Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Visit to the Congress of Morelos

Hannah MacDougall
St. Olaf College

While our group experienced ups and downs we continued to be exposed to numerous speakers and classes that contributed to our expanding knowledge of Mexico.

One especially interesting trip took place on Tuesday when our Social Policy class went to theCongreso de Morelos (Morelos Congress). We first toured the building which is located near the Zocalo (main plaza) in central Cuernavaca. The building itself was formally a theater but it is now adorned with murals and statues of historical figures such as Emiliano Zapata and José María Morelos (for whom the state of Morelos was named). During the tour we received a brief history of these Mexican revolutionaries which was a nice refresher from our history classes at CGE.

Our Am. Welfare Policy Class in front of two Mexican flags at the Morelos Congress

After the tour we settled in the senate chamber where we heard from numerous speakers on topics such as education and labor.

The first woman we heard from was a member of the PRI party (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and sits on the education committee. She spoke to us about her desire to create a totally free system of education in Mexico as well as her hope of adequately representing her municipality. While our group thought her devotion to fair representation was noble, there was some speculation that her view of the indigenous population was not conducive to sufficient representation.

We also had the chance to talk about labor practices in Mexico. It was enlightening to hear from the President of the Commission on Work. It seemed that the main point he wished for us to remember was the importance that must be placed on the work of the individual. While our class was impressed by many of the labor laws in place in Mexico (such as the length of maternity leave), many of us expressed concern on the degree to which such practices are enforced.

Overall our trip to the Congreso de Morelos opened our eyes yet again to policy and practice in Mexico. We appreciated the chance to hear first hand accounts of how policy is shaped and enforced specifically in our state of Morelos.

Is skepticism of policy enforcement a universal phenomenon?

Social Work Students Go To University in Mexico City

By Anne Dutton
St. Olaf College

We spent a week in Mexico City, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). UNAM is a large university (238,000 students) that is home to the National School of Social Work. A couple of weeks ago we had an “intercambio” with UNAM students and to finish off our exchange we headed to Mexico City to see the school and spend time with more UNAM students and professors.

Escuela Nacional de Trabajo Social = National School of Social Work

One of the most interesting discussions we had throughout the week was about the differences in curriculum between the United States and Mexican social work programs. UNAM social work students start into the social work program from their first semester at the university and have all of their classes scheduled out for nine semesters. There are three practicums that need to be completed to graduate: one at a community level, one at a regional level and one in an area of specialization.

We visited two practicum sites during the week and the one that really stood out to me was the visit to the National Institute of Respiratory Illnesses (INER). INER is both a functioning hospital and research center for all forms of respiratory illnesses and we visited the social work students who were completing their specialization practicum in the hospital.
A couple of the UNAM Social Work students gave us a tour of the UNAM

The students gave us an opening presentation which lead to a discussion about differences between health care delivery in the United States vs. Mexico. This discussion was a great follow-up to the discussion we had during the Medicaid policy presentation with the UNAM students who visited us in Cuernavaca. After the discussion, the students took us around on a tour of the INER hospital facility.

Because a lot of the problems with the Mexican health care system revolve around the quality of the care, rather than access to the care, it was interesting to see the premiere hospital for respiratory illnesses. Overall, the visit to Mexico City and UNAM was a great chance to get out of the Cuernavaca area and get to know another section of Mexico.

The last day of our exchange, we went for a ride down this canal in Xochimilco

Student´s Personal Spring Break Story

By Lauren Goff Bethel University

Over Spring Break, students from CGE-Mexico traveled to places including Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Acapulco, San Diego, and El Salvador. Some students visited Mayan ruins, watched professional cliff divers dive with torches in the night, and one in particular enjoyed U.S. American candy once again in California.

I got the chance to go to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.

Zihuatanejo is a beautiful town located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It is a sweet little city surrounding a beautiful bay with incredible sunsets each night. Fishing boats line up along the northern side of the bay and add charm to the little Mexican city. I came here for Spring Break with my parents, my fiancé and future in-laws. What I loved about Zihuatanejo is that it still seemed like a part of Mexico, whereas many vacation spots here have become tourist areas with high-rise hotels and resorts. Because of this, I was still able to expand my knowledge of Mexican culture while staying in this beautiful city for a week.

Also, I was able to share my experience of Mexico with those I had been describing it to over the past couple of months. My boyfriend (who proposed on the trip and now, fiancé), Ryan, has been studying abroad this semester in Guatemala. We talked about our new cultural experiences together. Ryan was able to point out what differences he saw in Guatemala compared to Mexico. I pointed out the differences of language in Mexico compared to Guatemala and warned Ryan of some common Spanish words he may use that would be inappropriate in Mexico.

Ex: you can say “excitado” in Guatemala describing “excited” but, in Mexico it expresses excitement in a very different context (sexually).

Our parents were impressed with our new Spanish-speaking skills; completely unaware of how bad it actually was(!). It was very interesting for both of us to learn about the cultures we had been living in for the past 2 months. It was also great to share these new cultural experiences with our parents and have them learn more about Mexico.

Zihuat after the setting sun

One of the greatest experiences I had on my trip was talking with the woman who cleaned the condo we rented. Olga made delicious dinners for us and during this time everyone was able to ask to her about life in Zihuatanejo. It was wonderful for me to see my parents so interested in learning more about Olga’s life. What was really cool was seeing my parents trying to speak Spanish with her (successful after assistance from Ryan and I).

