One piece of ConeXión Mosaico’s “mosaic” is Marta, a ProSalud participant from the San José Palmas neighborhood. Marta first attended a workshop with her “comadre,” who had begun to participate and invited her to come along. Marta shares that she has a lot of stress at home, including being a fulltime caregiver for her severely disabled adult child. However, she says that attending different ProSalud activities has been an important outlet for her in releasing that stress. “I like it a lot. When I get together with everyone, I get to relax a little bit. It takes my mind off of my problems at home. I get to forget all of my worries for a little while and just spend time laughing with other women.”
Marta says that she particularly appreciates the way the workshops are structured. “The groups are very dynamic. For example, we all sit in a circle and the facilitator might ask me to read a paragraph. Once I finish, she will ask me ‘What did you understand from that?’ Then we go around the circle and brainstorm ideas, giving everyone a chance to share their ideas and contribute. Everyone gets to add the information they have and we can ask questions if we have doubts or concerns. It’s a great way to dispel some of the incorrect information that is floating around in the community.”
The ProSalud Coordinator, Angeles, explains that this participatory dynamic is an integral part of the project’s methodology. “Our workshops are conducted using popular education methods based on Paulo Friere’s teachings.” Friere was a Brazilian educator who developed a model for providing literacy education to poor and politically disempowered people. His teaching, sometimes described as ‘education for critical consciousness,’ aimed to empower socially and politically marginalized people to take control of their own learning and to effect social change.
Angeles goes on to say, “Classes can be very hierarchical. The teacher’s attitude is often ‘I’m the one teaching here because I know more than you. I’m the one who has the information and so you need to listen to me,’ but that’s just not true. Here, everyone’s opinion is valued. Each person has something important to contribute; every participant has information and knowledge to share.”
For Marta, the inclusive atmosphere found in ConeXión Mosaico’s projects makes it easier to absorb the information she is learning. “In other kinds of classes, the teacher just stands up in front and talks. After about 5 minutes, you start to get bored and you stop paying attention. But when it is so participatory, time flies and you stay engaged the entire time. When I know someone might ask me for my opinion at any time, I pay more attention. I’m always thinking of what I am going to say. It makes it more interesting, and I also remember more afterwards.” Marta shares that, little by little, the information she has learned in the workshops has started to effect changes in her lifestyle. “It’s not a drastic overnight change, but as time goes on I have started to change my habits; for example, I’ve started to eat more fruits and vegetables.”
In addition, there is another dynamic which keeps Marta coming back to groups each week. “Since each person has an opportunity to participate, I don’t just learn from the facilitator, I learn from everyone. And when you learn from everyone, you start to look differently at people. You start to look at them with more respect, because you realize they have knowledge. For example, when I listen to someone else talk I might think, ‘Wow. I don’t know her very well, but she’s pretty smart. She knows a lot.’ And when you start thinking like that, it helps you to develop friendships, deeper friendships than you had before.”
However, the most important effect of Marta’s participation with ConeXión Mosaico has been the impact it has had on her own self-perception. To be asked her opinion, to have her knowledge respected, to be told that she has something to offer others, has provoked a subtle but critical change in the way Marta views herself. “It makes you think, ‘Wow, I guess I’m not so ignorant after all. I actually knew things all along.’ It helps you grow and develop as a person, little by little. As I have started sharing in the groups, I have slowly started to lose my fear of talking to others. Over time I have become less timid, more self-confident and surer of myself.”
At ConeXión Mosaico, this popular education philosophy is one of the ways that we facilitate community dialogue as an organization. We offer a place where a diversity of voices and experiences come together and each person’s contribution is important. We truly believe that each person has something valuable to contribute to their own development. Therefore, residents of the communities where we work play an integral part in the design and execution of each of our projects, continuing to form a mosaic of God’s shalom in their own lives and in their community.