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. Throughout the past five weeks we have spoken with program directors at the state (SEDESOL, Cuernavaca), county (El DIF, Tepoztlan)and local (Centro de Salud, Amatlan) 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.

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. 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 attend.

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, students 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.

 

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.

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

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?

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.

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?

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