Forget about the politics…..

Let’s focus on the message of this man’s plight. What an incredible story of hope, determination and perseverance. It doesn’t matter what your political views are today if you could just peel back the layers of this man’s message…maybe, just maybe people will jump on the bandwagon and push for peace in such an incredible country.

Meet El Bronco, Mexico’s man of the moment
He’s survived attacks by hit men. His son did not. But Jaime Rodríguez’s determination to crack Mexico’s corrupt political system has finally paid off

Jaime Heliodoro Rodriguez Calderon, also known as El Bronco, a candidate for governor for the state of Nuevo Leon, greets crowd members during a rally in the La Alianza Real neighborhood of Escobedo, Mexico, May 21, 2015. Calderon is the first independent candidate to run for the seat in Nuevo Leon, a state that runs along the Texas border that is a major industrial hub and also a battlefield among drug gangs. (RODRIGO CRUZ/The New York Times/Redux)

 (RODRIGO CRUZ/The New York Times/Redux)
June 8, 2015

Update, June 8: Unofficial results suggest independent Jaime Rodriguez, a.k.a. “El Bronco,” has won the governor’s race in Nuevo Leon. Here is our profile of the candidate, published last week:

Mexico’s man of the moment campaigns in cowboy boots, constantly cusses and carries an iPhone as his weapon of choice. He goes by the nickname El Bronco (roughly translated as “Untamed” or “Rebellious”), rose from rags to riches, and survived two assassination attempts by Los Zetas, the ruthless cartel he crossed swords with as mayor of a Monterrey-area municipality.

Now Jaime Rodríguez is gunning for the governorship of Nuevo León state as an independent candidate and taking aim at what citizens increasingly consider the country’s most corrupt institutions: political parties. “They consider themselves owners, not public servants,” he said of the parties, while travelling between events in a Cadillac Escalade covered with multi-coloured horsehead logos. “There are cases in which politicians are accused of corruption and no one does anything. They’re not even investigated,” he continued. “People are fed up and moving over to our side.”

El Bronco’s campaign for the June 7 elections is unprecedented in Mexico, which barred independent candidates from the ballot until this year. It’s also as much about crashing the control of the country’s parties over the political system as it is rooting out corruption in a northern state famed for industrial fortunes and thrift, but notorious for crime in recent years.

Several polls show Rodríguez leading in Nuevo León, in spite of rules rigged against independent candidates in terms of financing and advertising, and a crushing lack of local media interest. That has forced the self-described social media addict to promote himself through Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

His growing support as an independent candidate demonstrates the depth of discontent with political parties not just in the state, but throughout the republic, observers say. Corruption and conflict of interest scandals consume President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration and the opposition keeps its criticisms of the government in check. “It’s turning out to be a real, potential way to shake the political system in Nuevo León and maybe all of Mexico eventually,” says Mauricio Sada, a former majority leader in the Nuevo León legislature, who left the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) and helped form a citizen group supporting independent candidacies. “If he wins, it’s as significant a moment as when [Vicente] Fox won the presidency.”

Related: Enrique Peña Nieto, a champion for the wrong people

Fox, running for the PAN, ousted the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000, ending 71 years of one-party rule. The following 15 years have proved disenchanting for many Mexicans as they experienced subpar economic growth, creeping corruption and political parties poorly trying to emulate the PRI (which regained power in 2012). “It was easier to tell who the good guys were” prior to 2000, Sada says, as the PRI played the role of villain in politics and erstwhile opposition parties presented platforms of clean governance. Nowadays, “It’s hard to find a good guy.”

The annual Global Barometer of Corruption survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International found 91 per cent of Mexicans consider political parties “corrupt”—higher than the police and public officials. Observers say there’s no correlation between the levels of corruption in a state or city and the party in power.

