Sensational headlines in and about Mexico draw most of the attention: the capture of “El Chapo,” photos of black-hooded men from the “auto-defensa” groups challenging the drug cartels in the tierra caliente (hot country). But in-between hover other stories of life in Michoacán. Last week marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Over the previous weekend, locals throughout Michoacán welcomed the season with a Carnaval street party. Maringuías, men dressed as women, danced through the streets of Pátzcuaro accompanied by ragtag bands and fellow revelers. In this fiesta-filled country, long-standing rituals and the need to celebrate trump economic and social problems.
Meanwhile, others work diligently to address those problems. I wrote last year about the successes and challenges of Mujeres Aliadas (MA), a Michoacán women’s health care project. From their base in Erongarícuaro, the eight staff members, including Director Ondine Rosenthal, conduct community platicas (talks), educate teens about sexuality and reproduction, train midwives, and offer diverse health services through their clinic.
I see and hear the results on the streets of Pátzcuaro and nearby pueblos. On La Plaza Grande, I visit Erandi, a young woman who runs Tutuch, a shop filled with artisan jewelry made from local gems and stones. She pushes a stroller with her smiling daughter, Ana Mia, as she points to gorgeous necklaces of turquoise and colorin, a seed particular to the region. Ana Mia was the first child born in the Mujeres Aliadas’ birthing tub – an innovation for rural communities here. Erandi was the model client. She attended every lecture on psychological preparedness and practiced yoga-like relaxation exercises to ensure she could pace herself during birth. Her partner, Cristian, accompanied her to each session as well as the birth itself.
“Other women from nearby pueblos are now expressing interest in water births,” says Ondine. Nothing new, perhaps, for women used to multiple options for birth in major cities or many parts of the U.S. But few such possibilities exist for women in rural Michoacán, as outlined in the letter below from Ondine. She details additional challenges the Mujeres Aliadas’ staff face every week, problems for which they design creative solutions. But the organization is at a critical point. Funding from the MacArthur Foundation, Semillas (“seeds”), a feminist organization in Mexico City, and other agencies helped establish MA. But for those seeds to flourish, they now need individual donations. Please consider joining me to help Mujeres Aliadas continue to aid and empower the women of Michoacán.
Dear close family and friends,
For the past three years I’ve been working at Mujeres Aliadas, a non- profit organization that works to improve and promote the sexual and reproductive rights and health of women and adolescents in the Lake Pátzcuaro area in Michoacán. When I started working here, I fell in love with the project and the cause. With this letter, I intend to share these feelings and perhaps get you interested in helping Mujeres Aliadas to advance the lives of thousands of women.
For me, it’s been an amazing learning experience, both in how to work with and run an organization, and coming to understand the challenges facing so many of the women who live in the villages around Lake Patzcuaro. Mujeres Aliadas was formed when women in the Lake Patzcuaro area began to speak out about the need for an organization that promotes the health and defends the rights of the women and girls here. For three years the team of Mujeres Aliadas worked on an analysis of the health care system in the area and found that:
- Cesarean section rates are dangerously high, at approximately 41% (while WHO (World Health Organization) recommends 15%)
- Women don’t have a choice as to the sex of the health provider; this is a special problem for the indigenous women who would rather live with an infection their entire lives than have a male doctor examine them. Many of their husbands just won’t allow them to go be examined.
- Women lack alternatives to health care. Both the decline in midwifery and the increase in C-sections point to the increased medicalization of women’s health care and the attendant powerlessness of women in their health care decisions.
- Maternal mortality rates are increasing. In 2002 the rate was 40.5 per every 100,000 births; by 2011 the rate had grown to 58.
- Women lack basic knowledge of their rights, their bodies, health problems and reproductive options.
To address these problems, we’ve given lectures and information sessions for women in over 40 communities. In 2013 alone, we reached over 4,500 women. Some of their testimonios follow (in bold).
“All of these lectures are very interesting, they help us to know more about our body and it guides us, as moms, to talk to our daughters and clarify many doubts we ourselves have. Thanks for everything.”
In response to constant requests from the women after the lectures, we also created a teen program where we go to secondary schools with a lecture on sex, sexuality and adolescence. As we talk to these young kids, we realize how little information they have, how badly they need it, and how having this information can change their lives.
We also run a small clinic with three consulting rooms and two birthing rooms, where we provide women with caring, supportive gynecological and obstetrical attention. For many, it is the first time they have received the kind of care that every woman deserves. To date, we’ve seen more than 1,300 women in our clinic.
“My name is Ana Laura Molina, I’m from Nocutzepo, I’m very happy and grateful with Mujeres Aliadas for the good job and the care provided. Thanks to that, my first pregnancy was a beautiful experience and every consultation, lecture, therapy and psychoprophylaxis exercise that I learned, gave me the confidence and helped me lose the fear I had, so when the moment of the birth came I was prepared. I also liked that my husband was able to be in there with me; I would share everything I learned with him so he was also ready to help, and we all worked together. We also liked the way we were treated, in a hospital we wouldn’t have had this kindness, I feel very fortunate that I met you and that I am the first women to give birth in your clinic. I hope lots of women get to know your clinic and get to live the experience I did. I wish you luck and success. Thanks for everything.”
To be able to continue spreading this model to communities, we also established a midwifery school where nine nurses from nearby towns are now in their last year.
All this work is being done by eight local women including me, and a few wonderful volunteers that love the Mujeres Aliadas’ project as much as we do. We were fortunate to receive some very important funding from the MacArthur Foundation and a few other generous supporters. But to keep the program running, we need to reach out as well to our friends and our family and those who care about the women here in Michoacán. And that’s why I’m writing to you today. I’m asking for your help, and I hope you’ll respond.
There are several ways you can help us: a) By donating money to the organization. Some people have given us $20 and some have given us $1,000. A one-time donation or a monthly pledge will help us to continue our work. For example, a monthly pledge of $42 adds up to $500 a year. b) By sending this letter to friends, family, and other people or organizations that may be interested, to help spread the word about our funding campaign.
Mujeres Aliadas is a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, so the full amount of the gift you make is tax-deductible. You can donate online on our website: mujeresaliadas.org , using a credit card or pay pal account. Or you can mail a check to: Mujeres Aliadas, 100 S. Atkinson Road, Unit 116-265, Greyslake IL 60030.
Any help is welcome. Every email is highly appreciated. Every dollar invested in Mujeres Aliadas has a human face. Thank you in advance for everything, thank you for taking your time to read this very long letter, and thank you for being a part of my life.
With much love,
Ondine Rosenthal, Executive Director
Mujeres Aliadas, AC.