Who We Are
Vida Outreach is a non-profit organization committed to grass-roots community development in Baja California, Mexico. We are a bi-national team that aids impoverished and underserved Mexican communities through hunger relief, development, and education programs. Founded in 2009 by Michael Spitz and Becky Pacheco, Vida Outreach seeks to support local Mexican leaders and communities to inspire and implement change from within.
Where We Work
We currently focus our work in two communities in northern Baja California: Canon de las Carretas in the retired Tijuana city dump area; and La Misión, a rural town just north of Ensenada.
Mexican Poverty At A Glance:
Although Mexico’s economy looks strong from the outside, the country’s money does not reach the people. Infrastructure is severely lacking, government and corporate corruption is widespread, and the majority of the country lives in poverty. According to recent Mexican government statistics, just over 50% of the population lives below Mexico’s national poverty line. At any given time another 30% are at risk of poverty. This places only 20% of the Mexican population in a stable economic situation. Prices of important commodities, including food, continue to rise and to make the situation worse, the government recently implemented a 16% tax, including on food items, making daily life even harder for working families. Public water is not drinkable and people must purchase purified water for drinking and cooking. Families must also purchase propane tanks to fuel their homes as there are no public gas lines. These circumstances prevent many people from living happy, healthy, and productive lives. It’s time for change.
La Misión :
La Misión is a rural town of around 3,000 inhabitants. The majority of people work in tourism, construction, and farming. The local economy has suffered greatly over the last few years due to the decline in tourism and the impact of exploitative farm working conditions. The majority of the town struggles to find consistent and well paid work. Most skilled workers make around $15 a day and farm laborers make as little as $5 a day. The dropout rate among students in La Misión and the surrounding communities is extremely high due to the necessity to work and a lack of resources available for students. Students lack needed supplies, money for uniforms, adequate transportation to school, tutoring resources, consistent internet access, and access to printing services .
Canon De Las Carretas:
The community surrounding the retired Tijuana city dump suffers from extreme poverty and is considered part of the poorest 10% of the country. Most families live in self-constructed houses made from scrap materials collected from the now retired dump. Sanitation and adequate plumbing are constant problems and become even worse when rain storms flood the canyon. Many families still do not have dependable running water or adequate access to reliable electricity. It is common to see people cooking outside on open flame. Lack of education and job opportunities also make living difficult for many adults. A common method of earning an income is scavenging the retired dump and the surrounding area for materials to sell and recycle. This community is within eyesight of San Diego, making one of the largest wealth disparities between neighboring cities in the world.
What We Do
Vida Outreach engages in a variety of grass-root, community based development programs. All of our efforts rely on local leaders and volunteers and seek to improve living conditions and quality of life for people in Baja California, Mexico. We believe that every man, woman, and child has the right to enjoy life, pursue their interests, and develop their potential without the stifling oppression of poverty. We believe in the right to meaningful employment, a livable income, opportunities for leisure, adequate and affordable housing, utilities and transportation, health care, retirement, education, a healthy and safe environment, culture and arts, and social equality.
Some of our main programs are listed here:
Vida Outreach supports various hunger relief programs in an effort to assist struggling individuals and families with the most basic of needs.
Our main hunger relief effort is focused in the community living around the retired Tijuana city dump, Canon de las Carretas. We partner with a local Mexican non-profit, Baja Family Outreach, to facilitate a feeding program that serves a warm, nutritious meal to children and adults each morning Monday thru Friday. This free breakfast program feeds over 100 children and 50 adults each morning and has developed into an important relief program in the community. The program is also a catalyst for community development projects. Without this program the children we serve would go to school each day on an empty stomach; for many of the children it is the only nutritious meal they consistently receive each day. For children suffering from extreme poverty, the program also provides a packed lunch for them to take to school. The feeding program is operated by volunteers from the local community, including many parents of children that benefit directly from the program.
Our efforts in Mexico are based entirely on grassroots community development. We partner with local community leaders and volunteers to initiate positive change in impoverished and underserved communities. At Vida Outreach we believe that real change cannot be purchased and delivered to a community but must arise organically from the local working class. Our partnerships and programs strive to holistically address the needs of a community and depend on local participation. Here is a brief look at some of our ongoing development programs:
La Mision Homework Lab for Teens
The purpose of our homework and computer lab is to offer local students access to resources that help them succeed in school. The local dropout rate is very high in rural communities and there is a danger of kids falling into drug addiction and crime.
This program provides a free computer lab to students, access to internet, as well as free printing of all homework assignments. We offer tutoring to students wanting extra help as well as a variety of games and activities. Students can also fill out applications at the center to receive school scholarships for supplies, tuition, and uniforms.
Home Construction and Repair
Poverty often creates the lack of necessary disposable income for people to provide adequate housing for their families. Homes are self-constructed in the communities in which we work. We work with families suffering from leaking roofs to completely inadequate housing conditions where the family is living in a makeshift shack of plywood, tarps, and tires. Over the years we have done numerous home repairs as well as complete new home constructions. Taking care of people’s basic needs is an important first step to developing a healthy community.
Development in the Tijuana City Dump Community
We work closely with our partners to create grassroots community development in one of the poorest and most underserved areas of Tijuana where people live in and around the retired Tijuana city dump. Together with our partners, we offer the community a variety of programs including a daily breakfast program, addiction recovery, hospital outreach, hosted medical clinics, community service and cleanup projects, and educational programs.
Due to the extremely low wages in Mexico, many students drop out of school to work and help with their family’s household expenses. Unfortunately, the need to work often outweighs the desire to continue with an education. The cost of living is high compared to wages and many families struggle to pay the added expenses of sending a child to school. There is no public bus system, so many students must pay for taxis. School uniforms are mandatory for public schools and families must buy a uniform for each child. Many schools, especially in rural areas, also put additional burdens on families by making them purchase and provide all of the classroom supplies, including supplies for teachers.
Vida Outreach believes that education in an important part of breaking the cycle of poverty and we want to give every child a chance for a brighter future. Education is also a way to inspire individuals to take action and change the broken system that governs society. Student sponsorships provide school supplies, backpacks, and financial support to help pay for the uniform and school enrollment fees. The program is also a great opportunity to mentor and tutor the local youth and develop relationships with their families. Most of the parents of students we work with did not go to school and often struggle to help them with homework.
It only takes $200 a semester to fully sponsor a student and make a dramatic difference in their lives. As a student sponsor you will also receive updates and information about the student you support. We currently sponsor numerous students but continue to have a waiting list.
We have “adopted” the local elementary school in La Misión. The school teaches children grades 1-6 and has about 250 students in attendance. The buildings were run down, paint was pealing everywhere, and the students and teachers were in desperate need of equipment and supplies. So far we have helped paint the school, have tiled classrooms, built the first ever playground, stocked the library with new books, and have donated supplies to both teachers and students. The school still needs ongoing help with supplies and repairs and we look forward to continuing to help in any way we can.
Service Trips hosted by Vida Outreach are a great way to join our effort in Mexico. Your skills and talents can be used to make a real difference in the lives of others. Service trips are also a great way to partner with local Mexican leaders and communities to develop cross-border linkages, relationships, and support systems. Ending poverty will take an international effort. Learn more