The story of a “pijamada” – a pajama party – in tiny Erongarícuaro on Lake Pátzcuaro might not rock your world. But if you believe social change happens incrementally, through education and community empowerment, you might need an alternative to what’s in The New York Times about Michoacán these days. Yes, there has been violence near the coast and in Tierra Caliente, the dry, hot region where fighting between self-defense groups, drug cartels, and federal authorities intensified recently.

Interim Director Ondine Rosenthal with participants in the adolescent program. Photo by Paula Urquiza

But in Erongarícurao, hundreds of kilometers from violent upheaval, ten young women just completed a project in environmental awareness. As part of Mujeres Aliadas’ adolescent program, Paula Urquiza, a designer and professional photographer from Querétaro, taught them to fashion wonders from discarded materials. Curtains created from recycled bottles, jewelry from magazines, and a table made from an old car wheel were just part of the display at Mujeres Aliadas last week. Family, friends and community members came by to see the fruits of the community’s creativity.

An old tire partially transformed to a table. Photo by Paula Urquiza

The program’s base on the grounds of the Rosenthal family home offered a convenient location for the final phase of the celebration – the “pijamada.” Interim Director and creator of the youth program, Ondine Rosenthal, went to bed around 1:00 a.m. but suspects that the girls didn’t follow for several hours. Though Ondine is now responsible for oversight of all the Mujeres Aliadas programs, working with young people is close to her heart. Her profile by UNLA student Dhilery Alejandra García Hernandez follows below.

Each member of the Mujeres Aliadas staff faces challenges each day in promoting social change in rural Michoacán. Transformation occurs “poco a poco” – little by little – says community outreach worker Margarita Ascencio Flores (profiled below by UNLA student Dinorah Ambriz Cárcamo). The wide-ranging programs realize an integrated and broad notion of “health.” This includes mental, spiritual, and social as well as bodily well being. Creativity also figures into health. Many on the staff, such as Community Program Coordinator Juana Abundez Capilla, are artesanas as well as workers. In her profile by UNLA student Grecia Gonzalez Miranela, Juana discusses the joy she finds in the creation of traditional textiles.

Last week’s show of recycled materials fits squarely within these broad dimensions. A healthy life includes environmental consciousness, creativity, and the essential Mexican element of “disfrutar” – to have fun – with a pajama party. What better way to introduce teenage girls to the importance of their roles in social change?


ONDINE ROSENTHAL by Dhilery Alejandra García Hernandez

Dhilery (right) interviewing Ondine

“Maybe in the future everyone will be able to see the impact Mujeres Aliadas has had in the community,” says Ondine Rosenthal. As she talks about her work, her eyes brighten and she can’t stop smiling.

She was born in Erongarícuaro, a small but beautiful town in Michoacán, Mexico. Her parents are North Americans who moved here in 1971 and started a painted furniture cooperative, MFA/Eronga. She and her two sisters, Ariel and Olimpia, grew up bilingual and bicultural.

Ondine has always loved her community. When she finished her undergraduate degree in communications at Universidad Vasco de Quiroga in Morelia, Michoacán, she worked briefly as a journalist for the newspaper La Jornada. But she decided to move back to Erongarícuaro. Soon afterwards, she became involved with Mujeres Aliadas as a translator, then a staff member. One of her first projects was Birth of a New Consciousness (Alumbramiento de una Nueva Consciencia). She worked with board member and researcher Richard Ferguson to produce this 48-minute documentary that explores the lives of women in the Lake Pátzcuaro region, and the health challenges they face.

Mujeres Aliadas has become central to Ondine’s life. She developed the program for teenagers and now serves as the organization’s Interim Executive Director. In this capacity, she is responsible for the midwifery school – the second one in México – and for the adolescent project, the community programs, and clinical services.

Her enthusiasm is evident. She would like to make Mujeres Aliadas grow and become the best health care option for the women in the region. It doesn’t matter if they are young, adults or old, because Mujeres Aliadas and Ondine will be there for them.

MARGARITA ASCENCIO FLORES by UNLA student Dinorah Ambriz Cárcamo

Dinorah (right) interviewing Margarita

Margarita is a Community Coordinator for Mujeres Aliadas and works in twenty-one communities. She is from Puácuaro, a pueblo in the municipality of Erongarícuaro. Her grandfather, an important early influence, encouraged her to study and to understand places beyond her home. She studied secondary education in Tiríndaro, in the municipality of Zacapu. She has given classes on the Purépecha language, taught early education, and worked with the Puácuaro cultural committee. After she married, she earned her high school degree in Erongarícuaro. Her husband has also been an important support in her life.

Since Margarita was young, she has been involved in projects that try to strengthen the surrounding pueblos. In 1999, she became Councilor of Health, the first woman to hold this public office in the municipality of Erongarícuaro. Through her work as Councilor, she got to know all the communities of the region. Margarita joined Mujeres Aliadas in 2009.  Her work involves giving talks on women’s health and sexual/reproductive rights. She says, “Here women don’t know their rights. We tell them: ‘You have a right to take care of your body, to express your views, to raise your children as you believe is best.’” At present, Margarita combines her work at Mujeres Aliadas with her women’s basketball team. She feels very satisfied with both.

Margarita is convinced that every woman has the capacity to do important things and the right to decide her path. She wants to share that ideal with other women.

JUANA ABUNDEZ CAPILLA by Grecia Gonzalez Miranela

Grecia (left) with Juana

One afternoon in a beautiful house in Erongarícuaro, Michoacán, on a wooden bench surrounded by a colorful garden, sat Juana Abundez Capilla. She is a craftswoman, a midwifery student, and a mother who also works at Mujeres Aliadas. She is a woman committed to other women.

Juana was born on February 26, 1976 in San Miguel Nocutzepo, Michoacán. When she was nine years old she learned the techniques of traditional sewing and embroidery. She loves the process of integrating colors to create a piece of clothing. The texture of the threads combining makes her feel joyful about life and nature.

She was married for sixteen years but is now separated from her husband. They have two children. When the separation occurred, finding Mujeres Aliadas and the midwifery course was a way to regain her dignity, the respect of her family, and her self-esteem.

Juana comes from a healing tradition. Her grandmother, Juana Espiritu Venegas, was a midwife and brought her granddaughter along to help with births and to treat sick people with botanical Purépecha medicine. Later Juana studied nursing at the Colegio Nacional de Educación Profesional Técnica (CONALEP) in Pátzcuaro. With this knowledge, she helped her community and found a purpose in life. Juana is interested in naturopathy as a complement to midwifery because she thinks you can heal people with plants and without invasive treatment. She doesn’t like the way hospitals and the government health system handle gynecological care.

Juana thinks women needs to be heard. She tries to listen and to give them time to speak about their problems and also to advise them about gynecological illnesses. Most important, she wants them to get to know their bodies and the miracle of life that involves childbirth.

When you look into her eyes, you can see she is proud of having learned the midwifery profession, and thankful for having the chance to help and engage with her community.