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.