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.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Homestays

            This week has been filled with nerves, excitement, and some exhaustion as all of us students moved in with our urban home stay families!  We kicked off our stay with a "convivo", or gathering, with students and the host families to get to know each other and discuss expectations for both students and families. Some students are within walking distance of the CGE homes, but others are in other neighborhoods much farther away creating new transportation challenges. Many of us have enjoyed (and have been slightly confused) navigating the bus, or "la ruta" system or sharing a taxi to get to our Spanish classes by 8:00 a.m. Although this can be challenging, I personally enjoy that living farther away forces me to see other parts of Cuernavaca than what is near CGE.

Living with Cuernavacan families gives us a unique insight into Mexican culture. As many may guess, living with families gives us insight into what foods people commonly eat, what a typical schedule looks like for particular family members, and how family members interact with each other. But culture is something that covers many aspects of our lives! As large and small groups several students explained humorous miscommunications they've had with their host family. Communication is not only different because of the language, but because of cultural aspects as well. Cultural differences over all have forced us as students to evaluate our own cultural practices in communication and otherwise. For example, it's expected in my home stay to greet my host mom with a kiss on the cheek whenever I leave or come home. This at first felt a little awkward, but the more I thought about it and the more I got used to it, I started to think of it as no different than a hug which is the common greeting in my own family. 
Downtown Cuernavaca

                Navigating cultural differences can be difficult at first, but despite the miscommunications or cultural differences it seems like the families truly enjoy having us, and we enjoy staying with them. Overall, after being here almost a month, it's nice to explore and absorb more of the beautiful city as a group of students or with our knowledgeable families.


- Emily Uecker, student

Friday, February 14, 2014

REACHING THE SKY WITHOUT LIMITS

                This past week our group was welcomed into the rural town of Amatlάn de Quetzalcoatl. It was an absolutely amazing experience that opened my eyes to many things. The sense of community that resonated throughout the town was a powerful component to their culture. This overwhelming collectiveness amongst family, friends and neighbors was visually obvious as I watched them give thanks and appreciation to the things that are taken for granted in daily life. This observation left me questioning how many daily privileges and rights do I often overlook?
Roadway in Amatlan
                The importance of togetherness was exemplified most often around the kitchen table. Here I cherished the moments I spent with my host family laughing, making homemade tortillas and tamales, and discussing various topics related to life in Amatlάn. One conversation in particular settled deep within my mind and heart after learning about the education system within Amatlάn and the surrounding Mexican municipalities. Education is mandatory for children and adolescence through high school, but more often than not it is not reinforced. This lack of follow-through is just one challenge the schools face. Other obstacles are lack of funding, lack of resources such as necessary class materials, and the disconnect between the government focus and the actual school needs.
Public Elementary School
                What surprised and saddened me most is how much time and money the parents needed to commit in order for their child to attend school. In addition to the daily requirements such as uniforms and lunch money, the parents must also pay and perform all maintenance and repairs on the building and cook the meals for the children at lunch time. These stipulations steal the right of education away from many families because if they do not have the funds to build and maintain a school, their children go without education. If this obstacle alone does not damper their motivation, the financial strain due to shuttling the child to a neighboring town with a school and equipping them with the required materials is more than they can provide.
                As I sat in the kitchen and interacted with Fernando and Alvaro, two of the children in the extended family, I felt conflicted with the direction their futures would lead if the right to education was not a resource that could be more attainable. As the oldest child read my roommates t-shirt from Augsburg, the warmth of tears filled my eyes. "The sky is the limit" is a statement that we hold onto and strive towards in our academic journey. But where is the sky if the limits are smothered by systematic oppression and privatization of education? What can be done so the human right of education can be accessible and available to all students in Mexico, the United States and all countries?
Fernando and the Girls
                As I look at the faces of these children I am brightened by their laughter, hope, intelligence and curiosity of the world. As a social worker, my spirit has been strengthened by the desire to advocate and change this situation so that every child is given the chance to share their twinkle and light among the bigger sky of our world.

-Amy Amsler, Student