WAYNE — A local couple have helped a poor family in Mexico build a new home – and in doing so believe they’ve helped build a bridge with our neighbor to the south at a time of tension in U.S.-Mexican relations.

Last winter, Molly and Steve Saunders met Antonia Dzul, a restaurant worker, as they were traveling on the Yucatán Peninsula and visiting Tizimín, a city of about 50,000 people.

The couple, former Peace Corps volunteers who speak Spanish and have traveled extensively in Latin America, initially gave Dzul about $100 after reading an article in a local newspaper about how she had been denied government assistance to replace the leaky, tar-paper roof on her home.

Soon, though, the Wayne couple decided to go further by trying to raise the $4,000 that Dzul said she would need to build a new home for her parents and her two school-age children, to replace the rickety structure they were living in.

“By that point, we had gotten to know the family, so we felt comfortable,” Steve Saunders said during an interview over the summer.

Now, the couple have raised twice that amount – $8,400 – and contractors have completed the construction of the Mexican family’s new, cinder block home. The Saunderses, who are both in their early 70s and own Wayne Village Pottery, were able to raise the funds both online and from people who dropped checks off at their home on Main Street.

“We are really appreciative of the donations,” Steve Saunders said. “It was very moving, really. It’s about (building) connections.”

The donors seemed to fall into three main categories, he said: Those who thought helping the poor family was “the right thing to do,” those who had some connection to Latin America and those who thought the combative rhetoric of President Trump needed to be countered with goodwill.

Besides proposing to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump denigrated Mexican citizens during his campaign. Trump said Friday that he would not consider reinstating an immigration program that protected young people from deportation without a commitment from Democrats to help build a wall along the Mexican border.

After the Kennebec Journal published an article about the Saunderses’ project last summer, a few readers left critical comments about it. But with the exception of those remarks, the couple said that they have not received backlash from people who agree with the president’s tone and proposals.

“I think the idea of (helping) one family at a time really appealed to people,” Steve Saunders said.

While large charities must spend some of their money on administration, he noted, the couple were able to pass almost all of their proceeds directly to the Dzul family, and they did so in phases, as Antonia provided photos and updates to show that she was going forward with the project.

This winter, the Saunderses are planning another trip to Mexico and said they will visit the Dzul family at that time. It’s the first time the Mexican family has lived in a home with electricity or a bathroom.

In an email to the Saunderses, which they translated for the Kennebec Journal, Antonia Dzul expressed her appreciation.

“Our house, which is also your house, is nearly finished,” she wrote. “We now have electricity in our new house, and next week the doors and window will be delivered. Thank you all so much and may God bless you all forever!”

 

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