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Maria Ruiz - Inspirational & Motivational Stories

Maria Ruiz - That extra mile across the border

A native of El Paso, Maria Ruiz, 41 knows exactly the difference in living can be merely 30-minutes south of her Texas home. It all started on fine day in 1996, when she visited the outskirts of the city. What she saw was something she never expected. There were a number of children living in Juarez, with no water, electricity or food. Most people lived in homes made of wooden pallets while the elementary school was made of makeshift materials. It had no running water or electricity and after talking to teachers, she found out many were failing because they were hungry. This broke her heart and she immediately decided that she needed to help them as much as she can. Moreover, the dedication was even stronger because Ruiz's family has roots in Juarez. Ruiz recalls "My heart went out to those kids," "I couldn't just cross my arms and turn away from it. I needed to do something." And she did; in a big way.

Thus, came about a huge change in her life. Ruiz, her husband and their two children put construction of their own home on hold in 1996. Ruiz responded and the first thing she started was a food program at the local elementary school. She would cook the food at her home in El Paso, and drive it south across the border every morning. 12 years have gone by since she has been crossing the border to bring aid to impoverished children and families in Juarez, Mexico. She kept things going for three and a half years; feeding more than 1200 children every day but she suffered a small set back in 1999 when the business she depended on for donations had to wind up its operations. Instead of giving up, she found other ways to help. She began gathering donations - food, clothing, toys, furniture etc. Since they halted construction of their home, she used the living room as a storage space. These donations were distributed in Juarez at local "giveaways" that she and her family would host a couple of times a month.

This effort may sound simple enough but it's actually not. The reason for this is because the Mexican government charges customs fees when large amounts of goods are brought across the border. Of course, Ruiz had to find a way to overcome this so instead she made several trips every week. "You bring the stuff little by little, like the ants," she said. Going across the border doesn't take much time; it's the return to the United States which can take a couple of hours minimum. On top of that, these trips are made during a period of violent drug wars in that particular area so her safety is at great risk. Over time, Ruiz has been able to see the visible improvement but still there are many families which still live in poverty. She wants to do more. Hence, the idea of building a community kitchen with space to feed 500, an orphanage for 100 residents and a trade school came to life. Strongly motivated and supported, and her family's efforts are part of their ministry, called JEM (Jesus es Mana) Ministries."We are open to the community as a whole," she said. "It's equal for everybody."

"When you make a child smile," she said, "it's awesome." Her love for the children and their smiles have kept Ruiz coming back to Juarez. Although many consider her as a hero, Ruiz herself doesn't. All she says is "I know I can do much more."

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