Oaxaca Governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo inaugurates one of four Circuito de la Salud outdoor exercise facilities with Alfredo Harp Helú looking on.
An extremely generous Oaxacan resident by all counts, praised by those of every political bent, Harp Helú is head honcho of an extremely diverse empire of projects sponsored by his three charitable organizations, in this case Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú. The humanitarian donates time as well as his foundations’ resources, skills and expertise, often in conjunction with other aid agencies, government, privately held corporations and individuals. Instituted in the early 1990s, the umbrella of trusts now provides assistance in eight areas: education, social assistance, culture, the environment, natural disaster relief, sports, health and special projects.
The Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca Outdoor Exercise Facilities
In each of four parks scattered throughout Oaxaca, there is now an extensive exercise facility known as a Circuito de la Salud, consisting of 20 stations; 10 exercise machines, 10 step-up platforms, and two extra pieces of equipment earmarked for those with knee problems who are unable to “step-up.” According to Luis Shein, the Oaxaca resident who planted the seed in the mind of Harp Helú, “the concept of having an organized, structured workout routine in an outdoor setting, akin to a brief gym session, is new for Mexico.”
The stationary bicycles, elliptical trainer, muscle toning apparatus, simulated skiing machine and all the rest are contained in a relatively small, well-defined area in each park, stations numbered 1 – 20. The idea is for each person to spend about a minute at each post, then move on to the next, completing a combined aerobic and anaerobic workout in 35 – 40 minutes. According to health research, Shein maintains, “40 minutes of intense exercise is better and less dangerous health-wise than a longer, slower gymnasium exercise routine.”
The mission of the project is to improve overall public health, and in so doing build a sense of community consciousness throughout different parts of the city. The goal is to attract young and old, healthy and initially unfit, of both modest and significant means, and everything in between. Trainers will be on hand during anticipated peak hours, roughly 6 – 9 a.m. and 5 – 8 p.m., at least throughout the first phase of operations.
Inauguration of a Harp Helú Exercise Facility
It’s 9 a.m. June 29, 2012. Activity is slowing at the Parque Luis Donaldo Colosio (Colosio Park), in upscale Oaxaca suburb of San Felipe del Agua, in anticipation of the arrival of the governor. Sweaty bodies in the exercise class under the roofed open air pavilion are beginning their warm down routine. Parents and nannies are hurrying young children to finish playing on the pressure-treated wooden Jungle Jim. The vigilance is ominous, both at every entrance to Colosio, and throughout much of the park’s rolling interior.
A black SUV, followed by another less conspicuous late model jeep-like vehicle not far behind, arrives. Out steps Gabino Cué Monteagudo. The Governor, alongside the patron of all that’s worthy of support, followed by the rest of the entourage, walk briskly to the facility. They’ve all done this before.
Colosio Park is their first and only stop to promote the four facilities, this park and another now officially open, the other two within a couple of weeks. The municipality, Harp Helú and Shein had selected the parks to be fitted with the gymnastic equipment. “These four were the best and most logical locations,” asserts Shein, the other three being El Parque de la Ciudad de las Canteras, La Ciudad Deportiva and Bosque el Tequio.
Harp Helú, Governor Cué and Shein each step up to address the crowd of about 40 onlookers. The Governor speaks about his wish to see many other identical facilities in the future. The long-term plan is to build a total of 200 outdoor gyms throughout the state.
Each of the four current installations cost Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú approximately $8,000 USD. Staffing costs are extra. Funding for the other 196 is uncertain, but it would be reasonable to assume that the government of Oaxaca will step up to the plate, and as well seek other donors from divergent sectors of Oaxacan society. Shein assures that “similar” exercise equipment has been sourced at about 60% of the cost of the initial sets of machines.
The Challenge: The Best Choice of Project for Oaxaca?
There was chatter amongst the speakers about a healthier Oaxaca costing the state less in the long run. While expressing his gratitude for the gift of the four facilities, Governor Cué went further. He deemed the project an incentive for his government, not only as one additional means by which public health can be improved, but also for its potential impact in reducing crime including drug use.
No studies were done prior to proceeding with this initial phase, regarding demographics of anticipated users of the facilities, the selection of their locations based upon perceived need or likelihood of use, or any other criteria.
Oaxaca, reliant on tourism for its very existence, is one of the poorest states in Mexico, many residents struggling to find work for 100 pesos (about $8 USD) a day, then going on to look for a second and a third job. Two issues come to mind:
1. Are there better uses of funds now destined for outdoor exercise facilities, perhaps in the area of education, healthcare provision, or even in the tourism sector with a view to countering English language media and foreign governments erroneously warning prospective travelers of the dangers of venturing to Mexico;
2. It is conceivable that the majority of Oaxacans taking advantage of these outside health clubs are the ones who can afford to take the time to exercise, without concern for putting food on table and having to pound the pavement looking for unskilled and low paying employment.
A $32,000 USD pilot project in Oaxaca is arguably a prudent and wise investment. But before proceeding with spending a further $1 million USD (or $1.5 million USD if the similar equipment proves to be significantly inferior), those holding the purse strings might want to embark upon a little more due diligence and analysis. The outdoor park exercise program of Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú has the potential for success, and for expansion. It could become the model for similar projects throughout all other states in Mexico.