Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The End is Bitter-Sweet

As someone is on the outside looking in, it was jaw dropping to see the amount that the social work students  have changed from the first days until the last week of instruction.

The last week of the CGE program was a blend between appreciation for the gifts of Mexico, excitement for the warmth of home, and sadness in leaving the bonds that have been created south of the border. As part of the staff here at CGE, I was most excited to see the social work students´ final projects because the projects demonstrate not only what the students have learned, but what has touched their lives the most through their experience here.  I was truly moved to see the way that the students were affected here.

Two of the social work students, Emily and Kayla, performed spoken word pieces that brought everyone to tears. Emily Uecker performed a piece on sexism and women´s empowerment in Mexico that touched on multiple issues that affect women including machismo, cat calling, empowerment through the household, barriers to education, and sexual violence. Emily masterfully used language to give voice to all of the speakers who taught us about gender and sexuality and she also recognized the women that spoke to her everyday at home. Kayla Wolff also performed an impressive spoken word piece about immigration and the perception Americans have on those who move to America from Mexico. Her piece was jam-packed with historical information about US-Mexico relations, personal experiences that have touched her, and gut emotions that she feels in seeing the way Americans treat those from Mexico. Laura Aguas and Amy Amsler similarly gave presentations from the heart, speaking about the range of emotions that they experienced while studying here for months, which they accompanied with art pieces that materialized what they learned. Laura Holdrege and Katie Lovrien created informative PowerPoints about social work in Mexico and the US that will be used to educate social work students in the future. The whole room was left feeling a stir of emotions as we all connected with the student´s  words and their experiences.
( CGE students before a staff appreciation dinner in the final weeks of class)



As a final wrap up activity, all the students conducted their final lab group exercises  and enjoyed a goodbye barbeque at the house of Ann, the program director. The group shared what they thought reverse culture shock would be like, giving each other tips about how to handle certain sticky situations. We also wrote down positive things about each other as a group which put a smile on everyone´s face . The students enjoyed their final moments as a group sharing ideas, savoring good food, and even holding a water fight. As someone who interacts with the students in a more administrative sense, to see the intellectual and personal change from the beginning to their final projects was inspiring. I feel honored to have a been a part of the social workers´ journey of learning and I wish them all a life full of new experiences that can allow them to continue to be life-long  learners. 
(The whole CGE crew)


-Amaris Montes, CGE Volunteer

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Complexities of Health Care

                A few weeks ago, we received a speaker from the National Institute of Public Health.  This institute exists on both a state and federal level in Mexico. Their mission is to provide information to the public so they are able to make better health decisions.  To work toward this mission the National Institute of Public Health works in schools, with women and children, as well as doing community work.
    One topic Sandra spoke about that was very interesting to me was the complexity of the health care system in Mexico. I was able to see this complexity reflected when we visited Amatlan earlier in the semester.  This rural area often does not have doctors on site and patients must travel a long distance during a medical emergency. Also, the doctors that are present in this community may be lacking in culturally competency which is important when working with this community . Another piece of the Mexican health care system that I believe greatly impacts this community is the use of natural medicine. Although alternative and traditional types of medicine are widely used, especially in communities like Amatlan, they are not covered by health insurance.
                What I also found interesting was to learn about the different levels of care that impact access to medical services. Many people who work in the informal economy here in México cannot receive medical attention because they lack even the most basic form of medical insurance provided by the government,  Seguro Popular.  I believe this relates to Amatlan, because there are many people who live off the informal economy there.  However, there is health care for individuals who work within the formal sector such as IMSS, ISSS and IEST. This type of insurance gives these individuals better access to health services such as doctors and hospitals.
                I have learned many things about the National Institute of Public Health and access to health care throughout this semester. I was able to reflect upon the many issues that affect rural Mexico. Also, I was able to reflect upon the different levels of medical care that are in Mexico, and how this medical care is different for people who work in the informal and informal economy.

Do you believe there are differences between the healthcare provided within rural areas and urban areas in the United States? If so what are they? How do you think they affect people who live in these areas?

Alyssa Biddle (student)

                

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Centro de Integracion Juvenil - Center for Youth Integration

          Several weeks ago, the social work students in Cuernavaca visited the Centro de Integracion Juvenil also called the CIJ. This organization was established in the year of 1969 in Mexico City to provide treatment and prevention to young adults who have drug and substance addictions. The organization has served approximately 89,000 people who have suffered from addictions. The CIJ we visited has a team of one doctor, eight medics, five psychologists, and two social workers. We learned a lot more about the role of social workers in Mexico through this visit.

