Participating in a medical campaign helps this woman build her self-esteem

In November, the ProSalud project organized a 2-day medical campaign in San Sebastián area of Los Reyes, in collaboration with some local public health workers, a group of doctors from Puebla and a team of doctors and a pharmacist from the Fellowship Bible Church of Batesville. In two days, these dedicated professionals carried out 239 medical exams, 61 dental exams, 15 optometry exams, treated 520 people for parasites and provided vaccinations and dispensed prescriptions free of charge.

campana medica- San Sebas 11-2014- 2However, medical campaigns do more than just provide low-cost, accessible health services to the slum communities where we work. They also provide a vehicle for the community to come together and organize on its own behalf. Carrying out this campaign would not have been possible without the participation of a team of community volunteers, who set up and tore down the site, volunteered space in their homes for exam rooms, signed in and prepped patients, kept records and brought food they had prepared for the visiting doctors. This gave these neighbors a chance to actively contribute to the betterment of their own community as well as develop their own servant leadership qualities.

“Josefina,” who lives in San Sebastián, struggles with self-esteem issues due to her lack of formal education. Because she cannot read or write well, she tends to feels inferior to people who have had more schooling. However she has been participating in the local Family Club and, during the campaign, staff observed that she was actively participating all day: taking vital signs, handing out patient numbers and helping to clean up afterwards. Several days later, “Josefina” commented to ProSalud staff that participating in the campaign had made her feel useful, despite the fear she has of not doing things well. She said, “I am going to keep on attending the [Family Club] workshops, so that this fear goes away.”

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A medical referral leads to a dramatic life change for this woman

Blanca and her family learned about ConeXión Mosaico when we began working in her neighborhood, the “el Potrero” community of San Sebastián. Blanca has had a degenerative eye condition her entire life. Her vision started going bad in elementary school and has gotten progressively worse over time. As a child her mother took her to a number of hospitals, but at that time there was no treatment except for a cornea transplant. However, after moving to “el Potrero” a year and a half ago, her vision suddenly became much worse. Since they didn’t have electricity in the house Blanca had to strain her eyes much more to do her normal tasks, which accelerated the degeneration. At this point, she has less than 20% vision in the right eye and 30% in the left.

“Living without my vision, I always felt unsure and unsafe, all the time,” Blanca says. Her son would have to go with her to work, so he could tell her which bus to get on. When walking in the street, since she couldn’t see what was in front of her, she would often trip, step into puddles or even fall down. She remembers that going to her children’s school for a meeting with the teacher was particularly humiliating. She often couldn’t find the classroom and, although she would ask for directions, people would point to signs that she couldn’t see.

Her lack of vision also severely impacted her social relationships. When talking to people, Blanca couldn’t look them in the eye, or even see their faces. When people would walk by on the street and wave she couldn’t see them, even if they were very close. This caused many of her neighbors to accuse her of being unsociable and selfish, saying that she only talked to them when she wanted something from them.

As bad as things were, Blanca was not able seek treatment on her own due to lack of resources. When her vision got so much worse, she desperately wanted to see what could be done to help her, but living in “el Potrero” there was barely enough to put food on the table each month. She told herself that once they had finished paying off their plot of land, in 3 or 4 years, she would try to save up enough to go to the doctor. In the meantime, she could see no other alternative except to resign herself to her fate.

vistaFortunately, Blanca became involved with the ProSalud project. Upon finding out about Blanca’s condition, ProSalud was able to obtain a voucher for her to have a free exam with a specialist. The doctor made her some contact lenses, charging her only for the material used to make them. Because hers is a delicate case, she is receiving ongoing follow-up with the specialist, who has agreed to keep treating her free of charge.

With her new lenses, Blanca’s vision is now about 70%. The impact on her daily life has been nothing less than miraculous. She is now able to get around on her own, without depending on her children to help her. She feels more confident and sure of herself and no longer stumbles or falls when she walks. Now she can look people in the eyes when she talks to them and return their greetings as they walk by. Blanca reports that this has had a tremendous impact on her relationships with her neighbors, and she is now starting to develop some new friendships.

Without ProSalud’s help in obtaining the voucher, Blanca says that she still would still be waiting at least another 4 years to get treatment. At the rate her vision was worsening, she feels like she might have lost her eyesight entirely by that time. Now, although they have not been able to cure her condition, she says the doctor is hopeful that using her lenses will significantly slow the degeneration.

Although there are public medical resources for low-income people in Mexico, many slum residents are unaware that they exist or how to access them. Therefore many poor people with special needs or health conditions, unable to afford private care, often simply forego treatment. That is why educating people about existing resources and connecting them to the appropriate providers is such an important part of Prosalud’s work. Time after time we have seen a simple referral lead to a dramatic transformation in the life of a slum dweller with special medical needs, like Blanca. “There have been so many changes to my daily life,” Blanca says. “It’s so beautiful to be able to look people in the eye when I talk to them!”