(Second in an ongoing – and perhaps never-ending – series focusing on the older-women-angels of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)
She would wince at this description, but my new friend Pamela Brown is thought of by those who know her and have been helped by her – including me – as an angel.
Just this past Wednesday, as Alicia and I walked arm in arm out of the Low Vision Support Group meeting here in San Miguel de Allende, the group that Pamela and her friend Gael Sherman recently formed, Alicia, who suffers from a detached retina, said to me, “Yes, Pamela really is an angel. I feel lucky to know her.”
The first time Pamela and I met for lunch at mi casa in San Miguel in December, she told me a bit about herself: She is originally from Maryland and spent almost thirty years as a librarian in Maryland and Virginia. Now 69 and retired, she has made San Miguel her home.
“I decided to live here permanently last spring,” she told me. “I was here for six months last year as a trial and during that time I realized this is where I need to be. I went home over the summer, gave everything to Goodwill, and came back with only my suitcases.”
When I asked Pamela how and why she has become so active in volunteer work in San Miguel, she said, “I want my life to be useful.” Her words resonated deeply with me because I said the same when I joined the Peace Corps at the age of 50 and served in Gabon for two years as a health and nutrition volunteer.
Pamela, it seems to me, is one of a large flock of angels here in San Miguel – people who have come from elsewhere (mostly the U.S. and Canada) to retire and are so filled with gratitude for this beautiful place and its lovely indigenous people that they want to give back in any way they can.
Although San Miguel certainly attracts retirees, due especially to its rich history and culture, pleasant climate, and affordable cost of living, it is far from a leisure village or retirement ghetto for gringos. Rather, it offers a whole new challenging life chapter, in which a large number of capable, experienced, spirited, mature men and women oftentimes see a potential need and then try their best to fill it.
Drawing on her professional experience with the National Library Service, Pamela Brown now volunteers by assisting local people with impaired vision in obtaining audio books and the free “talking books” machine provided by The U.S. Library of Congress’s Blind and Physically Handicapped division.
Before my recent laser eye surgery, which clarified my vision enormously, Pamela arranged for me to have an audio books machine at home and taught me how to download my choice of books onto it. My eyes are much better now, for which I’m immensely grateful, but listening to books will certainly give my tired old eyes a much-needed rest.
Last Wednesday, for the first time, I attended a meeting of the Low Vision Support Group, another of Pamela’s volunteer efforts, which meets once a month for lunch. This time the group of a dozen people, most with macular, retinal, or glaucoma issues, met in the small dining room of the new School for the Deaf, created by another SMA angel, John Doherty, a retired banker from Canada. Pamela led the meeting, in which everyone introduced themselves and their vision issues; I spoke about my recent success with eye surgery in Queretaro, and John Doherty shared his inspiring experiences developing and sustaining his school for the deaf.
Afterward, Pamela was excited about a possible collaboration.
“Eventually,” Pamela told me, “we hope blind Mexican children in San Miguel de Allende will have the same opportunity for education, community, and vocational training as the Escuela [school] for Especial Educacion is offering deaf children. This is an awesome first step in a project that will change lives!”
Nothing seems to make this angel happier.
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For more information about the NLS talking books service or the Low Vision Support Group in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, contact Pamela at email@example.com.