Political parties can be profitable enterprises in Mexico. The country’s 10 registered parties collected more than $400 million in public funds last year (political parties are given money by the Federal Electoral Institute based on a formula of votes received in the last federal election)—in a country where nearly half the population is considered poor. “Most of these parties are rent seekers, and even the big ones are about rent seeking,” says Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “It’s the partidocracia”—as Mexicans call the rule by political parties—“every election cycle you’re reminded of what’s wrong with the way they set it up.” Small parties are often accused of being family businesses, like the Green Party.

Making parties even more unpopular was the aftermath of an agreement known as the Pacto por México between Peña Nieto and the three biggest parties to advance an agenda of structural reforms in areas like education, energy and telecommunications. The pacto ended gridlock in Congress, but left a perception that the parties were obeying the president—a point reinforced by the opposition silence after reporters revealed that the president, his wife and finance ministers all purchased homes from prominent government contractors. “They look like sheep,” says Ilán Semo, political historian at the Iberoamerican University. “At the time to ask for an investigation, they all stayed silent.”

El Bronco participated in PRI politics for more than 30 years—an irony not lost on his critics, who accuse him of opportunism after the PRI opted for another candidate. Sada had his doubts, too, but recalls coming away convinced something was different after a discussion with Rodríguez last fall. “This guy sounds like a born-again Christian,” Sada says. “Something’s driving him that you can’t put on a list or identify easily.”

Rodríguez grew up on in a ranch without electricity, the fourth of 10 children to a mother “who couldn’t read, but made her children go to school.” An engineer by profession, he raised horses and grew alfalfa and got the name El Bronco after a dustup with the leaders of a farmers’ groups.

Rodríguez gained fame after becoming mayor of García in 2009, northwest of Monterrey, where he confronted Los Zetas—right as Nuevo León plunged into violence. An aide says he created an elite police unit, which captured crime leaders, and dismantled a network of halcones (spies paid to tip off cartels to police and military movements) by having people text him personally with information.

It came at a cost. Hit men twice made assassination attempts, on one occasion spraying his bulletproof SUV with 2,800 shots. His two-year-old daughter was abducted, though returned. One of his six children, a 22-year-old son, was kidnapped and killed. It was then that Rodríguez found his anti-system religion. “I made a commitment, as I held my dead son in my arms, that I was going to change this country,” Rodríguez says. “That’s my promise, that’s why I’m in this.”

Taking on the parties is no easy task. By law, only registered parties can place political ads on TV and radio—and stations are obliged to give the parties 48 minutes per day in free airtime. Parties also receive public funds for their campaigns ($4 million in Nuevo León) and limit private donations to just 10 per cent of what’s given by the government. The approval of independent candidates, done as part of political reform, left the rules for fundraising uncertain, leaving Rodríguez to campaign on a shoestring. “They gave me 38 (TV and radio) spots against 2,300 for the PRI and PAN and we’re beating them.”

Media coverage has been scant with Monterrey’s big three broadcasters mostly boycotting his events—the product, Rodríguez claims, of his promising to spend the current government’s communications budget on social programs instead of TV and radio ads. What coverage comes out is often unflattering or raises old scandals such as spending in García or doubting the details of his daughter’s kidnapping. Observers say the stream of scandal stories is having little impact, especially after the present government experiences embarrassments such as 300,000 licence plates going missing from the DMV as auto theft rates soared.

“All that’s happened to (Rodríguez) in the media—it’s only helped him,” says Juan Manuel Ramos, who monitors campaign social media activity on the website RedesQuintoPoder (Fifth Estate Networks.)

El Bronco beats the media by generating social media buzz. He wakes at 5 a.m. each day and spends two hours responding to WhatsApp messages—not unlike the way Rob Ford used to return constituents’ phone calls. Meetings are announced on Facebook, usually hours beforehand, and forgo the usual giveaways and bussing in of poor voters, who attend in exchange for things like free T-shits. An estimated 2,000 residents showed up at a campaign event in the scruffy Solidaridad neighbourhood of Monterrey, listening attentively as Rodríguez reeled off his campaign promises: better transit, health and education. “You know how we’re going to pay for this?” he asked. “By stopping this robbery and recovering what’s already been robbed.”

