Keith and Betty Dye describe the face of need in Lagunitas, Mexico.
The couple, Yukoners for 31 years, are coordinating fundraisers through a Whitehorse-based organization called Jerusalem Evangelical Ministries (JEM), a “ministry of helps” – no strings attached.
“All participation is by volunteers; nobody gets paid,” says Keith.
“One-hundred per cent of everything we raise goes straight to the Lagunitas Village,” Betty completes the thought.
Keith leans back, his voice soft but direct, “This is a very poor, poor region … The reason it’s so poor is because they [Mexican people] have moved as close as possible to the American border … trying to get a better life.
“And they live there with no jobs,” although Keith says some have jobs as farm workers – “the fortunate ones … six days a week, 10 hours a day, one-hundred dollars a month.”
Keith and Betty knew they would help others when they retired. “I’ve never liked the word retire,” Keith says, laughing but adding that this has given them purpose.
“The people are very spiritual, loveable and friendly,” says Betty.
“And they’re also thankful for everything we do,” Keith says, “sooo thankful.”
“Sooo thankful,” Betty echoes in a reverent whisper.
For six months a year, the Dyes live in Whitehorse and for six months, they live in Yuma, Arizona, and volunteer in Lagunitas.
Their first project, in 2006, was to build a public washroom. “Hot and cold running water, showers, a flush toilet,” says Keith. “Some of the teenage girls were showering under a hose in the yard.”
The washroom lot was donated by Adriana Perpuly, a Mexican dental student who will soon be donating her time to provide free dental care for the children.
“The next thing we did, that same winter,” Keith continues, “was to convert an old house into a nursery and a children’s church facility.”
Church services had begun under a tree in a tent that kept blowing away.
“It blew away three times,” Keith says. “We lost three tents.”
Next, JEM donated a trailer that is being converted to a dental clinic: “$200,000 worth of dental equipment has been donated,” Keith says.
For the past two years, Grace Community Church, in Whitehorse, has donated Christmas hampers to JEM for Lagunitas families. “A month’s worth of groceries,” Keith says. Blankets – [his voice breaks and Betty finishes].”
“And rice, beans, milk … staples,” she adds.
“I broke the hitch on my trailer,” Keith laughs remembering the load of hampers.
With the help of the Whitehorse Rotary clubs, JEM was able to purchase a school bus as well as desks and school supplies. “If the children don’t have school supplies,” Keith explains, “they aren’t allowed to go to school … [“Our kids,” Keith calls them affectionately.]
The Dyes even adopted a dog, Chulo, that was left chained to a tree. “Chulo means ‘beautiful’,” Betty says, smiling, although Keith describes the pooch as “woe-bedraggled … skin and bones.”
“The children brought him to us,” Keith adds. “Betty fed him some of her famous stew and that dog adopted us right there,” he laughs. (The Dyes left two big bagfuls of dog food that the children are feeding him.)
On September 12, at 6 p.m. at Mount McIntyre, JEM will be holding its Dessert & Entertainment Night fundraiser to complete the dental clinic and begin a medical clinic in another village, Islitas (yes, the work has expanded). A doctor is waiting to donate his time in the clinic.
Last year’s fundraiser raised $12,000, which enabled JEM to purchase a tent … one that has not blown away.
The fundraiser will feature local country and gospel artists including Hank Karr & The Canucks. There will be a silent auction and door prizes, as well.
To find out more about JEM, you can contact Keith and Betty Dye at 333-0477.