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 Health  Mexico Project #30014

Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly

by Atzin Mexico / Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario AC Vetted since 2017 Top Ranked Effective Nonprofit Site Visit Verified
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 60 Children & Elderly

December, 2018

Dear Friends of Atzin and Tlamacazapa,

As the new year approaches, I paused to reflect on the beginnings of Atzin in Tlamacazapa in early 1997, and came across writing that I did shortly before arriving in Mexico. Its content is as true to me now as it was then. Our work in community "is like a tree, deeply rooted in people's realities, grounded to the earth.... Our work flows like a river, finding its way. Sometimes deep and calm; sometimes shallow and turbulent; still at other points, with seemingly stagnant swamps. We climb steep mountains to create connections and change. Following a small path of questioning and discovery, we will circle up the mountain many times, with each turn finding a broader, more enriched view."

For over 20 years, Atzin has been there for the people of Tlamacazapa. The toxicity and acute poverty of the village are complex problems, resulting in acute need for many families. At Atzin, we know that our task is to create real opportunities for people to gain capacities and confidence. The task is incessently demanding, bringing both tension and joy.

When we struggle together to meet challenges, we deepen our moral fortitude, our abilities to care and to be cared for; and our grasp of rooted inter-connectedness. Igniting sparks of hope, we again commit to a meaningful way of life. It can be done - it feels right and good. 

Help us to climb that mountain and make a genuine difference in people's lives. Support the long haul of development with all its swamps and turbulence. Please donate to assist children and elderly with special needs - be a hero of the heart, right and good.

Thank you as always, with appreciation, 

Susan, Director of Atzin Mexico


Midwife Victoria in a pensive moment
Midwife Victoria in a pensive moment

Dear Friends, 

Lately, I have been thinking about the “long haul” in Tlamacazapa, Mexico. Sometimes people comment, “What? Are you still working there?” as though there is something amiss with continuing to focus on work in a tough setting. Or perhaps, that somehow everything should be fine by now, and Atzin should have moved onto somewhere else.

Victoria never married having dedicated her earlier years to the care of her paraplegic younger brother. While drawing water from an open well, she explained, “I cannot read or write, but I completed Atzin’s training for midwifery. Because I attend deliveries at night, people have called me a ‘streetwalker’ and sometimes talked bad about me. They still do until they need my help with a birth! Now I am stronger and go about my business, ignoring their talk.”

When faced with continued suffering, brave women are now taking unprecedented risks and are slowly transforming their fear into action and greater self-confidence. These experiences accumulate to strengthen their personal resilience, allowing more effective responses to the demands of their lives and the needs of their children.

There is no “wow” of rapid change here, not when faced with such 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. We then witness the rising of a stronger inner resilience that permits a weathering of life’s inevitable storms.

Our job in community development has always been the creation of opportunities - ones that allow glimpses of possibility. Each person then decides “yes” or “no” to participation. Such is the nature of life-affirming advances that are based on decisions to keep up the work over the long haul, both for us at Atzin and for individual women and men of Tlamacazapa.

Until next time, Susan


Midwife VIctoria draws water at the well.
Midwife VIctoria draws water at the well.


Dear Friends, this report addresses a basic need of all families: clean and sufficient water and adequate sanitation. This story speaks to the everyday realities of development work in difficult settings. Here is what happened and what we learned from the experience. It is a bit long so you might want to grab a chair... 

In Tlamacazapa, a rural mountainous village of 6,200 people, over an eight-year period, the Atzin team constructed a total of 60 dry toilets and rainwater catchment tank units in family households plus several rainwater catchment systems and dry toilets at local schools. In a nutshell, a dry toilet separates urine from feces using a specially designed toilet seat. Feces drops into a large vault that forms the base of the toilet building and is stored for several months until dry and then removed. Urine drains via piping into a small garden plot or into a container. Most families were using open-air excretion and an assortment of barrels and buckets to store water. A few wealthier families had constructed water flush toilets and dug a septic hole nearby. This was problematic because of the proximity to water wells and acute shortages of water during the six-month dry season.