Attendees speak enthusiastically of El Bronco. “He took on the narcos,” says scrap-metal dealer Casimiro Zuñiga, who was kidnapped by Los Zetas in 2010, hit with a hammer, and only freed after giving his captors $1,600 and his truck. Politicians “don’t do anything for people in poor areas. They only worry about their own grandeur.” But El Bronco? “He’s the best.”

Out of the mouths of babes….


As Cesar and I were watching the kids in Mexico enjoy the rooftop patio covers our charity Hope For Mexico just unveiled, these two adorable little girls were meandering around the school arm in arm singing like nobody was listening. They caught our eye and I grabbed my camera and started following them around and watching them. As Cesar and I found ourselves standing in the sun and not under the patio….the one little girl came and tugged on Cesar’s shirt and said “Ummm…..mister, why are you standing in the sun when we now have shade?” and gently pushed him back under the patio cover. We just looked at each other and melted, not from the sun, but from the impact we have made on these little lives. So cool.

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Who knew……

IMG_1874So, this little girl’s mom wanted to tell me a story. Lupita attends one of our schools in Mexico and was so touched by our visit last year she couldn’t wait for us to come back.

Our charity, Hope For Mexico, was just touring our schools last week unveiling the new rooftop patio covers we installed to help shade the kindergarten kids from the burning Mexico sun.

Last year, when we toured the four schools and delivered private school quality school supplies, we had fabric bracelets made that had Hope For Mexico embroidered on them and we tied them on all the kids wrists.

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Well, according to Lupita’s mother this bracelet was her favourite thing in the world and she refused to take it off. Her mother said, it got dirty from her playing outside but she insisted her mother wash it – but not take it off. So her mother scrubbed the bracelet clean while still wrapped around her daughter’s little wrist.

We were there in February of last year….and in late summer Lupita broke her arm. She came running to her mother and her only concern was the bracelet. She didn’t want to have to take off the bracelet we gave her. She pushed and pushed the bracelet as far up her arm as possible so the doctors would not take it off…but in the end the doctor had to cut if off. Lupita’s mother said the little girl cried for days and days. Not because of her broken arm, Lupita told her mother “that will heal”, she said, “but the bracelet of hope is gone.”

Whoa, who knew such a small thing would delicately lay across a little girls wrist and bring such hope and inspiration. I wonder what she thought about when she looked at that bracelet after we left. Maybe, just maybe it opened her little mind to the possibilities of what this big ole’ world could offer.

I know what you’re thinking….a great ending to this story would be that we pulled out a brand new clean bracelet for Lupita and the biggest smile crept across her face? Nope…..Cesar and I didn’t bring any fresh bracelets because we figured we already did that…no need to do it again.

How wrong were we?…..guess we’ll just have to book another trip to Mexico and hand deliver some much loved and cherished Hope For Mexico bracelets. Couldn’t have planned it any better myself.


Clap your hands if you think that happiness is the….



I think we often forget what happiness truly feels like. It’s easy to get lost or caught up in our day to day activities and lives and not really stop and feel the moment you feel something real and raw. But as I was driving away from the fourth and final school in Mexico the other day, I had a familiar euphoric feeling that I recognized as pure happiness. It was a warm and comforting feeling deep in my bones (and not just because I was in Mexico where it was sunny and warm) but a “real” feeling of joy in it’s purest form. I’ve missed that feeling lately, whether I’ve let it breeze by unnoticed or it’s been a while since I felt it; I don’t know, but man, it’s addictive and I want more.