These talks with Olga opened up later conversation with my parents and Ryan’s where they asked me more about Mexico. As I was answering, I realized how much I have learned here in Mexico. All of the answers relayed back to what I have seen this semester through speakers in Cuernavaca and my other experiences in Mexico. I have treasured sharing the beautiful parts of Mexico with my parents and future family.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Part 2: Mexican Social Work Students come to Cuernavaca

Continued from last blog post by Rachel Takazawa, St. Olaf College

Also throughout the week we had many speakers and a panel. The panel consisted of three sexually diverse individuals. They advocated for the acceptance of character and the differences each person chooses to live regarding their sexual preferences and diversity. It was a moment in which we heard personal struggles regarding discrimination, prejudices, and frustration. As social workers, I felt we had a chance to hear about the hard moments and how through those experiences they were trying to change society.

Panel on Sexuality

During the week there were good times, great times, and hard times. One hard time was that there was discrimination against some of the UNAM students while they were out in Cuernavaca. This experience was something we wished wouldn’t have happened however it also opened our eyes to the reality of discrimination. We were all affected by this experience and now we strive to work together in order to fight discrimination and racism.

CGE and UNAM Students with Profesors

Both students of UNAM and CGE will keep the knowledge and time we spent together as a learning experience and a way to move forward towards a better relationship between Mexico and the United States.

As Social Workers we have promised to learn from good and bad experiences in order to better situations, to fight against injustice and to work towards social justice and equality.

Mexican Social Work Students Come to Cuernavaca

By Rachel Takazawa
St. Olaf College


¡Bienvenid@s, estudiantes de la UNAM! Welcome, UNAM students!

Throughout the week of March 22nd to the 26th we (students of CGE-Mexico) were visited by students of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). UNAM is a public university in D.F. (Mexico City). These UNAM students were Social Work students, here in Cuernavaca to learn about aspects of Social Work in the United States, as well as come to know fellow Social Workers from another country. They were a group of 7 whom, upon arrival made their presence known with pleasant greetings. We as an entire group tossed around yarn in a get-to-know-you game. This was the beginning of a great week and some great relationships.

Class Activity with UNAM student

The first night at dinner the room was buzzing with conversation. People had successfully integrated and Spanish was heard much more than English. The language barrier didn’t keep anyone from having a great time. This intercambio (exchange) was not only great for the two groups but also for those from UNAM b/c most of the 7 didn´t even know each other.

Throughout the week Social Workers from CGE gave the UNAM students presentations on VAWA, Medicaid and ICWA.

VAWA is the Violence Against Women Act, which promotes a better life for domestically abused persons. It provides resources, grants, support, and laws through the federal government.

Medicaid is a health care system that is intended to help provide assistance to persons living below the poverty line in the United States.

ICWA is a program to promote cultural identity of Native American children through adoption laws and court assistance. All three of these were great tools to help create conversation about the similarities and differences between the United States and Mexico.

More Class Activities with the UNAM students

It was interesting to find out that Mexico has shelters and important acts set in place in order to assist persons of domestic abuse. The Mexico system has some advantages in regards to payment of such services, nonetheless, it appears that the United States makes it more accessible. The medical system however, was described to us as more accessible to people here in Mexico. Yet on the other hand the quality of the services are less adequate. On the topic of ICWA, Mexico doesn’t really have a program similar, but there are programs that try to teach people about their indigenous cultures and create a place to perform rituals and ceremonies.

What do you know about VAWA, Medicaid and/or ICWA? How do they affect minority groups?

To Be Continued...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Institutional Family Development in Morelos, Mexico

By Brittany Naida
St. Thomas University

We have been learning much about the social programs available to vulnerable people living throughout the state of Morelos. A representative from the DIF organization (
Desarollo Institucional de la Familia = Institutional Family Development), came to share with us the programs and resources available through the agency. She explained to us that DIF works with all people regardless of their social class. One of the programs within the organization is social assistance, which makes up about 90% of their work.

This program provides resources for people with disabilities, food support for families, school breakfasts, and overall support for the vulnerable. Knowledge regarding nutrition can be insufficient for many underprivileged people, so representatives from DIF often travel to various communities to provide food baskets as well as information about a balanced and healthy diet.

One major difference from the United States that I saw in this area of their work was that there is no financial limit to who can receive service. Assistance is given based on the needs of the family. This more personal approach was interesting to me because the needs of a family are not always parallel to their financial situation, so in this way more people can be given resources for what they really need.

Another major aspect of the programs within DIF is the shelters available, especially for children.DIF has a temporary shelter for children ages 0-11 years at their location right outside of Cuernavaca that we were able to visit. For us social work students, it was very difficult at times to see so many children, some even with major disabilities, without a home or a family. But after learning about how the organization works, I could see that the children were treated well and all of their immediate needs were met.

Photo taken from the National DIF website:

When we visited the room which housed about ten infants, some of whom had disabilities or disfigurements, the workers there explained to us that each child needs to receive the same amount of attention and care, no matter what they look like. I found this comforting as these children could easily be neglected without this equality.

Since there are not many orphanages such as these in the United States, this organization raised many questions in my mind regarding child welfare. In the U.S., children removed or abandoned from their homes are placed into foster care rather than group homes, but if this was the case in Mexico, there may not be enough families to be able to take in the children.

Would it be better to erase group homes in Mexico and attempt to move towards a foster care/adoption focused system, or would this cause more problems for these children?