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.


  1. Hola, Laura et al.! This is a clear and informative overview of "Opportunidades." I really enjoyed reading about the perspectives of the Mexican social worker and service users. Your highlighting of the importance of communication is helpful too. When I was part of the social work semesters in Cuernavaca in 1993-1994, DIF's program similar to "Opportunidades" was called "Solidaridad" (if I remember correctly) -- interesting shift in the connotations of the program's name.... I think SEDESOL's office was in the same building then -- it looks familiar anyway. Thanks so much for sharing your learning and insights! Reflecting on why people might not show up for required meetings, you may find helpful Ron Rooney's "Strategies for Work with Involuntary Clients."

    Tony Bibus
    Augsburg College

  2. Peace Love and Respect
    I enjoyed reading this and with every "program" worldwide there are bound to be some flaws, I was curious to know why some of the recipiants were not showing up at certain funtions or classes? Does the program provide transportation or? I think providing transportation or even on-site child care services would be helpful but of course I am unfamiliar with funding policy, etc. How is the health of the village? and how is the health of the Auggies that are down there? just wondering..
    Reies Romero/SWK 280
    Save The Kids

  3. Laura, you did an awesome job covering the complexities of opportunidades! I completely agree with you that communication plays a big role in how these programs are delivered. It seems like most of the people we talked to, from the recipients in Amatlan to Carlos at SEDESOL talked about how the program is implemented by large urban federal or state governments and therefore does not always reflect the needs of the people. During our visit to SEDESOL, talking to Carlos gave me a lot of hope because he continued to emphasize the importance and his passion for talking to communities individually to find out what their needs are. I hope that we get to meet more people with his level of passion, because I feel like that attitude and that level of compassion is what will truly help implement beneficial social policies in Mexico.

  4. Thank you, Laura, for your detailed description of your experiences when learning about the different programs. The talk we received from Carlos at SEDESOL was just a reliever because I had become disappointed with the many flaws that recipients of the program would tell us about. It was very hard for me to look at the situation from a different point of view because all I was hearing was the lack of support people were receiving and the insensitivity from providers of the Oportunidades and 65+ programs. I have always been the person that likes to look at things from a critical point of view and respect the many biases people can talk to me about. However, coming from a Mexican family, the majority of comments I hear about the federal government and the social welfare programs that are put in place are not very positive. I have grown up developing this negative perspective towards people who help others and have walked into Mexico thinking the federal government just makes everything fall apart. But I have started to develop a more critical view and began to look at the people behind policy making, as well as the intended outcome of those proposing the policies. Carlos offered the perspective I needed; he assured us all that there really is no way to control how things go. Perhaps government officials and the DIF have goo intentions towards assisting people, but the way things are carried out isn't always received positively from the general population. I agree, there definitely has to me more communication between policy-makers and the people. There should be more access for people to express their concerns and be taken into consideration. I think the policy-makers, the governments, people working in social welfare, social workers, educators, and all people of Mexico should be informed. It is when people know what's going on, that helps change happen.

  5. Hi Laura, I really found your blog to be very insightful and I completely agree that communication amongst the programs and communities is important. Everyone deserves to have a voice. I think that the program, Oportunidades, is very helpful with all the impoverish families over in Mexico. I realize that recipients of this program must attend classes to earn their stipends, but do you know if say, someone is unable to attend a class for some reason, are they able to make-up class on a different day? I know it can be rough to not have any income to spend for 2 months or even a week.

    I hope you're enjoying your time in Mexico! Can't wait to read your next blog!