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Hope For Mexico toured the four schools we committed our help to this week and I can tell you I felt the communities gratitude, I felt that they appreciated us for following through and doing something for them that they least expected. That’s a very big gift for me to share with all of you, those who helped us get there and helped us build those shelters and helped us get running water for the kids to wash their hands and washrooms that work for them to use. It was humbling to see and feel the relief on the mothers faces. We heard stories that since the patio covers have been installed a number of kids who suffered from painful skin conditions due to constant sun light have healed and disappeared. We heard that kids no longer are getting sick and passing out because they are 33 kindergarten kids in a cramped hot 10×10 school room. We heard that communities come to enjoy the shelter from the sun and families can eat outside and socialize together as friends and neighbours. Our generosity has brought people together and by doing that I believe it brings them hope. The very foundation of what we were built on…Hope For Mexico.

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It’s possible to make a difference, little by little, big or small. It is possible that one kind gesture can change the direction of a community and lives that live in it.

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Stay tuned, I will be posting some great stories and photos over the next few days. Some of the stories are sure to inspire and hopefully inspire you all enough to help kick off phase two of our fundraising efforts.

Finally done and heading “home”

It’s official, the rooftop covers for all four schools in Mexico are done. The kids are over the moon happy and can play and learn and eat outside their 10 x 10 school rooms.IMG_0126

Last year our charity Hope For Mexico visited all four remote areas in northern Mexico to see for ourselves what these kids really needed most. We held a fundraiser, raised 15 thousand dollars and then got to work on making four schools a better place for these kindie kids to learn. With the money raised by all our friends and family here in Canada and Mexico we bought bags of “private school” quality school supplies, musical instruments and learning tools and delivered them personally last February.IMG_0459

On the spot, working with the DIF, the government body that oversees the schools in Mexico, we realized these kids need shelter from the sun. They couldn’t play outside, or eat outside or learn outside because these playgrounds had no shelter from the blazing Mexican sun. Some of the kids were passing out and getting sick because they couldn’t find a reprieve.
We knew this is where our money needed to go. It took a lot longer than I had hoped – for reasons out of my control and nothing to do with the Mexican side of things, but here we are. Finally Done!!

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I will be travelling to Mexico in the next few weeks to tour each school and “officially” unveil the rooftop covers. Once again we will be accompanied by the Mayor of Dolores Hidalgo and the members of the DIF in that city as well. Both have been huge supporters of ours and we can’t thank them enough.

I would also like to thank a few people back here at home, who have weighed down my suitcase with supplies and support. My daughter’s dentist office, surprisingly handed me a big box of school supplies one day after they found out what our family is up to in Mexico. Thank you Danforth Children’s Dentistry. Also our friends Shelagh Meek and Stella Reed who so kindly bought school supplies for me to take back and Sue and Mike Stevens with another box of supplies and endless ideas for our fundraising efforts to continue. HFM’s new fundraising “idea” is actually Sue’s idea. Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting one. I know I’m missing people…so thank you to you too. And last, but certainly not least, thank you to Cesar, my brother from another mother who is on the ground in Mexico and takes care of all the details and ensures Hope For Mexico is moving along and takes care of me and my family when we are in our beloved Mexico. See you soon mi hermano!!


I have not forgotten….


I may have been silent since my last post, but I have not forgotten what we have committed to do in Mexico. Things have been happening, at a snail’s pace, but still things are happening.

Since returning from Mexico and our school trip, I got really sick and have been fighting or clawing my way back ever since. I had to step away for a bit and then busy life stuff got in the way, but all the while knowing we needed to finish what we started. So, I am happy to report that the patio covers are being built as we speak. We have new plans in motion to raise more money for these schools and I am kicking around ideas for our next fundraiser.

I have been quietly working behind the scenes and wanted everyone to know that we are back! Can’t wait to get back to my second home and see what’s been done and how it has affected all our kindie kids.

Stay tuned, I promise it won’t be such a long commercial break next time.

Shelter from the sun….


That’s what’s needed. Period. First and foremost. These kindergarten kids need shelter from the burning Mexican sun. A basic necessity that will fundamentally change the lives of these kindergarten kids and those who will follow years to come. Believe me, standing out in these “playgrounds” was beyond hot, and it’s winter here too. We are so thankful that we came to tour the schools before settling on what is really needed.

