Published: December 18, 2019
Recently, the message of holiday friendship, caring and service came by trucks, bags and overstuffed boxes from the U.S. to families in need at two small elementary schools on the outskirts of Piedras Negras in the northeastern Mexican desert, where health services and many necessities of daily living can be scarce.
For 13 years, UNTHSC School of Public Health Associate Professor Thad Miller, DrPH, and his family have volunteered with the larger mission this holiday express is part of, traveling to tiny rural communities across the harsh Chihuahua desert to staff temporary clinics and provide medical and dental treatment and other support to the local villagers.
The Millers have participated in the holiday trips for the last three years, taking one day each December to deliver good spirit, warm clothing and children’s special gifts along with the needed healthcare services and medicines.
This recent visit was facilitated by the International Rotary Club’s Piedras Negras Chapter, whose members met the surrogate Santas as they crossed the border.
Dr. Miller served as volunteer pharmacy technician while his wife Kelly, a North Texas pediatrician and TCOM graduate, treated schoolchildren as well as many of their infant siblings and parents.
Overall, the Feliz Navidad team served about 50 children and 10 adults between two schools in one day.
“On the day we come no class is held, all the children dress up in their very best clothes, and their mothers, younger siblings, grandparents and sometimes fathers attend,” Dr. Miller said. “The kids are so excited. First we do the clinic, then it becomes more like a festival day – this year we brought pizza, a rare treat for the children, and a piñata, and the families brought all of us volunteers homemade tamales and charro beans as gifts in return.”
Fredericksburg and New Braunfels-area Rotarians provided the toys, along with blankets and clothing, assuring that each child received something personal and special.
The Miller family contributed their own gifts of knitted hats made by Dr. Miller’s sister, whose family has also been a part of various Mexico mission trips over the years.
“Temperatures run quite cold this time of year and there is a real lack of warm clothes among many families, so these items are much appreciated,” Dr. Miller said.
By mid-afternoon, the volunteers left the kids playing with their new dolls, crafts, footballs, soccer balls and other presents as they packed up to head home.
Tired but still in the holiday spirit, they crossed the border around 5 p.m. and arrived home by midnight.
“It was a very long day to be sure,” Dr. Miller said, “but rewarding as always.”