President Calderón helps Elgin man fulfill dream for Matanzas, Mexico

 
 
Posted2/21/2015 7:37 AM
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  • Filiberto Martinez Sr., left, and his son Filiberto Jr. of Elgin will get to meet former Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Judson University next month. The president was instrumental in helping the family's nonprofit Club Matanzas Jalisco raise funds for a community well in the father's hometown of Matanzas.

    Filiberto Martinez Sr., left, and his son Filiberto Jr. of Elgin will get to meet former Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Judson University next month. The president was instrumental in helping the family's nonprofit Club Matanzas Jalisco raise funds for a community well in the father's hometown of Matanzas. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Club Matanzas Jalisco in Elgin sought help from a drought relief program championed by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón to build a community well in the town of Matanzas.

    Club Matanzas Jalisco in Elgin sought help from a drought relief program championed by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón to build a community well in the town of Matanzas. courtesy of the Martinez family

  • An Elgin group secured the funds to build this well in Matanzas. About 300 Elgin residents have ties to the Mexican community.

    An Elgin group secured the funds to build this well in Matanzas. About 300 Elgin residents have ties to the Mexican community. COURTESY OF the MARTINEZ FAMILY

  • A Mexican drought relief program enabled an Elgin club to secure funds to build a community well in Matanzas, an effort that took four years and still is in progress.

    A Mexican drought relief program enabled an Elgin club to secure funds to build a community well in Matanzas, an effort that took four years and still is in progress. courtesy of the Martinez family.

After their 86-year-old father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four years ago, siblings Martha and Filiberto Martinez set about finishing his dream: Building a well that would serve the residents of their Mexican hometown.

Filiberto Martinez Sr. and his family lived in Matanzas, a town of about 1,200 in the Mexican state of Jalisco where there was no running water or electricity.

He moved to the U.S. as a migrant worker, settling in Elgin in the late 1940s, but he kept trying to get that well for drought-stricken Matanzas.

"He recognized the importance of it," said Martha Martinez, a lifelong Elgin resident. "Some people had their own private surface wells, but we wanted a deep well for drinking water."

Martha and her brother started the nonprofit Club Matanzas Jalisco roughly four years ago with that purpose as a tribute to their father.

The club has some serious local meaning: Roughly 300 Elgin residents have ancestral ties to Matanzas, once a hacienda -- an estate or plantation -- dating back to the 17th century. Last month, its efforts paid off when the well went online.

And now, club members will get to meet the man who made the project happen -- former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who is the keynote speaker of Judson University's 2015 World Leaders Forum on March 12.

"This is our chance to thank him," Martha Martinez said. "On behalf of not only our club but the town of Matanzas, we are deeply thankful for his vision and recognizing the needs of the town. This was a pivotal and indispensable need for running water to move forward into the 21st century."

President at Judson

Calderón's significance to the local Mexican community, and his efforts on global climate change and immigration, make him a relevant headliner for this year's World Leaders Forum, said Judson University President Gene Crume.

"It's just neat to think about a world leader coming to Elgin, who has made a difference to families and touched their lives even here," he said.

In 2011, Matanzas was in the midst of a severe drought. The Elgin club sought help from a program championed by Calderón, and the well project was among a few selected from a large pool of applications nationwide.

"Calderón was addressing a national crisis, a severe drought that was affecting a group of states," Martinez said.

Building a new community well was a huge undertaking. Other clubs in the U.S. representing towns in the state of Jalisco were seeking the Mexican government's help for much smaller-scale projects, such as getting a street paved, medicine for a local health center, or a community park, Martinez said.

Calderón's executive order allowed the Elgin club to cut through the red tape and expedite the well's construction. The Mexican government covered the entire cost -- 5 million Mexican pesos, or roughly $424,000.

Long road to water

Once the well was operational, Martinez said, another hurdle came up: Tests revealed high levels of fluoride in the water.

"There the project stalled," Martinez said. "The standard both in Mexico and the WHO (World Health Organization) states that drinking water has to be within certain norms. Because this was high levels of fluoride, the health department in Mexico would not approve the extraction of the water."

So, club members developed a proposal for installing a filtration plant using reverse osmosis to reduce the fluoride to an acceptable level, Martinez said.

Work on the plant was finished last month. The project was funded entirely by the Mexican federal, state and municipal governments, again costing roughly 5 million pesos.

Matanzas residents can now fill up buckets of water at the point of extraction. The next step is to build a water tower and install distribution lines so all residents will have running water in their homes, Martinez said.

Club members are working with the Mexican government to make that happen this year.

"We're going to again put that in through the government program and see how much they will fund of it," said Filiberto Martinez, president of Club Matanzas Jalisco. "The technical studies will begin for the water tower and the pipeline distribution system."

With running water will come jobs and growth, and people won't have to leave Matanzas to make a living.

"We felt that it was really important, especially now that immigration has become more difficult for people to come over," he said. "It's the first step toward economic development."

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