Last night….the HFM team negotiated and decided on installing four patio covers at each of our schools pronto. As you can see from the photo below, the kids are squished up against the side of the school, the only place for two or so hours that provides some reprieve from the sun. The school acts as a shelter, but it’s not enough room for these kids to run around and play and enjoy the outdoors. Their classrooms are small and hot, some with no electricity, so building these patio shelters will be a God send.



You can see the DIF constructed ‘make shift’ cover from tarps, that is where the patio shelters will be constructed in the other three schools.



IMG_0132IMG_0445We spoke the supplier, got him to commit to a better price since we are building and installing four patios and all work will be done by the end of April. Awesome! Just in time for the ‘hotter’ weather.

Meet some more of “our” kids who will enjoy their new sheltered playgrounds thanks to all of you….who helped raise the money so we can raise the roof(s)!!



It’s the best when you least expect it…..


If you really believe that kindness is contagious, even when you least expect it –  than you won’t be surprised by the message of this post. When our charity Hope For Mexico was touring and delivering much needed school supplies to our four schools in Dolores Hidalgo  we had no idea that others were taking note.

We decided in early January that we would hold off on building anything in the four schools we have committed to, simply for the fact that we wanted to tour each one and see for ourselves what they need and really get a feel for the schools, the kids and the communities. After we handed over all the supplies, we toured the classrooms and went over the teacher requests for their school needs. I was shocked that bathrooms, flushing toilets and running water to wash hands were on each list, but not even close to being number one. First and foremost each school needs a patio roof or shelter from the sun. Believe me, we could barely stand it out on their paved playgrounds for more than 20 minutes, these little guys have no where to play, eat or learn outside because none of the schools have proper shelter from the sun.


Now, let me back up a bit…..these particular schools are not funded by the federal government because they do not have enough students in each to meet the requirements for funding. So they are left to fend for themselves and rely on the DIF (family services) to help provide basic funding. But the DIF provides help to so many areas in Mexico like medical, dental, retirement and assistance for the aging, domestic violence and shelter for those in need and of course impoverished schools to name a few. So funding is spread thin and the schools suffer for sure.



But while touring the school and talking with the teacher at our first school of the day, we couldn’t stand the thought of these kids not having running water to wash their hands and a toilet that flushes. I asked how much to fix that…..her answer?? About $100.00.  Just before I could say we’ll take care of that…..the DIF employee piped up and said if you provide the patio roof, we’ll take care of the toilets and running water. I held out my hand and said, “You’ve got yourself a deal!”

IMG_0196And to my surprise…. that’s how the day went, HFM and Senor Alejandri went side by side and made deal after deal. We committed to building patio roofs on all four schools and the DIF committed to other needs that seem so basic to us, but a complete luxury to these teachers and students. If HFM wasn’t there that day, the DIF likely wouldn’t have been there to really see what a fantastic job these young teachers were doing with basically nothing to work with.



Beyond Words…..


I can’t begin to describe what kind of day we had yesterday. You know when you plan for something, dream of something, think of what it’s going to be like…. and then it happens…and it blows every expectation you had or could have hoped for. Well, our day was even better than that!!

So, Hope For Mexico arrived in Mexico on Friday….we got settled in at our friends place, went to an unbelievable party with our friends here in Mexico and then headed up to Dolores Hidalgo to pick up all the school supplies we bought for our four schools. When we arrived at the shop, everything was bagged and waiting for us. Juana, the owner kindly offered a reduced rate as a part of a donation. She went above and beyond by offering a truck delivery of the supplies the next morning at the DIF (the organization that runs the four schools) at no extra charge.



