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Children in the Dumps

'Greatest' turns talents to helping border poor

Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso Times - May 8, 2000

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali helped paved the way for a new mega-relief project in Juárez that began Sunday with a truckload of food and other gifts for needy families. The retired heavyweight champion, who was known for his brash style, showed people along the border why many today still call him "the greatest." Ali, "the philanthropist," was introduced after his arrival at a news conference at the Camino Real, where El Paso Mayor Carlos Ramirez presented him with the key to the city.

After that, Ali hopped an trolley bound for Juárez with Suzie Valadez, an El Paso missionary with Christ for Mexico who regularly feeds about 3,000 needy people in the Juárez dump area, where many scavenge for food and other items. The party included a Ryder rental truck loaded with two tons of a special food product and toys.

More food and more "champions" will be coming to the border as a result of Ali's involvement, said Yank Barry, chairman of the Montreal-based Global Village Market.

Barry formerly toured with the Kingsmen, a group famous for the hit song "Louie, Louie." He founded a company called VitaPro, which makes a food product designed especially to feed the hungry.

The food donated to feed the Juárez families is rich in nutrients, comes in chicken and beef flavors, and can be stored without refrigeration.

Charities and other groups that try to take donated goods into Mexico sometimes run into problems clearing Mexican customs. However, with Ali on board, the truck and other vehicles were waved through Sunday afternoon and did not have to stop for inspection.

The group then proceeded to the Kiki Romero Gimnasio in south Juárez. At the gym, Ali's team passed out bags with the special food product that Global Village markets had donated, along with free toys and T-shirts.

Ali delighted the crowd of more than 300 by doing a magic trick, throwing occasional jabs at the air and pretending to spar with Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo.

"Your boxing days may be over, but you are still a fighter, one who fights for noble causes," Elizondo told Ali.

Ali kissed and hugged children, signed autographs and posed for pictures with anyone who asked.

Juárez resident Eduardo Velasquez said he rode to the gym on a bicycle with his 6-year-old son, Ever.

"I didn't really believe that Ali would be here after I heard it on TV, but I brought my son anyway," Velasquez said. "And look, there he is. Everyone knows him, from movies, the news, his boxing career."

Ali founded Global Village Champions, an organization made up mostly of athletes and musicians who promote humanitarian goodwill. It works with Global Village Market, a company with annual revenues of $350 million, which has carried out humanitarian projects around the world, including Africa's Ivory Coast, Russia and Bosnia.

Recently, the organization agreed to assist Hands of Love And Hope/Christ for Mexico, a mission run by Suzie Valadez.

Valadez, who's been feeding needy children in Juárez for 37 years, said "Ali's visit was a blessing."

Barry said that "within the next six months, we plan to set up an infirmary and build dorms for the (Juárez) children." He also said a priority will be to get drinking water to the dump area on a regular basis.

As part of the effort, El Paso's Sierra Springs donated bottled water for the next four months for the children in the Juárez dump neighborhood of Colonia Morelos.

Eliezer Ben-Joseph, a naturopath who operates Herbs for Health at 7040 North Mesa and who has a radio program on natural health products, was instrumental in introducing Valadez's work to the Global Village organization.

He said celebrities like Ali usually command $500,000 for promotional appearances. "But, because it involved needy children, Ali donated his time entirely," Ben-Joseph said.

Ali jokingly turned to Ben-Joseph and said, "So, you're not going to pay me?"

Ali, who has parkinsonism, made only a few brief comments. The disease affects his nervous system and forces him to walk slowly and speak haltingly.

The stop at the Juárez gym took longer than planned, and Ali was unable to travel on to the south Juárez dump because he had to catch a plane back to Michigan. At 3:15 p.m., he was whisked away from the gym in a limousine and escorted by Juárez police on motorcycles.

Eboni Washington, 21, president of UTEP's Black Student Coalition, and coalition member William Muhammad, met Ali at the Camino Real press conference.

"We wanted to offer him our help with the project," Washington said.

Major contributors included the Institute for Global Prosperity and the International Free Enterprise Association. Other contributors were the El Paso-Juárez Trolley Company, which donated Sunday's trolley service.

Other events will follow in the near future, including an artists' exhibit, said Cameron Scott, an artist at the press conference who said he plans to donate a painting of Ali to help raise funds for the project.

Barry, Ben-Joseph and Valadez said many more volunteers are needed to help carry out the relief efforts.

Over the years, the dump was settled by families who migrated to Juárez from the interior of Mexico to seek better opportunities. Many of them couldn't get jobs at maquiladoras or other places because they didn't possess documents to establish identities and education.

Countless survived by scavenging the garbage for food and trash for clothing and house materials. Some fashioned their homes from lumber scraps, sticks and cardboard.

Project leaders said families in the Colonia Morelos often can't afford to pay the $1 a week required to send their children to school.

For more information: Global Village Web site, http://www.gvmarket.com/


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