As attention focused on the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the people of southern Mexico were struggling to recover from a massive earthquake (8.1 magnitude) that happened late on September 7. Approximately 100 people are thought to have died because of it.
Among those affected was Fr. Francisco VanderHoff Boersma, SCJ, a member of the Dutch Province who has worked for nearly 40 years among the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Juarez Mountains of Oaxaca.
“The misery caused by this earthquake and all the aftershocks is so overwhelming,” he wrote last week. “People come by and ask for help, food, clothes, shelter and that has to be organized. It is like an unsurmountable heap of demands and necessities. The problem is compounded by the fact that we are working in the backyard of Oaxaca, out of sight of officials who do not seem to be aware of the effect of the quake on the 140.000 people here.”
Many are without homes, including Fr. Francisco. He is now living in his kitchen; the rest of his house a pile of rubble.
“Initial calculations are that at least 2,700 houses have been destroyed,” he wrote. Those that are still standing are in danger of collapse following another tremor. People are in urgent need of food and clothes; the area needs assistance in clearing roads of debris. He noted that food was sent by groups in other parts of Mexico but there is a bit of an unusual learning curve. “Our people are not acquainted with canned goods!”
Fr. Francisco was instrumental in the creation of a coffee cooperative called UCIRI. Together with Nico Roozen, Francisco founded the Max Havelaar Fair Trade organization, now a multi-billion dollar worldwide economic venture under the “Fair Trade” name. Fr. Francisco has received several international awards: he is an honorary citizen of Paris, a knight in the Legion of Honor of France, a Commander of the Throne in Belgium and has been recognized with honorary degrees at three universities.
He is currently working on a book on spirituality. In it he writes: “I have learned much, experienced much love and hardship and I enjoy life because it is an enormous privilege to be poor with the poor, a fighter for their rights and to live together with all the young and old farmers, male and female, in my village… They are people of the earth with all the wisdom of the centuries, with reverence for the wisdom of the ancients.”