In 1978 Madre Estella arrived in Juchitan, Mexico with her religious congregation to found a school. A few years later, Padre Pancho received permission from the Bishop of Tehuantepec to found a service organization in Juchitan. His goal was the establishment of an organization that would help young people finish school and then give back to the community that had supported them. That philosophy is still evident at Pimpollo today: education is highly valued, but all young people are expected to spend up to three years of service working at Pimpollo.

Padre Pancho and Madre Estella then joined forces to create what they envisioned as a community of service and were joined by Padre’s younger brother, Leonardo Herrera. The initial focus was providing young people with educational support and a foundation in community service. The group, or Comunidad de Servicio, as it was known, operated a cooperative store to provide Juchitan-area residents with daily staples at inexpensive prices. The comunidad also supported itself by running a tortilleria and through the wages young men received for part-time labor.

The community grows

By 1989, the Comunidad included 50 young people and 10 adults as members. That same year, the mission began to change. The father of Jose Luis, a 5-year-old boy, brought his child to Padre and Madre. Jose’s mother had abandoned her blind and autistic son and the father could not care for Jose alone. Jose’s arrival accelerated plans to establish an orphanage as part of the Comunidad’s overall service philosophy. A month later, Jose was joined by his sister, Ofelia, and older brother, Ricardo. Within a year Padre and Madre were caring for 11 children, three of whom had special needs. Pimpollo, the City of Children, had emerged.

Padre Pancho looks north

In 1987, Padre forged his first relationship with a U.S. organization. He was traveling in the U.S. looking for funds to support his project when a fellow Catholic priest introduced him to the Broetje family, which operates extensive farms in southeastern Washington’s agricultural center.

Over the years, the Broetje’s generosity and kindness supported Pimpollo’s business efforts, the digging of a well and construction of the dormitory and the dining hall, or comedor. The main dormitory building began construction in 1993 and was finished in 1995. The dining hall, or comedor, was built between 1990 and 1993.

With the dormitory and dining hall built, attention turned to what is termed the school, a finished single level building with several rooms and an unfinished second floor. The five main floor rooms were finished in 2001. The rooms house a library, computer room, music room, a room for the very young and special needs children and a storage room.

John meets Pimpollo

By 1995, Pimpollo had grown to 70 children and young adults with two paid staff, two community staff and three live-in mothers. It was about this time that John Kerr, a Salem, Oregon, financial advisor and longtime Northwest Medical Teams [NWMT] volunteer, began to focus on the needs of the poor, especially children, in Oaxaca. To make a long story short, John ran into a friend of a friend of a friend who worked with the federal Mexican child welfare department in Oaxaca. This friend mentioned several orphanages that could use help and almost as an afterthought, mentioned a place called Pimpollo. “Chills went up my spine, and I told her that we wanted to visit this place called Pimpollo,” John recalled. “I felt at that instant that this was what I had been looking for.”

A trip in October 1999 was planned, but immediately ran into trouble. First, an earthquake hit Oaxaca the day before the group planned to arrive. Once there, John became sick and couldn’t make the trip to Pimpollo. Five months later, John finally made it to Pimpollo. After arriving back home in Salem again, John discovered that his church, Queen of Peace, and Fr. George Wolf wanted to form a mission in Oaxaca.

Fast forward a couple of years

Since John’s first trip to the orphanage, Friends of Pimpollo has sent over 60 teams to southern Mexico and has created a tight-knit group of volunteers dedicated to helping the children. During that time, much work has been done to improve the orphanage’s physical infrastructure, but just as important many children now have special friends in the U.S. who have become part of a huge and loving family.

The natural course of things has taken Friends of Pimpollo beyond the orphanage in Juchitan.  We now have a very successful college program in Tuxtla and San Cristobal, Chiapas. Learn more about the Education Scholarship Program here.

Our work has also expanded to include the Vicente Guerrero Community outside of Oaxaca City. There we are helping to educate young students, and have also established an adult literacy program which has been an huge success! Learn more about the Vicente Guerrero Program here.

Friends of Pimpollo set out to help children, young adults and individuals accomplish their dreams. With your help, together, we have done just that. Success is not just measured in the number of schoolrooms constructed or meals served, but is evident in the college graduations, children excelling in the classroom, and parents learning to read and write.

Students have realized their dreams and potential. Families have hope. The community is unified. With your continued support, we look forward to what students will dream up next. We continue to walk with them as they strive for a dignified education.

John Kerr and students, seen here in front of the Símbolos Patrios classroom dedicated to the Friends of Pimpollo Founder (November 2013)

John Kerr and students, seen here in front of the Símbolos Patrios classroom dedicated to the Friends of Pimpollo Founder (November 2013, Vicente Guerrero, Oaxaca)