Dear Friends of Atzin and Tlamacazapa,
For the past month at Atzin we have been working in crisis mode to prevent a grave injustice.
On May 3, 2023, three police officers arrested our program coordinator, Xochitl R.V., on the street in Cuernavaca, Morelos, very close to the office of Atzin Mexico.
A 43-year old Indigenous woman, Xochitl is being held at Atlacholoaya state prison, wrongly charged with aggravated kidnapping, at great risk to her health and the wellbeing of her adult dependent son.
She has dedicated years of excellent work as a human rights defender, trainer and community organizer with Atzin Mexico in Tlamacazapa, Guerrero.
Xochitl is innocent. She had nothing to do with this, or any other crime, before, during or after its occurrence. To read more about this case, please visit www.atzin.org
All moral and financial support is greatly appreciated.
Thank you, and rest assured that the Atzin team is working tirelessly for justice, while keeping the village programs going.
Reports from charitable organizations like Atzin are most often chronicles of good news and promising advances; but if truth be told, the reality can sometimes be the complete opposite.
Village conditions took a rapid nose dive in early 2020 and worsened during 2021. Bewildered women struggled to feed their children with no income. Too many men hung around in the streets, doing nothing useful, having lost their work as street sellers, some drinking 95% proof mixed with pop or openly using drugs, numbing emotional pain or gaining false strength in numbers. Children missed two full years of education, many never to return to class, giving up on literacy in order to earn money. Municipal government services limped along using WhatsApp, in effect almost disappearing for two years. And, to the extent the environment reflects the state of our inner world – the place where life is really lived - then the garbage carelessly strewn everywhere was a sorry statement of people’s emotional health.
In 2022, re-gaining any momentum in our education and health programs was like overcoming inertia, almost like starting over again, but this time, with the odds of success more complicated and riskier than ever. More than once, I had to ask myself whether the last twenty-some years of work by so many were actually for naught. Of course, our work had helped different individuals at different times, but overall, the villagers were descending further into a deep hole – of debt and poverty, of insecurity and violence, of toxicity, depression and anxiety, of illness and addiction – driven largely by negative external forces beyond their control. Over three years, we had lost hard-won ground. In moments of reckoning, I was more than discouraged, disheartened even.
Then one day in early 2023, we visited Antonio in his simple home that was made of sticks and concrete blocks with a dirt floor. A year ago, bandits forced this innocent young man and his brother to kneel, hands clasped behind their necks, and shot them. Paralyzed from the waist down, and his brother killed, Antonio’s life with all its potential and possibilities had been abruptly altered by others, and through no fault of his own. And yet… he greeted us warmly, pleased to have visitors. Areceli, a health promoter in our Special Needs Program, returned his smile as he demonstrated his exercises and discussed the transport for his upcoming fitting for leg braces and arm crutches (a surprise donation from a generous couple).
Antonio had every reason to be angry, bitter or resentful toward everyone and everything but instead, his eager smile was genuine and he was visibly grateful for our time and attention. Lying on an old, grubby mattress in the poorest of houses, Antonio was drawing on a remarkable personal reservoir of resilience, rebuilding after a terrible loss - living proof that while painful events do leave scars, he was “touching the miracle of being alive” (quote from Thich Nhat Hanh).
Against this backdrop of anguish and injustice, watching Antonio and Areceli talk, I felt a tangible shift, a re-gaining of core strength that had slowly eroded. Such is the effect of caring human interaction.
Taking our cue from Antonio, inspired by his vulnerability and courage, we dare to press on, recognizing the absolute value of heart-felt connections and accompaniment, and cognizant of the everyday miracles.
As 2022 nears completion, I again think about our programs over the “long haul” in Tlamacazapa. Let me share a few thoughts to mark the end of the year.
Years ago, a visitor named Pedro and I walked up the steep village paths to the highest water well. Beads of sweat rolled down our necks and we stopped often to catch our breath and to chat with families. On our way back, Pedro commented, “You know so many people here and they know you. You cannot keep this up, you know. You won’t be objective, and besides, you will burn out.” His words gave me pause – I thought that he had it exactly backwards. My relationship with people is personal, not objective. My work is personal. And only when personal is it possible to keep up the work over time, especially in demanding circumstances. Social justice then, becomes personal.
Brave women, working across Atzin programs, many very young, slowly gain self-confidence as they take on new responsibilities, and then take actions, however small. There is no visible “wow” of rapid change here, not when faced with such insecurity and oppressive circumstances. Instead, each person finds her voice in her own time and steadies her feet in her own way when she is ready to do so. And... we witness the slow rising of a strong resilience that permits a weathering of life’s inevitable storms.
Such is the nature of sustainable, life-affirming advances; they are based on personal decisions to engage and to keep up the work over the long haul - both for us at Atzin and for individual women and men of Tlamacazapa.
As we prepare for 2023, we wish you - our heroes of the heart - all the best.
Dear Friends, while some may say that a report with the numbers from 2021 is “old news,” for us here at Atzin, the numbers help to anchor “what was what” during that year, especially in comparison with former years. This report is longer than usual, so please hang in there....
During 2021, we worked to recover and revive programs affected by the pandemic; all in all, it was an unexpectedly time-consuming process - like overcoming inertia - and felt like the story of the “little engine that could.” All in all, the local women working with Atzin did an incredible amount of good work, while building skills in planning, managing, reporting and evaluating programs. An estimated 3,000 beneficiaries accessed and received services (keep in mind that individuals can receive more than one service).
