In urban slums, one often finds a culture which promotes using aggression and violence as a primary means for resolving disagreements. Tamara, a young woman of 18, is all too familiar with this world. Tamara lives in Chimalhuacán with her partner, Raúl, and attends hairstyling classes at ACJU’s vocational training center. During the last few months, Tamara confided to ACJU staff that Raúl, a “moto-taxi” driver, had had an ongoing disagreement with someone he works with. The first confrontation led to Raúl being punched in the mouth. As the situation escalated, Raúl’s colleague sent a gang of friends to assault him while he was working and, when that attempt failed, to look for him at home. Raúl’s family members, angry that the other man had assembled a group to attack Raúl, suggested that he put together his own group of friends to go the colleague’s home and beat up his family.
However, Tamara had been sharing with Raúl the things she was learning in the values component of her hairstyling classes. As a result, instead of responding to violence with more violence, Tamara and Raúl made the decision to report the incidents to the municipal authorities. Tamara commented to ACJU staff that she had determined to take no action that would incite violence in any way. As a result of the report, Raúl and his colleague were summoned to a mediation hearing, where the other man ended up apologizing for his actions and agreeing to leave Raúl and his family alone in the future.
In April, Fortaleza began negotiations with the National Institute for Adult Education (INEA) to launch basic education “study circles” in different neighborhoods in San Sebastián. These classes will give people over 15 the opportunity to finish their elementary or middle school education or, in the case of those who never went to school, learn to read. Last month the project Facilitator met with teaching staff on three occasions to work out the details of the collaboration and how to recruit youth to be “local advisers.” A “local advisor” is a community member who is hired by INEA and trained to coordinate and teach the study circles. The Facilitator also went to the main INEA office at the National College of Professional Technical Education (CONALEP) to sit in on a study circle as well as a training session for newly recruited local advisers.
Fortaleza also interviewed and began the introductory servant leadership training process with Mariana, the first new INEA local adviser in San Sebastián. As a local adviser, Mariana will be in charge of the neighborhood where the Emiliano Zapata elementary school is located. So far 21 people have registered for this first study circle, with one month of registration still to go before classes begin.
On their own initiative, the participants from one of the most well-established ProSalud Family Clubs have organized a weekly crafting club amongst themselves. Before joining ProSalud, even though these women were neighbors, none of them really knew each other. However, as a result of interacting in their Family Club, the group has formed strong friendships which have increased their social cohesion both in and outside of ProSalud. At the crafting club, which sprang out of the women’s desire to create more opportunities for social interaction, each person shares her personal talents and abilities. For example, if one person knows how to embroidery, she will give the others a list of materials to buy and then teach the others how to embroidery.
However, the major impact on the group participants has not been the new abilities they have learned. Instead, the group has taken on the quality of an informal emotional support group. As they ostensibly come together to make crafts, participants relax, laugh, share what is going on their lives, get things off their chest and receive emotional support from the others.
In San José Palmas ACJU continues to work with all 60 students at the distance-learning middle school. Where the final year students are primarily concerned about preparing for their upcoming high school admission exams, the project has been able to focus on life skills, values and servant leadership with the first and second year classes. The fruits of this work have been most evident in the first year class. This group was very problematic in the beginning, being primarily characterized by rivalries, conflicts and aggressive personalities. At first, almost every attempt at trying to get them to work together ended in yelling, confrontations and fistfights.
However, after only 6 months, there has been a drastic change in the first year group dynamic. They are now able to work together without fighting and have even learned to listen to each other and resolve their disagreements among themselves. Thanks to this new spirit of cooperation, the first year students have now become engaged and active participants of ACJU’s leadership development process.
In the last three months, Fortaleza has been working with parents and teachers at the San Sebastián elementary school on a seed project. It has been an ongoing problem that the school, home to 237 students and 7 teachers, has just 3 toilets. Therefore, a group of parents decided building new school restrooms was a priority. Even though the teachers at the school complained that parents were apathetic and uninvolved, this group of parents has proven to be just the opposite.
Since they were told they would need to find their own resources, they have been very creative in their fundraising efforts. With ConeXión Mosaico pledging to match some of the funds raised, parents held community fairs, sold donated clothing, made food to sell and held movie nights to raise money. When ConeXión Mosaico donated a few toys, they held a raffle and worked with the children on how to save up to buy tickets. Altogether the parents have raised over $1,800 U.S. and the restrooms are now about halfway finished. There has also been a lot of participation at the work parties, with approximately 60 parents showing up one day. Through this seed project, these parents have been realizing that, even if they don’t have a lot of financial resources to begin with, they can work together to get things done.
In the last 2 months, some of the ProSalud participant women in San José Palmas have organized on their own initiative to start their own microbusiness. Five of ProSalud’s most active participants in this severely impoverished neighborhood have formed a small group that makes bracelets and necklaces to sell in order to augment their income. When they first came up with the idea, the women started off being paid piecework to assemble the jewelry for someone else. However, they soon organized and pooled their money together to buy their own supplies. Now they are no longer working for someone else, but instead have created their own micro enterprise where they make and sell the products themselves.
In just their first two months, the women have recovered their initial investment and made a 50% profit from their sales to date, with quite a bit of material still left over. The women credit their participation in ProSalud as their inspiration for starting their own business. Among other things ProSalud emphasizes mutual support and teamwork, as well as being proactive in solving problems and looking for solutions. These values, combined with the friendships that formed as a result of their participation, led to the women’s decision to work together and launch their new enterprise.
In the last few months, gruposVIDA has been excited to see the impact the groups have been having, not only on the participants, but on the people in their lives. For example one participant, Laura, shared how her daughter-in-law had come to her asking for more information on what gruposVIDA was about. She had seen the participant manual in Laura’s house and wanted to share information about emotional healing with her mother, who was dealing with some very painful issues. After Laura’s daughter-in-law spoke with her mother, the woman came to talk to Laura herself. Laura commented that she was excited to share the knowledge she has acquired in gruposVIDA: “It was so good for me! I used the things that I have learned when I was explaining my story to her, so that it would also help her to start opening up and dealing with her pain.”
Other participants have also commented that they have been sharing what they learned with other women and encouraging people who are going through difficult times. This is an exciting development for gruposVIDA because it is exactly what we hope to see as a result of this initiative. By helping direct participants heal emotionally, they in turn use the wisdom they have learned to reach out to others who are hurting.