SANTA CLARITA – Nearly three dozen doctors, nurses, children and adults are counting the days until they caravan about 300 miles to a dump in a dirt-poor Mexican town. There, these Santa Clarita residents will deliver carloads of gifts, necessities and hands-on help to residents of the region outside Ensenada to which they are bringing pre-Christmas relief. One family will return on Christmas to throw a party in an orphanage. One of the doctors, a Saugus pediatrician who grew up in bleak, post-war Korea, sees himself as a child in the bright, dark eyes of the Mexican town’s youngsters. “I grew up in the same situation, with no shoes, no toys,” said Dr. Peter Kim. “I went to medical school and now I’m back there, helping them.” About 30 people plan to pile into sport utility vehicles, vans and cars Dec. 17, with two trailers in tow filled with gifts and donated building materials. A contractor in the group will supervise construction work to be carried out by volunteers. The American visitors will devote much of this visit to the children who live downwind from the stench of the area’s dump and to castoffs who have landed in Gabriel House, a nearby orphanage. While helping children is an important part of each visit, it is the guiding light of this one. Friends in Faith, who hail from two Bible study groups at Grace Church in Saugus, have banded together to sponsor the Adopt-A-Child for Christmas gift drive. They are soliciting donations of toys, stuffed animals, sports equipment, clothes, art supplies and crib bedding from community members. Handing out Christmas gifts one by one to about 200 children who live beside the dump or in the orphanage will take several hours. Donors, who are heading out to stores armed with wish lists created by the kids, were told to enclose a card personalized with a family photo. Some members of the group have been visiting Gomez Marin for years. They have watched its children grow up. The women take turns cutting the kids’ hair, decorating the girls’ hair with accessories and painting their nails with polish. The mission attempts to improve the residents’ daily and spiritual lives, Kim said. Talk of God and God’s love is frequent. The town itself is in need of some tender, loving care. It is adjacent to a defunct dump, where Ensenada’s trash piled up for ages. The dump was closed several months ago, but destitute townspeople scour the droppings, rescuing valuables like clothes and bottles, which they sell. Housing often consists of cardboard boxes; the deluxe model is four boxes taped together. A sea of blue tarps provides some weatherproofing. Electricity and running water are nonexistent, as are refrigerators and toilets. “Some houses have one bed, with a tortilla burner, eggs, shoes – everything on top of the bed,” said Esther Kim, 45, the doctor’s wife. “They don’t have any dressers. Clothes has to be piled up on the floor or in bags.” Trucks deliver water that residents store in plastic barrels. People often sleep on the ground. “Some days, they would come (to the makeshift clinic) later because they needed to warm up their body,” Esther Kim said, recalling past visits. Chickens and pigs roam freely. The people eat eggs, beans and handmade tortillas. “Vegetables are expensive,” Esther Kim said. The last time they visited, the Americans brought squash, peppers, tomatoes and fertilizer and taught people how to plant a garden. Some children live on the streets. Many children work to help feed their families and many never have visited a doctor. It is not unusual for kids to visit the makeshift clinic unaccompanied by an adult. “An 11-year-old girl, holding a baby and with two to three kids following her, (came in),” said Esther Kim. “(The little ones) are crying because they don’t want to be separated from her. She’s like the mom.” Many of the abandoned children who live in the nearby orphanage are disabled, and some of the babies are HIV-positive. Castaic residents Maria and Ricardo Cantero have visited once a month for the past seven years. They were both born in Guadalajara and immigrated with their families to the United States when they were young. They met as junior high school students, as a result of a school busing program that transported kids between the San Fernando Valley and East Los Angeles. At first, the couple went from shack to shack in Gomez Marin, handing out food. On the trips, they bring their children along. Ricky, 17, and Jessica, 16, attend Valencia High School. Maria, 40, is a special-education teacher’s assistant and works in the church’s nursery school. She played with a pair of silver bracelets – gifts from children who recycled them from the dump – as she described her own kids’ special request: Please adopt a child from the orphanage. The Cantero family initiated the adoption of healthy 7-month-old Panchito about three weeks ago and hope to have him in their arms in six months. The baby was taken to the orphanage when he was 1 month old. “I just think that him coming to live with us would be a lot better for him,” Jessica said. “He’ll be living on the streets over there. I’m really blessed to have all I have – shelter, clothing, a good school to go to every day.” Her 13-year-old brother Chico is willing to relinquish his role as the youngest. “When you go over there and see how they’re living and you come back home and you have a nice warm house to come to and a warm bed … and they’re thankful for what they have …” he said. “(Panchito) mom’s not there. I think my mom will keep him going good, getting good grades. She’s the perfect mom for him.” Maria Cantero believes she is especially drawn to the children because their lives are so hard. “They live beyond the poverty level,” she said. “They don’t really have a childhood. They don’t get to play, watch TV like our kids.” “Their option is to go farming, to pick tomatoes, make beads for necklaces, bracelets,” Esther Kim added. “They go out and sell them. They’re close to the border – they beg.” Cantero said her sense of urgency intensifies as she watches her own children grow and mature. “I’ve had women say, ‘take my baby,”‘ she said. “I tell them the love of a mother can never be replaced by material things.” The Cantero family will return to the village on Christmas Day to throw a party for the children in the orphanage. Kim said he hopes the trips deliver an empowering message, one which will enable the children to believe in themselves and their ability to pursue careers like his. Judy O’Rourke, (661) 257-5255 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals The entourage will spend two days in Gomez Morin, a town on the outskirts of Ensenada in Baja California. A couple of doctors from the Facey Medical Group and about five nurses who attend church together will provide basic medical care and treatment for cases of pneumonia, ear infections and asthma. During a visit in October, Kim examined about 200 children. He solved a child’s hearing problem with old-fashioned ingenuity. “I took a dead ladybug from the child’s ear,” he said. The medical team arms itself with an arsenal of medicines, mostly pharmaceutical samples donated by local doctors. The other group members serve fresh food, distribute canned food and clothes, and build structures for the impoverished residents. Kim and his wife Esther return to the town with the group every three months.
HALIFAX — More help is on the way for a Halifax-bound container ship that has been burning off Canada’s East Coast since Jan. 3.A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard says two more fire-fighting tugs, the Atlantic Enterprise out of New York and the Union Sovereign out of Rotterdam, N.Y., are en route to the Yantian Express.Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup says the ship remained about 1,700 kilometres southeast of Halifax early Monday and it’s not clear when the new tugs will arrive because of “heavy weather.”Two tugs have been on the scene for days, and the German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd says the fire involving multiple containers aboard the Yantian Express is “widely contained and under control.”The 320-metre ship was travelling to Halifax from Colombo, Sri Lanka, via the Suez Canal when a container caught fire on the forward deck on Jan 3.The ship was evacuated after the fire spread to other containers, but five crew members returned last Wednesday.Canup says the company is making plans for what they will do next.Hapag-Lloyd spokesman Tim Seifert said in an email there was no estimated time of arrival to Halifax, “or any other port,” for the Yantian Express.He says it is still not yet possible to estimate the damage to the container ship or its cargo.Canup said Monday the ship is not posing a hazard to other traffic.“It’s 930 nautical miles southeast of Halifax — rather open water,” he said.The Canadian Press