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Dispatches From Mexico City: Look For The Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers

Those words seem extra appropriate these days as tragedies seem to pile upon tragedies. Stories are already emerging from Las Vegas of heroism and sacrifice. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few weeks, it’s that people everywhere are ready and willing to help when it matters most.

Author: Ty Trumbull

To wit, I’d like to tell you about Mexico’s Topos, or “moles.”

The Topos de Tlatelolco were formed in the rubble of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake when a group of young people got involved in the rescue efforts. The group began in their community of Tlatelolco in Mexico City, helping by searching through collapsed buildings for victims, often risking their own lives in the process. From their they spread out to the other neighborhoods of the capital, earning the nickname of Topos de Tlatelolco, or Moles of Tlatelolco.

That original group had no training, experience, or equipment but less than six months after the quake had been organized into an officially sanctioned rescue group. Largely because Mexico didn’t have a formal search and rescue group. Even today, the volunteers pay for most of their own expenses, traveling by whatever means possible at the time.

The group still serve as a non-profit, volunteer organization. Since their formation, the Topos have been involved in rescue and recovery efforts in more than 22 countries. Written on each of their uniforms are the locations where he or she has helped.

Notably, the moles have helped in Taiwan, New York, Iran, Italy, India, and 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

In my experience, most people don’t really get to see the Topos at work, except at a distance. But while the rest of the volunteers were cordoned off well back from danger during the recovery effort, in the distance you could often see men and women in orange suits moving around the rubble. On average, the group has about 40 members plus rescue dogs.

Their passion can take on an almost religious fervor. In one news piece I read, they say the orange uniform they wear means the death of the ego, service to others, and the rejection of everything material, which leads to spiritual development, according to the article.

Whatever their reasons for helping, Mexicans (and many others around the world) are glad they’re around. In the wake of the September 19th quake, they became a point of pride for the city and country and offered something for folks to rally behind.

So in these trying times, let’s try and remember to look for the helpers. They’re everywhere.


Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so (heck, sometimes Wednesday), he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City.

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