We left Guanajuato as the sun was rising over the mountains filled with anticipation. When we arrived at the DIF everyone was waiting for us, it was clear we were to have an entourage for our day of tours. We sat in the offices over coffee before heading out and got to know the people we had been working with for months, but I hadn’t had the chance to meet them face to face yet. And let me tell you….same organization (the DIF)….as our adoption process, in the same country…..but nothing prepared us for the open arms that were waiting for us. Some might say…yeah….well of course…you don’t want to take something from them this time….you are coming with money to give and asking for nothing. But that was not it. Not at all. It was 8 years of building credibility in a country that has no reason to trust us. It was 8 years of friendship with Cesar and his family that got us in the doors and heard for the first time. It was a life lesson that sunk in even deeper than before…”Do what you say you are going to do.” And do it quickly. These people were honoured to meet “us”. We were treated like Kings and Queens (and princesses) for the day and they didn’t have to do that.


At each school we visited a ceremonial celebration was set up for us. All the kids were dressed in their Sunday best….waiting in the courtyards for us. Sound systems were set up…like come on….I don’t even think these kids have even seen a microphone in their little lives. All for us. We were introduced and I had to say something at each school….YIKES….big fear of mine. But my daughter turned to me and said…”Mommy, don’t be nervous….they’re just kids.” Wow…..she’s so right. From that point on, I just took a deep breath and took in the moment. Not letting a moment go by without recognizing how lucky we were.




And then came the moment that I nearly lost it. I had no idea….the DIF had made plaques to say thank you for Hope For Mexico, but not only did not I not know this…but the plaques were actually already carved into the walls of the schools, painted around and looked like they have been there forever. And what hit me was…they will be there forever. Each school had an unveiling of the plaque and we each took turns pulling back the curtains.  The last school, the Mayor of Dolores Hidalgo joined us and he and I revealed our plaque together.

IMG_0166IMG_0174IMG_0199IMG_0253IMG_0374IMG_0375IMG_0514But the absolute greatest of all….the best moments of the day came when I watched my daughter immerse herself in a dream that came true. She loved every minute of it…and when you looked into the eyes of the kids you could actually see the joy we brought them…even if for one day. I knew going on this adventure would change the lives of some children and the best is yet to come there….but it changed us as a family too. And it all comes back to our the saying we used as the symbol our wedding ten years ago…in Mexico, where our journey here began. “En la union esta la fuerza” – In unity there is strength. It’s not just me, or my family of three….it’s our “entourage” that will continue to make the differences we dreamt up not so long ago, our friends here in Mexico and those at home who have supported us and believed in our dream.


Meet some of our “kids”



Stay tuned….more stories to come.

Here we go….


We’re atta here….Mexican sunshine here we come. We’ve been waiting for this trip for a long time and worked hard to get it all done. Thanks to Cesar who is the eyes and ears in Mexico…we are ready to put our plan into action.

Hope For Mexico raised over 15 thousand dollars in November to help rebuild 4 schools in impoverished areas of Mexico. We are super excited to arrive and get to work. It’s amazing when you dream up something and then little by little you test the waters to make sure it’s something that can work. And the moment you realize, ok….it’s time to put up or shut up…and you close your eyes and take that leap of faith. Now it’s pay off time. We will update with photos and videos while away so you can see our progress.

On February 24th, our first order of business is to deliver all the curriculum items we have ordered, we decided to buy all the supplies that private schools order. The best of the best for our Hope for Mexico kids. Then we will tour the four schools and make the final decisions as to what we feel they really need, it’s so hard to make those decisions from such a distance. Thank heavens for Cesar and my Mexican family there;  we decided to take our time and do it right.

Last week, I went to my daughter’s classroom and asked the kids in her class to create two templates for murals that we will paint on the faded and dilapidated walls of these schools. Something for these tiny kids to look at and inspire them; remind them that people care and have faith in them. Ava’s classmates did a beach scene (as these schools are no where near beach or ocean) and since that’s where we live, they thought that would be a great thing and then…of course….they did a winter snowman scene. Very Canadian, with the CN Tower in the background. Super cool, so we’ll recreate these drawings on the walls there and sign all their names to them. Leaving our mark.


Should be an inspiring trip, one I hope our family never forgets and sets us on a path to continue our dreams for change.

Hasta luego!!