            The main responsibility of the social worker is to look at the patient and their environment. Most of the teens CIJ works with live with their families. Contrary to what many of us thought, most clients are voluntary. Social workers at CIJ work a great deal with families to help them support the individual who is receiving services. Although family support is crucial, we were surprised to hear that for safety reasons, social workers do not make home visits. As we have learned, safety is a first priority, but I believe home visits can be extremely beneficial. Termination, a very important stage in the therapy process, is also conducted by the social worker. This process happens when school, work, family are not chaotic and also when the individual has learned how to become self-sufficient.

            Social workers also play a key role by developing and implementing a variety of workshops. These are put in place to help the individual with their addictions. Prevention workshops are also an important part of the CIJ. These are held at schools and include topics relating to addiction, violence prevention and developing self-care skills. The social workers´ role is very important to the success seen at CIJ.
 
Social Work students at the Centro de Integracion Juvenil
            The visit to the Centro de Integracion Juvenil was very eye opening and rewarding experience.  We found out a lot more about what services are offered in Mexico as well as how individuals are being helped.  What similarities and differences do you see between the CIJ and organizations you are familiar with?

            Something that I found very interesting was that the organization believes that it is not necessary for an individual that is being served to give up their addiction entirely but rather the vital goal is to lower the dosage of the drug. What are some possible benefits and harms this policy have?

-Simone (social work student)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Learning

            Not every learning experience happens inside a classroom. Our group has now been in Mexico for over two months, and we have enjoyed countless opportunities to learn from not just our classes, but from a wide range of speakers and visits. We have spoken with social workers in several settings, several representatives of government social welfare programs, and community leaders and organizers from Cuernavaca, Amatlan, and Tlamacazapa. All of these speakers have been our teachers; their unique experiences and insights from the work they have done in their communities helps us, as social work students, to reflect on the many different ways to work toward positive change.

It was refreshing to have class in the busy Zócalo.

With all of these rich experiences, it has also been very important that we take the time to reflect on what we have been learning. On Wednesday, the social work students, as well as our professor, Hillary, and our TA, Stephanie, went to the Zócalo together. We first split up, finding our own spots around the Zócalo to observe our surroundings and reflect on our experiences by ourselves. Then, we met together to debrief at a café and talk about the various “lenses” through which we see the world, including the lenses of race, class, and gender. We also talked about what lenses we must put on when working with clients – for example, the strength-based perspective, cultural responsiveness, and understanding of how oppression impacts the delivery of services.

A quiet street with a sweet little cafe.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote in Pedogogy of the Oppressed that education has the potential to become “the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” This sort of education is necessary for us as future social work professionals so that we are prepared to partner with clients and communities in order to work together toward meaningful and lasting change. I think that an important part of this education is to recognize how our “lenses” impact us. When working with clients, through what other lenses must we look? What lenses do we not even realize we are wearing, and how does this affect how we work with clients?


-Katie (student)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hope

I admire the resilience and strengths the community of Tlamacazapa, Guerrero, have developed. Despite the fact they do not have resources they need to build a stronger source of income or access to purified water, they have an outstanding determination to provide for their families. The women of the town hold powerful positions because they often take the role of a mother, daughter, domestic worker, and basket weaver. The reason we had the opportunity to visit Tlamacazapa was thanks to Xochitl Ramirez, a leader of Atzin, a non-governmental community development organization. Xochitl was kind enough to provide us with an informational talk about Atzin’s impact on the community and how the community has changed. However, as Xochitl stated, a talk was not sufficient to gain a wider perspective of Tlamacazapa’s situation.[1] When we reached Tlamacazapa, we received a warm welcome from all of the community organizers, who are all women from a wide range of ages. They introduced themselves and their roles in Atzin. Most of the community organizers were part of the kitchen staff, special education program or elementary school preparatory program. I am amazed at the fact Atzin has done a wonderful job encouraging women to become involved at such a young age because these girls serve as role models for their peers and mothers, who can access the adult literacy programs also offered by the organization. Aside from Atzin’s wonderful work in empowering people to transform themselves and others, the willingness of the community to pull through difficulties is astonishing. Residents carry 20-50 liters of water almost daily, from the well to their homes and wait long hours when water is scarce.  In a house visit, I encountered a male who had suffered an incident and lost both of his legs. Nevertheless, he began basket weaving to substitute his job of exporting products to larger cities. It is important to acknowledge the impact globalization, poverty and patriarchy has on Tlamacazapa – as long as we put forward the peoples’ effort to regain hope.


Community Organizers ("Promotoras") of Atzin, students, Cemal professors and staff. The picture was taken after our circle gathering of introductions.
The cleanest water well where the community of Tlamacazapan obtain their water for washing dishes and sometimes, drinking. It is a very long hike up the town to obtain it.

