The other side of the port gate
Published on 07 June 2017
Norma Florencia Perez Vargas is the nun who runs Casa Marikuecha, a shelter for young children from tough backgrounds in the Mexican port city of Lázaro Cárdenas. The shelter offers its services free of charge with support from local companies including APM Terminals.
Norma Florencia Perez Vargas opens the door at 9am, and ushers in groups of chattering young children. From the dusty street, the kids come into a clean and cool welcome area and through into a grassy courtyard scattered with palm trees and surrounded by whitewashed classrooms.
This is Casa Marikuecha. Perez Vargas is the nun who runs this shelter for young children from tough backgrounds in the Mexican port city of Lázaro Cárdenas. The shelter offers its services free of charge with support from local companies including APM Terminals, which inaugurated its new port here in April.
“We have children from three years old until five or six, and we always select those who need us the most,” says Perez Vargas, who flits from classroom to dining room to meeting room, always with an easy rapport with the kids.
“We have chosen to set up here because we have experienced the city’s own crisis, of unemployment, lack of security, and many social problems here in Lázaro Cárdenas. But we want to stay here to tend to the needs of these children.”
Agents of change
Today, Lázaro Cárdenas is a city of some 180,000 people, which is gradually being transformed by the presence of, and investment from, the port. This is part of an overall investment of USD 900 million in Mexico’s growing economy – as well as other industry, including an ArcelorMittal steel plant.
APM Terminals’ contribution extends beyond the port gate. Wherever it operates around the world, it invests through financial donations, staff time, equipment and free container-handling services in the case of emergencies, aiming to help and engage local communities and contribute to their development.
“A project the size of the terminal cannot grow in isolation from the community around it,” says Sandra Barreda Alonso, Institutional Relations and CSR Officer for
APM Terminals in Lázaro Cárdenas, which supports Casa Marikuecha through donations of food and other items that help in its day-to-day running.
“They are agents of change here. If they can provide education at this formative age, it can bring changes in the children’s families and to society. In this way, education remains forever.”
At Casa Marikuecha, the children receive breakfast and lunch before they return home, ensuring the basis of a good diet. The 75-odd pupils are here, Perez Vargas explains, because their families cannot afford the basic requirements for attending public pre-school, such as materials, food and a uniform.
After breakfast, the children learn in the classrooms – maths, religious education or values such as cleanliness and how to behave with one another – and play in the peaceful courtyard, safe from traffic. The shelter also works with the children’s families, teaching mothers new skills like cutting hair or handcrafts. Doctors and dentists visit on a voluntary basis.
On the patio outside, Tigre the cat – named for his tiger-like stripes – is on patrol, keeping the place free of mice, rats and scorpions, and following staff around to ask for a tickle. Children queue patiently to use the toilet before filing in to the dining room for lunch.
“Casa Marikuecha only has a certain amount of money and yet the staff achieve big things. I’ve been visiting the house for 10 years and its condition is amazing. They really take care of things,” says APM Terminals’ Barreda Alonso.
Casa Marikuecha selects children by targeting the most disadvantaged families says Perez Vargas. When they leave here for regular public school, they will have a foundation that should last them for life.
“We can continue thanks to the help of the companies like APM Terminals and the people of the town,” she says.
“Without this, we wouldn’t be able to carry on.”