washed by hand. Corn, grown in nearby fields, is made into Nixtamal, a corn dough. This is shaped into a tortilla and baked over a fire. This is a historic staple for Oaxaca’s Mixtec.
Their humble homes are constructed of wood, adobe or a combination with roofs of corrugated metal or brush and adobe. They are drafty and cold in the winter. Temperatures in the Mixteca Alta have large swings. In summer 100 plus degrees is not unusual. Many days in December thru February are below freezing.
Each day families must collect firewood to cook and stay warm. Many have no running water or bathrooms. Their diets are poor and their sanitation is worse.
Dr. Soledad writes, “Following visits to each of Yanhuitlan’s pueblos when I see how poorly these families live, it greatly sadden me. Here, in the pueblos, I observe much greater poverty than I have ever seen in other parts of Oaxaca. It is terrible to see and it is sickness waiting to happen.”
Though Yanhuitlán has a population of less than 2,000, when combined with the number of people scattered in surrounding villages, the new A PROMISE OF HEALTH clinic in Yanhuitlán will serve at least 6,000 people and probably many more!