Community health challenges in Mexico
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Despite great development gains in recent years, there are 60 million Mexicans living in poverty. Of those, 20 million live in extreme poverty. In many cases, poor rural farmers migrate with their families to large cities in search of work and become squatters on the outskirts of town. Using cardboard, scrap metal and old wood, they build small shacks on pieces of undesirable property. Such is the case of many communities in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is one of the 31 states, along with the Federal District, that make up Mexico. It is located in the southern part of the country, bordering Puebla, Guerrero, Veracruz and Chiapas. It is the fifth largest state in the country.
Oaxaca City is located about 500 km south of Mexico City in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Sierra Mountains. Oaxaca has a rich culture of music, art, colonial museums, temples and archaeological zones.
The state of Oaxaca has a population of approximately 3.8 million as well as the largest indigenous population in the country--about 1.8 million or 48%. It is home to 16 ethnic groups. The incidence of extreme poverty in 2002 was 4.5 times higher in predominantly indigenous than in non-indigenous municipalities. Moreover, Oaxaca is the second most economically marginalized state in Mexico.
More than 31% of children less than 6 years of age in Oaxaca suffer from mild malnutrition (WFA), 8% suffer from moderate malnutrition, and 1.9% suffer from severe malnutrition. Moreover, 38% of Oaxaca households live in food poverty, meaning they do not have enough food to meet the energy and nutrient needs of all of their members. This statistic is the third highest in the country, after Chiapas and Guerrero.
Our work in Mexico
Medical Teams International began working in Mexico in 1985 following a devastating earthquake in Mexico City. In 1986, Medical Teams International founded Manos de Ayuda (Helping Hands) to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of the poor in Mexico City. Manos de Ayuda expanded its work to the state of Oaxaca in 1987. Sixteen years later, Manos de Ayuda transitioned into an independent Mexican nonprofit and Medical Teams International founded an organization called Manos de Vida (Hands of Life) to provide community health services to the poor in Mexico City and Oaxaca.
Since 1985, Medical Teams International deployed more than 700 volunteer teams to Mexico in partnership with Manos de Ayuda and Manos de Vida to assist some of the poorest communities by providing medical and dental services, training volunteer health promoters, building schools, Bible clubs and latrines, and pouring concrete floors.
Transition of projects to AMEXTRA
In 2008, Medical Teams International began to transition out of Mexico. In order to do this responsibly, MTI decided to identify a partner that could take over its programs. Medical Teams International held meetings with several NGOs with similar visions that were working in Mexico. MTI decided to invite AMEXTRA (the Mexican Association for Rural and Urban Transformation) into a partnership primarily due to its Christian based methodology and its focus on community participation and project sustainability. Moreover, AMEXTRA inspired a lot of confidence due to its 25 years of experience implementing community transformation projects, working in partnerships with International NGOs, and participating in International networks. Since the beginning of the MTI/ AMEXTRA partnership at the end of 2008, AMEXTRA has successfully taken over the management of projects and activities at the Tultitlan community center. AMEXTRA has also begun a successful transition of the program in Oaxaca, expanding into new communities and producing positive results in community participation and nutrition improvement for children 5 and under.
Plans for 2012-2013
In December of 2008, Medical Teams International signed an agreement, allowing AMEXTRA to take over the Tultitlan Community Center and continue working with the communities around the nearby garbage dump located in the community of Sierra de Guadalupe. During 2009, 2010 and the first half of 2011, MTI provided funding for Amextra to work with local church and community volunteers to provide general education and computer classes for children and adults, nutrition workshops for mothers of children with malnutrition, and a savings program. Beginning July 01, 2011, Amextra continued the work in Sierra de Gaudalupe and surrounding communities with 100% of their own funding and continue this work today.
In addition to partnering in Tultitlan, Medical Teams International and AMEXTRA began a partnership in Oaxaca toward the end of 2010 when they conducted a five month community health assessment together in several communities. Amextra started a holistic health program in six Central Valley communities in July, 2011, three in which Manos de Vida was working and three new communities (Campo Real, Guadalupe Victoria, La Nopalera, Parajes de Viguera, Tierra y Libertad and Yagay). These communities are highly marginalized and show interest in organizing themselves in order to create a better life for their families. The communities have little to no basic services, such as electricity, drinking water, sewage, educational institutions, paved roads or health centers and the average family budget is between $100 to $150 pesos daily. Moreover, 42% of the children five and under suffer from malnutrition (Weight For Age).
As part of the Community Health and Nutrition and Peace Education Project, we will train mothers of children five and under in nutrition workshops and projects related to improving nutrition. The women will be trained in vegetable garden planting, rain water collection systems, chicken raising and cooking with healthy and affordable foods in order to improve the nutrition for their families, especially the children five and under who are undernourished. In addition to contributing to improved nutrition, the hope is for these projects to serve as a model in the community to increase income. Amextra will accompany the families as they carry out their projects, while at the same time encouraging some of them to become local promoters so that they will share the acquired skills with other families from their community.
AMEXTRA will also lead Peace Education workshops to women, children and adolescents. This project will provide participants with methodological tools to achieve construction processes of holistic peace and encourage improvements in self-esteem, gender equality, communication and positive actions. Moreover, there will be a focus of forming adolescent promoters who will facilitate these workshops for other children and adolescents.
Medical Teams International has funded the program since July 1, 2011. In 2013, Amextra will seek donations from other sources to continue its community development work in Oaxaca.
Medical Teams International will send two teams to work in the Oaxaca Central Valley communities in which Amextra is working.
For more information, please see the video of our work in Oaxaca.
Our partner in Mexico
Amextra is a Mexican non-profit organization, which has been operating its own community development projects and continuous service to marginalized communities in Mexico since 1984. It has served over 150,000 people from 325 different communities in 10 states as well as Mexico City, through education, health and nutrition, income generation, emergency relief and environmental sustainability projects. Due to the emphasis on local ownership and sustainable development, all of Amextra’s programs are carried out through the support of local leaders trained by Amextra.
Amextra firmly believes in the idea that a transformational philosophy, “Change your way of thinking in order to change your way of living” and a participatory methodology are indispensable for the improvement of poverty in Mexico. Amextra enables people to value themselves as agents of their own transformation by empowering them to recognize their talents and resources, so that they recuperate their self esteem in the process of family and community change.