Eduardo Mendoza’s parents fled Mexico because of a lack of health access, but when they arrived in Delano in 1990, they didn’t fare much better.

His parents were undocumented fieldworkers, along with his brother and sister. They couldn’t afford to purchase insurance on the local market and didn’t understand the healthcare system in their home country, let alone the United States, Mendoza said.

“It was very challenging for us to go to the doctor,” Mendoza said.

So the family lived carefully, minimizing risk wherever they could.

Mendoza’s mother wouldn’t even allowed to ride a bicycle or a skateboard as a kid. She was afraid he would fall and break his arm.

It was a childhood absent of healthcare that led Mendoza to pursue a career with Direct Relief, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to the United States and internationally. Mendoza is based in Mexico where his job centers almost entirely on getting healthcare and pharmaceuticals to those in need. It was Mendoza’s vision, Direct Relief officials say, to expand the nonprofit into Mexico. He was integral in its establishment.

“It’s been a mission of mine to expand [health access]. If I have access to all these incredible resources, why not help people who did not have access, such as my family, and solve that issue – not just sit around and be sad about it, but create something and be proactive so that people don’t have to suffer the way my family suffered and others suffered in Mexico and the United States?”

He’s been busier than ever this month, working 12 or 13 hour days after the country was rocked by back-to-back earthquakes that crumbled buildings, caused $2 billion in damage and claimed almost 350 lives.

“He called me midnight his time and told me what had happened. He was so concerned about the effects,” said Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe, referring to the Sept. 8 night an 8.1 magnitude temblor – the strongest quake in a century – struck Mexico. Direct Relief committed financial resources to the area.

Mendoza was already working with Mexican government authorities to organize what help a private organization like Direct Relief could provide, Tighe said, referring to Mendoza as his “hero.”

The organization works with pharmaceutical companies to get essential medications, like insulin, antibiotics, medication for hypertension and other drugs to treat rare diseases and deploy them to those who need them at both community health centers in the United States, and during times of disasters abroad, said Direct Relief spokesman Tony Morain, who attended graduate school with Mendoza at UC Santa Barbara where they earned degrees in Global and International Studies.

Tighe, who taught in the program, said Mendoza embodies “exactly the idea of the program: how do you make a meaningful difference in this evolving world of nonprofit organizations being called upon to build bigger roles for public benefit, but done privately?”

In Michoacan, Mendoza said he found whole families sleeping outside in the middle of a tropical storm. They were afraid if they slept inside their homes that an aftershock would cave in the walls, Mendoza said.

“There was a constant fear of aftershock – not heavy – but enough to shake you from your core and scare you from sleeping inside,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza has been working with private donors to arrange for delivery of antibacterial gels to kill germs, personal care items for cleanliness and insecticides, since Juchitan de Zaragoza, an indigenous town southeast of Oaxaca, is prone to mosquitoes that could carry Zika virus.

The most moving thing Mendoza has seen, he said, was the resilience in Mexico City.

“Usually, this city is unforgiving, and it’s hard to feel a connection to anyone,” Mendoza said. “The most moving emotions have come from the level of camaraderie and the level of empathy and compassion that popped seemingly out of nowhere. It’s an empowering moment, and it keeps you moving forward because you realize we’re all in it together.”

Mendoza’s parents, who still live in Delano, have been worried about him – and were worried about him even before the earthquakes, he said. They ask him why they moved to Mexico after they worked hard to immigrate to the United States.

“Well, why did you move to the United States?” Mendoza said he asks them. “We’re all trying to make our lives better and help eachother out.”

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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