Puente a la Salud Comunitaria (Bridge to Community Health) was co-founded in 2003 by Kate Seely and Katherine Lorenz, two young women who came to Oaxaca as volunteers and became fascinated by the potential of amaranth due to its historic and cultural importance, nutritional value, economic potential, and resistance to climatic conditions.
The original mission statement read:
Partnering with families, health workers, and farmers to promote the consumption and cultivation of the highly nutritious grain amaranth, Puente a la Salud Comunitaria is dedicated to the eradication of malnutrition and the improvement of health in rural Mexico.
Working together with other local organizations and public health authorities, the founders began to promote the consumption of amaranth in rural Oaxacan communities, believing that amaranth could be a valuable part of the solution for Oaxaca’s disproportionately high rates of malnutrition. Today, Puente serves both as a U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity and its sister equivalency in Mexico, an Asociación Civil (with not-for-profit status).
I have such clear memories of my first year in Oaxaca. We would pack our little Volkswagen bug to the brim with bags of amaranth flour and popped seeds, amaranth leaves pouring out of colorful woven Oaxacan bags, and tiny packages of amaranth seeds for our community participants to try their hand at planting. We would drive for hours up and down the captivating Oaxacan landscape, arriving in remote indigenous communities to inquire about diets and nutrition, children’s health, economic opportunity, and immigration, among other things. I learned as much from the community members as they learned from me, from indigenous wisdom to the experience of life in the Oaxacan countryside.
Amaranth Farming Project Launched
In 2007, based on participant feedback, Puente launched a pilot project to promote the cultivation of amaranth. The success of that project has allowed Puente and the rural communities we serve to envision amaranth not only as a nutritional source of food but also as an opportunity to improve local economies and increase agro ecological food production to benefit the entire community.
In the first year of amaranth harvest, 40 farmers began growingthe crop and .5 tons were harvested, while eight years later in 2015, 225 farmers participated with Puente and 30 tons were harvested in total.
Strategic Alliance with Dr. Benito Manrique de Lara Formed
In 2007 Puente began a more formal, strategic alliance with Dr. Benito Manrique de Lara, a pioneer in the area of amaranth promotion in Mexico.
Dr. Benito passed away in 2014. The following was written in memoriam by Pete Noll, Executive Director of Puente and good friend of the Doctor's:
I will always remember this quote from Eduardo Galeano that you shared with me: "Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer, and utopia moves two steps away and the horizon runs ten steps farther. What, then, is the use of utopia? This exactly; it serves to move us forward."
A big hug, Pete
To hear a bit more about Dr. Benito's philosophy, take a look at the TEDx Talk that he gave in Oaxaca in 2013 entitled "Endurance: Moving Sideways in Time":
Clarence H. Moore Award for Voluntary Service
Puente was awarded the Clarence H. Moore Award for Voluntary Service 2008 by the Pan-American Health Organization in recognition of our work in the area of public health and improving the quality of life for the inhabitants of the Americas.
In 2010, Puente developed and later implemented our first strategic plan (2010-2014) that focused Puente's work on three specific regions of Oaxaca: Mixe, Mixteca Alta, and Valles Centrales, to capitalize on the local context and unique opportunities distinct to each region.
Outstanding Community Partner Award
Puente was the first organization not based in the United States to win the Outstanding Community Partner Award from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Landslide in Tlahui
At 4am and September 28th, disaster struck the mountainous Mixe town of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec (Tlahui). A landslide crushed dozens of homes and killed eleven people including seven children. The tragedy was not only the lost of human life and material resources; but it serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of communities steeped in poverty to unpredictable external forces.
In response to the landslide, Puente decided to shift our priorities to the region. We shared with our established donors the situation and we agreed that the funds should be re-allocated to respond to the tragedy. Aditionally, Puente asked for donations from individual donors and foundations, and helped link local authorities and schools with more sources of funds. In total, we were able to raise or reallocate nearly $28,000 to aid residents of Tlahui.
Today, the region has recovered from the landslide of 2011, although high levels of food insecurity continue to exist.
Community Radio Prize
By winning the Radio IMER Community Radio competition, Puente’s radio program “A taste of the Countryside” was chosen to be transmitted weekly to an audience of over 8 million in Oaxaca and Mexico City.
Sustainable Livelihoods Initiative
A year after inplementing our first strategic plan, we launched our Sustainable Livelihoods initiativeto support the creation of microenterprise groups and Regional Amaranth Networks to commercialize local amaranth production. The key to this commercialization is the innovative amaranth seed popping technology developed by our strategic partner, San Miguel de Proyectos Agropecuarios, which allows producers and microenterprise groups to increase the value of their amaranth seed 3-5 times by popping it.
10 Year Anniversary
Puente celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2013. What started as two women driving around to villages in rural Oaxaca with amaranth seeds developped into an organization working in 33 communities in 3 different regions in Oaxaca, with a team of 25 collaborators and committed partners from Mexico, the US, and globally.
Take a look at this video to find out more about our successes in the first 10 years:
Real Heroes of Mexico Award won by Pete Noll
The Mexico Report: Real Heroes of Mexico 2013 award was awarded to Puente’s Executive Director, Peter Noll.
Pete Noll’s involvement in Latin American began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 1998-2000, from there he went on to work for NGOs in El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. Pete has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, for ten years, and has been the leader of NGO Puente a la Salud Comunitaria (Bridge for Community Health), an organization dedicated to promoting food sovereignty in rural communities through the production, consumption, and commercialization of amaranth, for six years. I nominate Pete as a “Real Hero of Mexico” because he is an incredibly dedicated and visionary non-profit leader in Mexico. Pete truly believes in the importance of food sovereignty and local food systems in ensuring healthy and dignified lives for Oaxaca’s rural people. He has worked tirelessly towards this goal, leading Puente for six years and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support rural families. Thank you Pete for your dedication to creating opportunities for rural Mexican families!
World's Biggest Alegría
For the first time during Amaranth Day of 2014 Puente broke the record for the world's biggest alegría. The completed alegría measured 9.88 meters squared, and was put together by culinary arts students.
Based on ongoing learning and our commitment to grassroots leadership, Puente conducted an extensive year-long participatory Strategic Planning process with the participation of over 400 community participants, 30 allied organizations, and the Puente board of directors and staff. Based on the results of this process, we generated best-practice strategies adapted to the reality of Oaxacan communities. Today, we are excited to take the first steps in rolling out our next Strategic Plan (2015 - 2019) that aims to deepen our community impact and integrated approach with amaranth.
Guidestar Gold Status
Puente achieved the Guidestar Gold Status for the first time in 2014, which allows our information to be more accessible than ever before to possible donors.
INDESOL Impact and Social Commitment Award
In July of 2015, Puente was one of only ten organizations selected in all of Mexico to receive the "impact and social commitment" award from the National Institute of Social Development (INDESOL).
First National Amaranth Farmers Reunion
Puente co-organized the first National Amaranth Farmers Reunion together with the Grupo de Enlace para la Promoción del Amaranto en México in the state of Puebla. Over 350 amaranth farmers from different states in Mexico attended, and they spent two days visiting local amaranth crops and in dialog.
It was an important experience to bring together the collective voices of these diverse farmers, who had the opportunity to share their experiences in discussion groups focusing on the following themes:
Producing more and better quality amaranth
Promoting a just price for amaranth
Improving product quality
Promoting the consumption of amaranth for community health
Community organization as amaranth farmers
We are grateful for all of the participants who contributed their voices in this important event!