As I watched the small four-seat Cessna lift off from the dirt mountain airstrip in May of 1980, I couldn’t imagine how the few hours I’d spent in this Huichol Indian village would change the course of my life and work. Up to this point I’d been content with my rather ordinary suburban life with my husband Tom in California and my work as a dental hygienist.
I had been invited to join a group of medical students from Universidad Autonoma/Guadalajara providing medical care to poor Huichol farmers and their families living in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. Due to the Huichols’ remote location, these students provided the only medical and dental care they had access to. But that day, the Huichol didn’t ask for medical care. They asked for food.
A prolonged, deadly drought had made them desperate for food and they asked our pilot, Bill Baxter, if there was any way he could bring them a 50-pound sack of dried corn so they could make masa, their daily staple.
Bill and the medical students flew off to look for the corn, leaving me behind. They would need my seat to hold the bag of corn should they find it.
Well, I didn’t know a single word of the Huichol language and only a few words of Spanish, and the villagers didn’t speak Spanish at all. But despite the language barrier, their difficulties were clear to me. They needed food to survive. Since communication was not an option, I had plenty of time alone to think. An inner voice told me very clearly that I couldn’t just walk away from this situation and go back to my comfortable life. I had to do something. I had to help these people by helping the students with their flying clinic.
I returned home with a passion to do whatever I could for these people who were so removed from civilization that the world had forgotten them. (Even the area in which they lived was blank on the map.)
I soon had Amistad Foundation registered as a charity and began collecting donations. (Our name was later changed to Amistad International.) Soon, resources began flowing to the medical students enabling them to continue their work and keep the clinic operating. When those students graduated, Amistad Foundation was able to recruit new volunteer doctors and a professional pilot and the Huichol Indian outreach continues to this day.