Category Archives: San Sebastián

Newest community where we began working in July 2013

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!”

Mosaic Pieces Fitting Together

It’s July and that means one thing at ConeXión Mosaico: youth and children’s summer camps! As always, we count on volunteer teams from our U.S. partner churches to make these programs happen. These energetic teams come down to spend a week or two with us, learning about the challenges of urban poverty firsthand as they spend time with the people from the communities where we work.

This year we have the largest number of U.S. volunteers we have ever had, with 51 total visitors scheduled to stay with us during the month of July. This unprecedented number of helping hands will allow us to work with multiple age groups in four different communities during the three weeks of programmed activities.

DSC00886 editGroups from Brooklyn, NY, and Lafayette, CO, will join with ConeXión Mosaico staff in working with children from 5 to 12 years old in San José Palmas and two different San Sebastián neighborhoods. Meanwhile, additional project staff will host activities for youth and women in Chimalhuacán. The U.S. teams will also help out doing construction and landscaping work on the site of our future Las Palmas community center.

While all this is going on, a team from Cambridge, MA, will be working with our Executive Director, Jean-Luc Krieg, to create a video of what is happening at ConeXión Mosaico. Lastly, a group of local ‘lucha libre’ wrestlers have agreed to donate their time and talents to stage an exhibition match on the final day of activities, an unaccustomed treat for the children and youth from these communities.

Stay tuned next month to hear about all of our exciting summer activities!

Fortaleza works to bring new educational opportunities to adults in San Sebastián

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.

Parent group successfully fundraises to begin construction of new school restrooms

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.

The proceeds from rummage sales of donated clothing help to raise money for the new restrooms
The proceeds from rummage sales of donated clothing help to raise money for the new restrooms

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.

ProSalud advocacy succeeds in bringing first-ever oral hygiene campaign to San Sebastián

Thanks to negotiations that have taken place with the Los Reyes municipal public health services in the last few months, a group of dentists will soon going out to San Sebastián to host an oral hygiene campaign. This event is part of the municipal of Health Secretary’s overall oral health campaign; however, it is strictly due to ProSalud’s advocacy that the campaign agreed to spend an entire day in the remote San Sebastián neighborhood.

Although ProSalud has arranged for dental services to be available in previous general medical campaigns, there has never been a campaign focused on oral hygiene in this neighborhood before. Currently, residents of San Sebastian have to travel at least a half hour to the public health clinic in order to receive low-cost dental treatment. The time and cost of transportation involved can be a barrier for many families. During the event, participating dentists are hoping to provide exams, fillings, cleanings, fluoride application and other preventative care to at least 50 children. ProSalud will also hold a workshop for children on cavity prevention and toothbrushing techniques and give away toothbrushes and toothpaste as door prizes.

Health promoter finds purpose in working with her community

One important community connection that ProSalud made in 2013 is with Alma, one of ProSalud’s most active San Sebastián Promoters. When ProSalud first launched in the neighborhood, Alma was not interested in becoming involved. Her brother had been killed a little while earlier in a carjacking and she had been in a deep depression ever since. She was full of anger and resentment towards everyone around her, knowing that his killers (who were never apprehended) could well be people from her own community.

When first asked to participate in the project, Alma told the ProSalud staff, “No, I’m no good for things like that.” However, little by little, she became more involved. As she started to participate more actively, she began slowly to come out of her depression. Now, Alma is the first Promoter to arrive at every workshop. A consistent participant at every ProSalud event, Alma now approaches the staff to ask what she can do and how she can help. She has even donated space in her home to serve as ProSalud’s warehouse in the San Sebastián neighborhood. As Alma told the ProSalud staff, “I like working with you! It helps keep me from feeling depressed!”