Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Valentine's Day gift that matters: go Heal a Heart Across the Border

by E Jo (writer), San Diego, January 18, 2007


It’s about that time again when all the store aisles turn red and every TV commercial makes you realize just how lonely you really are. Constant advertising reminds you ad nauseam that diamonds are a girl’s best friend while annoying little jingles like “London Gold is the best” repeat over and over in your head. Lingerie clad sirens warn their men of the “dog house” if they don’t buy just the right gift and of their carnal reward if they do. Cheesy, heart-shaped Mylar balloons float in your face and fuzzy teddy bears dressed in leather offer trivial messages of love. In a blink, Rudolph and Santa were replaced with red hearts and roses. Can’t we enjoy the New Year please?

Frankly, all of this makes me want to puke. If I had a boyfriend show up on my doorstep with a ready-made Hallmark card, an I Love You! emblazoned silver balloon and a sunglass wearing teddy bear, I would quietly back away uttering, “Aaah, I just don’t think this is going to work out.” After my alien encounter, I would soothe myself by rocking in a corner in a catatonic state of mental numbness. Contrary to what advertisers would have men believe, women do not equate love with metallized polyethylene and teddy bear-o-grams.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I actually love the memories in grade school making all the creative cards for your friends and placing them in their handmade mailboxes. Everything was created by hand. My Dad would buy me a box of chocolates that always became a science experiment of randomized taste testing in which the dark chocolate cherry filled unknown always lost.

But today the holiday is just so unimaginative and superficial. Couples are on their proverbial Valentine’s date at expensive restaurants with shiny gifts that sparkle in the candlelight because they are robots being told how to behave by media and society. The single people are made to feel like unloved, hopeless pariahs with their only hope to band together in rebellion at an “I hate V-Day” party. I just want to run far, far away from all of this spoon fed packaged romance. How our current flower and candy giving rituals came from the February 15th Pagan Lupercalia fertility festival none of us will ever know.

Instead of all of this obligatory gift giving why not help heal a heart? It may not last as long as the polymer heart-shaped balloons filling our landfills, but it is real. Invite your boyfriend/girlfriend on a Valentine volunteer adventure February 15-17th with Healing Hearts Across Borders (HHAB), or go alone. Either way this inexpensive trip will have so much more meaning than a hollow gift. HHAB is a non-profit medical organization that unites American medical personnel, staff, donors, and volunteers in an effort to bring consistent, quality health care to the poorest Mexican children, women, and men.

HHAB began as a grass-roots organization led by Dr. Kevin Lake and a team of volunteers, offering health check-ups and limited medication to the people of Tijuana. The HHAB team now consists of five doctors, a dentist, and support staff of registration, pharmacy, mobile laboratory, and translators. The volunteers include medical students, college students, and many others from all walks of life. They travel to Tijuana four times a year and set up a free clinic at two different locations, including Colonia Obrera, the makeshift village at the Tijuana garbage dump. They see 600 to 700 patients on each weekend trip. They have a full-service mobile laboratory where they can do basic lab tests including diabetes screening and pregnancy tests.

In addition to providing free medical and dental care, they distribute vitamins, food, clothing, toys, and hygiene products to the patients who visit their sites. Enough supplies are given to last until the next HHAB visit. HHAB doctors have identified children in need of surgeries that are not available to them in Mexico. Karime and Maribel were two young patients whom had congenital heart defects and were in need of surgery. HHAB partnered with Healing the Children, another non-profit organization, to bring these two little girls to Los Angeles for their surgeries in November 2004. Other children are on waiting lists.

The trip leaves from Los Angeles or San Diego on a Thursday evening and returns Saturday afternoon. Work is two full days on Friday and Saturday. Transportation is provided from either city to the Hotel Hacienda del Mar in Tijuana. A small donation to your driver for gas is appreciated. From San Diego, it is only about a 20 minute drive south. The rooms are clean and cost $60 per night and fit 4 people. This is a cost of only $15 per night per person. The lunches are free provided by HHAB but Friday night dinner is up to you. Restaurants overlooking the water are located a short walk from the hotel. Lobster dinners range from $8 to $12! The hotel also has a bar with local music and a swimming pool. Some people from the San Diego crew go to Puerto Nuevo for a fresh $10 lobster dinner before returning to the U. S. on Saturday afternoon.

I went on my first trip with HHAB from San Diego last November, 2006. The November trip also brings donated Christmas toys for the kids. I met with the group at UCSD and chose a car and we headed to Mexico. That night my friend and I found a 2 for 1 margarita night at a bar next to the hotel and settled in. The next day we worked at the Dome clinic. That evening we walked out to the beach for lobster and on the way back stumbled upon a great local bar with an ill-suited Australian name. It was a well dressed lively crowd of locals and a band playing songs from Mana, Shakira etc. We ended up staying later than we should have because of my friend’s inability to speak Spanish and the bartender continually placing two fresh opened Sols in front of us. The next day we worked at the Tijuana Dump site. Since I speak Spanish but am not a medical doctor, my job was to hand out the donated candy and toys to the children after they played games. I was amazed at how nice and polite these children were when they had absolutely nothing in the world. A glimpse into this harsh reality showed me just how materialistic Americans are, but still we want more. The families were so appreciative and friendly and seemed generally happy to me. Somehow I felt more grounded as a human being right there in the middle of the Tijuana dump.

For the grand total of $60 ($30 hotel, $10 gas, and $20 dinner/drinks) you can go to Mexico, have lobster and margaritas, and help hundreds of people. That is much less than one Valentine’s dinner will cost on the North side of the border! It costs more to shower someone with soulless gifts than to save the lives of human beings. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that if we follow this gift giving formula we will in return receive requited love, amazing sex, and eternal happiness. The chocolates, teddy bears and sparkly rocks are not going to make a bad relationship better nor make a good relationship perfect. In fact, more than half of all dating couples choose Valentine’s Day to break up. So if the spine tingling sight of a balloon holding teddy bear announcing, “You’re beary special my Princess” propels you into a bleak world of desolation and isolation from the exact species in which you belong, think of giving a gift that matters.

Upcoming HHAB trips to Tijuana:
February 15-17, 2007
May 10-12, 2007
August 9-11, 2007
November 8-10, 2007

For more information, or to inquire about donations or volunteer opportunities:
John Rodarte, M.D.
HHAB President
(818) 790-5583
(818) 790-9517 FAX

Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to:
Healing Hearts Across Borders
Attn: Anita Rodarte
2036 Brockwell Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754

Photo credit: Emily Jones

About the Writer

E Jo is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on Valentine's Day gift that matters: go Heal a Heart Across the Border

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By Steven Lane on January 18, 2007 at 01:29 pm
What a great idea. I will be in Xalapa, Mexico on that date but I will certainly inquire about the May date. Very nice article.
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