~Laura A. (student)


[1] Xochitl Ramirez, Atzin Community Organizer. Lecture on Mar. 19, 2014 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
Atzin was founded in 1997 by Dr. Susan Smith and other volunteers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Instituto de la Mujer

Instituto de la Mujer Sign
(Women´s Institute)

Throughout our time in Mexico thus far we have been to several public institutions to learn about different social programs here in Mexico. This week the entire CGE group took a trip to the Instituto de la Mujer here in Cuernavaca to learn about their programs. We spoke with a psychologist there and learned that their main goal at the center is to end violence, especially in relationships. They strive to promote the conditions that enable equal opportunities, equal treatment of men and women alike, and ending discrimination. One thing that she talked a lot about was their women’s shelter. They have three temporary shelters for women who have been experiencing violence and are trying to escape it. The first thing that happens when they arrive to the shelter is psychological counseling for the mother and her children. She also told us that boys over the age of 11 are not allowed to stay in the shelters with their Mothers. However there is a shelter specifically for the teenage boys where the mothers are allowed to visit. The shelters also have a lawyer covering each case and occupational therapy to help the women get back into the workforce. There is also a social worker in each one who works with the schools to make sure the kids get support and don’t get behind, to help with filling out documents, and to also do field research. At the Instituto de la Mujer they not only work with women in crisis but they also work with prevention of violence. There are workshops, talks, conferences and courses for both men and women on the prevention of violence based on gender. One workshop that really caught my attention that I thought was cool was a workshop called “amores chidos” or “cool love”. It is a workshop for high school students to help them learn how to detect relationship violence early on while they are dating. I think that it is important to have workshops like this so that relationship violence and gender inequality can be reduced. What can we as a society do to help stop violence within relationships as well as gender inequality all over the world?


CGE Group after the talk at Instituto de la Mujer
-Kayla Wollf (student)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Opportunities: Program perspectives from multiple levels

This week brought the conclusion to a well-rounded view of a government program here in Mexico called Oportunidades[1]. Throughout the past five weeks we have spoken with program directors at the state (SEDESOL, Cuernavaca)[2], county (El DIF, Tepoztlan)[3] and local (Centro de Salud, Amatlan)[4] level as well as program recipients in a little village of 1000 called Amatlan. Each person we spoke with held their own perspective of the program, but at each level, there was frustration and a common mission of wanting to do the right thing.
SEDESOL, the government organization we visited.
                Oportunidades tries to coordinate actions that will contribute to overcoming poverty through the development of people’s basic capacities and access to better economic and social development opportunities. When a family is part of the program, the head female of the household must go to a designated location at a specific time to collect the family’s stipend every two months and must attend monthly talks and sessions focusing on health and family dynamics. If she has an important conflict and cannot attend the sessions, if the system doesn’t read her ten finger prints, or if she is late to collect her stipend, she does not get it for the two months[5]. Speaking with representatives at multiple levels of the program helped me gain perspective from the facilitators and recipients of the program while leaving me with endless questions. Each individual we spoke with who was involved in the functioning of the program wanted to organize the program to best meet the needs of the recipients. This mission however, through some disconnect, lack of communication, or lack of resources got lost in translation as the recipients continue to experience many frustrations with the program’s requirements and meager stipend.

                We spoke to the social worker at the Centro de Salud in Amatlan and she shared with us her role in Oportunidades as well as some of her frustrations and insights into the program.  She told us that recipients of Oportunidades are obligated to come to el Centro de Salud frequently to participate in classes, health check-ups and talks. She informed us that the recipients not only attend these programs but also give their input about what they would like to discuss and learn about. She thinks that the programs are very beneficial as they teach about maintaining good health, family life and sanitation. As the facilitator of the program, however, it was difficult for her to understand why people didn’t show up to the classes they were required to attend4.
Social work students with Carlos, the program director at SEDESOL.
These past five weeks full of stories and perspectives has taught me how important communication is. In order to achieve something together we need to share our views and ideas so that we do not stand disconnected. How do we balance the strict rules of society and programs to best support the unique cultures and interests of communities? Everyone has frustrations, but how do we work through those frustrations to create and achieve beneficial programs?

~Laura Holdredge, student



[3]Employee at el DIF. Discussion on Feb. 5, 2014 in Tepoztlan, Mexico, Mexico.
[4]Social worker at Centro de Salud. Discussion on Feb.4, 2014 in Amatlan, Mexico, Mexico.
[5]Recipient of Oportunidades. Discussion on  Feb. 4, 2014 in Amatlan, Mexico, Mexico.