25 Feb 2008 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 0 Comment.
Last week I was in Mexico, on the west coast at Chacala (population 300), an hour and a half drive north of Puerto Vallarta. It is one of the last undeveloped palm-fringed bays in the area, now being threatened by commercial developers who want to turn the lovely sylvan beach into a marina and condos. There I was fortunate to meet and get to know a wonderful medical missionary named Dr. Laura de Valle, a trained physician and alternative medicine doctor, grandmother and zen Buddhist who has worked there almost single handedly serving the area for twenty-five years and is currently embroiled in trying to preserve the traditional culture and peoples of that region. What began over twenty-five years ago as a few simple palapas built to house American medical students she recruited for on going work-study programs to treat the region’s poor villagers has become a little Mexican-style seaside resort spa and sanctuary called Mar de Jade (Sea of Jade). It is within twenty yards of the ever rolling, singing sea — a charming, bougainvillea and banana tree covered vacation oasis on the jungle’s edge, reminiscent of the Costa Verde jungle outpost in “The Night of the Iguana.” The charming little hotel has 30 guest rooms at present, in four two storey buildings.
Laura says that, along with her devoted family and long term paid native staff members, she tries to strike a balance between the learning and serving side of things along with just relaxing and enjoying, for self-renewal takes many different forms. “People come here to recuperate from the modern world. And we’ve had many goodhearted people stay here, people who really want to make a difference.” It is a wonderful place to do so, with stellar beach, home cooked meals prepared in a meticulously clean kitchen, swimming pools, hot tub, morning yoga sessions, massage rooms, a zen meditation hall, and lots of sun, space and quietude. Groups often rent it for retreats, including this year a zen Buddhist meditation retreat, a Sufi camp, human potential workshop and a wide variety of yoga retreats. Whale watching, dolphins, pelicans and body surfing enriched my time at Chacala Bay. One Saturday night at sunset there was an outdoor wedding on a grassy knoll, with Reverend Laura officiating and whales breaching in a background of fiery-red and orange sea and painted sky.
Charismatic, passionate, intense and chatty; Dr. Laura has founded, funded and directs a free medical clinic, an after school program for children from impoverished families, and is enthusiastically trying to set up micro industry projects for the many single moms in the region. For over two decades she has seasonal intern programs and residential opportunities for altruistic volunteers young and old interested in selfless service. The locals believe she is a curandera, a healer with powers. Dr. Laura says: “Twenty years ago, I didn’t think anyone would last a week here. In the beginning we had to boil water from a muddy creek, use kerosene lamps, dodge scorpions and sleep in rain-soaked huts. But the students loved it. It was eye-opening for all of us to live and work here over the years, because in these very poor traditional communities you realize how rural medicine intersects with so many other issues. You’re really doing social work and community development. I have learned a great deal from people who can’t read.” Laura has helped with both seed money and mini-loans to the fishing boats, sewing co-ops, food programs, financial support for medical emergencies, has funded legal and human rights services and hosted and facilitated many guests to get village projects underway. She is a one woman charitable enterprise.
Dr. Laura united Habitat visitors with her brother to start “Techos de Mexico”, a program that helped villagers build rooms for bed and breakfast to generate income from tourists. Dentist friends of mine from San Antonio are donating new dental equipment and time annually to serve the poor farmers and fisherman of the region. Her current dream is to recreate a residential program, as Mar de Jade had for many years, with a long enough stay for guests to get into the rhythm of a wholesome personal life that includes meditation, yoga, group dynamics and in depth community work. A pair of bilingual young graduates from Brown University in Rhode Island were manning the reception desk when I checked in; it wasn’t long before it became apparent that one was Laura’s daughter Angelica, who just gave birth to her first child. She hugged and kissed me on both cheeks when I left twelve days later.