A lesson on a mountain in Cerro de la Corona

Four of the family’s six siblings stand in front of the house built by their father, with a view of the mountain in the background.
Four of the family’s six siblings stand in front of the house built by their father, with a view of the mountain in the background.

There’s a photo from 2012 on the desktop of my computer. It’s a group of four smiling children in front of their tiny house at the top of a mountain in Cerro de la Corona, a Mexican colonia on the outskirts of Cuernavaca. This photo reminds me every day that we don’t need “stuff” in order to have blessings and to smile.

The first time I visited the VAMOS center in Cerrro de la Corona, I was utterly speechless at the steep hill our car managed to climb, the spectacular view of a volcano, and the simple houses and stores carved into the mountainside. I was traveling with Father Jeff Puthoff, S.J. and a group of youth from the youth development agency, Hopeworks ‘n Camden.

We were all amazed by this journey. I had relationships with many Mexican children and their families from my parish, St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in East Camden, but I never had an idea this was what they came from!

This past February, I traveled to Cuernavaca for the third time as a volunteer for VAMOS, an agency with 10 community centers serving the most disadvantaged women and children in extremely remote colonias around the Cuernavaca’s center. While on this trip, I learned that the original center in Cerro was built from pallets salvaged from the nearby Nissan factory. How much strength and effort it must have taken to transport enough pallets up the side of a mountain to build a community center! Year later, the building which houses the current center was purchased from the government, and is an anchor in the community where many moms congregate while their children receive supplemental educational services, a meal, and a vitamin. Many of the people of Cerro live in extreme poverty, without proper nutrition, clean water or electricity. Their homes are one or two rooms and may house six or seven children.

This past Feb. 16, I accompanied the board of directors of VAMOS and my dear friends, Kim and Sean Dougherty, for another journey up the side of the mountain to visit the Cerro de la Corona Center. As is my habit, I pulled out my iPad to show the children photos of snowy New Jersey, my husband and children, and photos from previous visits to Mexico. For the second time on my trip, a child told me I was showing a picture of him from three years ago!

I threw my arms around him in a warm embrace. His name was Kevin, and he was in the photo on my desktop. I told him and his friends the picture of them is my favorite because they are all smiling.

At the top of the mountain, Kevin’s world is far removed from the trappings of life in the United States. He has no idea how many times I’ve shown his picture to people, saying, “Look at these beautiful children! This is their house. Their dad built it for them and it has two rooms for six children and their parents — they are all smiling!”

Kevin does not know any different. Kevin’s lesson for us is to appreciate what we have and to look beyond our “stuff” in order to be happy.

Kathleen Dianora Duffy is a literacy specialist, Woodbury City School District.