Two challenges across the community arose: children of all ages essentially lost two years of education, as well as the disciplined habit of regularly attending classes; 2) families were economically more stressed with more social problems, and put education of their children on a back burner. Honestly, there is no way to put a positive spin on this: barely able to cope during the pandemic, the people who paid dearly were those living in acute poverty.
2021 PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS. Responding to community needs over the year, Atzin team and promoters did the following:
Early Stimulation Program. Re-started the early stimulation program in early October 2021, with 41 registered children aged 2-5 years of age, organized in two groups, each group meeting twice per week for three hours;
Education for Children. Gave 3.5-hour classes for 200 registered children (6-11 years old) in small groups outside in the open air from January 2 to July 16, and then again from September to December, for a total of 147 days of classes over the nine months. During 2021, attendance by children dropped in our education and literacy program, Tihueliske, and despite repeated home visits by Atzin educators and discussions with parents, it has taken months to regain momentum.
Nutrition. Promoters did 37 cooking demonstrations on Saturdays for people and patients at the Centre, and as well, provided snacks for the children on each day of classes.
Special Needs. Continued service and medication provision to 38 children and 40 adults with special needs throughout the year. Promoters continued to accompany families with appointments in hospitals in Taxco, Cuernavaca or Mexico City, with Atzin covering transportation, consultation fees, paperwork for appointments and costs of lab work.
Safe Motherhood. Provided prenatal care and postpartum follow-up for 61 registered woman, with 47 clinic days plus home visits.
Dental Health. Operated the Motlan Dental program operated once per week for five months (January to end of May), attending to 360 people for a total of 400 treatments.
Condolences. Visited 93 different households to offer condolences for a death in the family. Each family received support in cash ($200 per family) and a 5-piece food package. We kept the death registry updated with a data analysis; and mapped the locations of deaths.
Civil Registrar. Worked with a local woman (an Atzin promoter and educator for years) to be approved for the position of Civil Registrar in the community (responsible for registration of births, deaths and marriages) in May 2021. Atzin supported her nomination with transport, application payments, letters and submissions, provided three month’s compensation, six-month rent in a temporary location, and basic furnishings (on long-term loan) with start-up supplies.
Advocacy. Registered a complaint and petition to the senator of the central region of Guerrero for return of an unfair payment made to the Taxco Hospital by a family on December 1st 2021. On December 16, 2020, the Guerrero Human Rights Commission took up the case and in May 2022, the full repayment was achieved.
Advocacy. Worked with five families to obtain the many documents required to obtain federal economic support as victims of violence, and then transporting the affected women to Chilpancingo for individual interviews and submission of documents. [Financial support for the widows and the nine young children came through in the spring of 2022, a huge relief for them].
So now, halfway through 2022, we take a deep breath, figuring out our next best steps: focus on nutrition, early stimulation and education for children, and mental health for youth.
With your support and best wishes, as always, we press on – thank you.
Dear Friends of Atzin and Tlamacazapa,
At Atzin we recognize the importance of knowing well the local CONTEXT, its HISTORY and its HUMAN DYNAMICS. This critical assessment guides any strategic planning of programs and activities, yet it actually takes an asute eye and thoughtful consideration to determine what information is important. Let me share a true story entitled "Safety Pin" to illustrate this point (names have been changed for privacy).
Aiming the pocket flashlight, I crouched low beside Victoria as she knelt to attend Berta who was delivering her first baby on a blanket on the dirt floor. The stick walls leaned in on us as we huddled in the tiny hut, one dim lightbulb hanging from the palm roof, her husband, Pedro, and her mother-in-law, Maria, watching to one side. Grunting, Berta gave one final strong push and Jose was born. Pedro suddenly reached out and slapped Berta hard across her face: “You didn’t protect this pregnancy,” he said angrily and left.
No one responded - we all saw that Jose had a gaping cleft lip and palate. Victoria waited for the placenta, rubbing Jose with a towel and wrapping him in a cloth, all the while speaking softly to him in order to comfort Berta. The delivery completed, we packed up, promising to return the next day.
Victoria explained that by custom, pregnant women fasten a large safety pin under their clothing to protect their baby from the harm of evil spirits. Berta had faithfully done this, Victoria said, but it had not been enough. At six months of age, Jose had his first surgical repair, and as he grew, Atzin covered the costs of additional surgeries and some language therapy – none of it helped to bring harmony to the family. During each visit, Berta complained that her jealous mother-in-law was nasty to the point of being cruel, and rather than support Berta, Pedro defended his mother. Berta’s relationship with Maria gradually became torturous.
Now caring for four children, Berta came home early from shopping and surprised Pedro in bed with a young teenager. Escaping a scene, he jumped up and ran. Through tears, Berta told me what she had kept hidden for years: her father-in-law had abandoned Maria for another woman when Pedro was an infant; Maria had started having sex with Pedro when he was 12 years old until he started living with Berta at 22. This had messed him up.
Berta was miserable, and wanted to leave Pedro but with four children, had nowhere to go. She actually only had two choices – stay or move forward bravely to something different. Not willing to risk losing her house on that tiny patch of land - her safety pin of protection - Berta stayed.
Reflection: Knowing something of Pedro’s history gave me a new perspective on the family dynamic. Like the pocket flashlight that illuminated just a portion of the dark hut at a time, a person’s life can be revealed to be so terribly multilayered, so terribly tangled, and so terribly sad. I thought about the consequences of intergenerational trauma, and how a disturbing act and its grim aftermath can become the troubling behaviours that, with cancerous tenacles, penetrate into each succeeding generation.
The importance of knowing context, history and dynamics become paramount for successful development.
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