Our dry toilet and tank construction program (DTT) was doing very well – families with the units were clearly more than satisfied and all units were in daily use. The program incorporated the training and ongoing supervision of a local construction crew of four village men; educational sessions on the care, use and maintenance of the unit with follow-up visits; and clear agreements on Atzin responsibilities and family contributions (one adult working each day while the crew was building the basic unit using metal molds for poured concrete; provision of water and gravel or sand; and a small monetary contribution based on a sliding scale). The total cost of a complete unit consisting of a dry toilet, a 7,800L tank, walled garden, piping, concrete laundry washbasin, materials, transport and labour was 15,000 pesos. The program had a waiting list of families that were making payments for their contribution and gathering gravel in preparation for construction.

In 2009 the municipal government announced that it would fund the construction of dry toilets for village households. The municipal president (who privately owned two stores selling construction materials) asked Atzin to submit a proposal and budget, and we quickly did so. We also had received a new visitor the previous week who had expressed great interest in our DTT units and their functioning. He explained that he worked in the western part of the municipality and saw good potential for dry toilets. The team readily gave him a walking tour and our educational materials, explaining the program in detail and inviting him to come again.

Later that month, the municipality announced that the tender to build 500 dry toilets throughout the village had been awarded to a local construction company, headed up by… the man who had visited us, a close friend of the municipal president as we later found out. His crew – all men from outside the village - moved in and rapidly built more than 500 simple toilet structures made of sheets of styrofoam with wire mesh and a coating of concrete. That project had no education, cost-sharing, family participation or follow-up components. The structures had two vaults for feces but the contractor had not understood the handling of urine in the design nor done any further research. Urine flowed from the toilet PVC pipes onto the ground or flowed down the street. The cost of each toilet: 25,500 pesos.

Dismayed, we wrote a letter to the municipal president offering to improve the toilets’ functioning and repeatedly requested a meeting with him. There was no response. Overall, villagers disliked those toilets (many used them only for the storage of goods), saying that they had been denied a “proper” water-based toilet, and a negative attitude toward dry toilets grew exponentially.

The result for Atzin’s DTT program? A total halt by mid-2010, despite the fact that our original 60 family households continued to use their DTT units every day. But no new families signed up.

What did the Atzin team learn from this experience?

  1. The visitor was manipulative and took advantage of the team’s willingness to share information. Could we have detected his ulterior motive at the time? No.
  2. Corruption at a government level is characterized by conflicts of interest and political maneuvering. Could we have known that this tender had a pre-determined selection of winner and underlying profits for all concerned? No.
  3. The overall design of any program really matters. The differences in the programs were glaringly obvious. Ours was developmental in nature, slowly working with families to build knowledge, authentic participation and family ownership, while giving local men training and employment. The other was just a construction project (inadequately) done by outsiders for villagers, and given the high cost of each simple structure, had significant for-profit margin and likely, percentages paid out to intermediaries. A consequent tidal wave of negative reactions from families resulted in an overall public rejection of dry toilet technology.   
  4. A solid program, built over years, can be undermined by sudden, strong external forces in the local context. Could we have prevented this at the time? I doubt it. Several factors were in play: the small size of our team limited our reach; the physical distance to the municipal centre made visits to officials an effort; municipal officials changed often so that we were constantly starting over again in terms of building relationships with government; and, a lack of transparency at the municipal level was the norm, not the exception. Important to note, agreement about participation in the DTT program had been negotiated on a household by household basis, and not on a community level. This program decision stemmed from longstanding animosity between village families and its neighbourhoods as well as the annual turnover and frequent absences of elected village representatives. That made any agreement about any course of action by village assemblies (which only men attended) very difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve. In turn, however, this meant that we had no broad village-based representation in any negotiations with government.

How did this experience help Atzin improve and increase impact?

As a team we worked to resolve our irritation about these maneuvers and had no option but to put construction of DTT units on a back burner and wait. We focused more tightly on education and health programming - there were specific benefits to this decision. It was tough to find the right words to explain to Atzin Boards and donors that our program had come to a complete halt; and that it was not going to be resurrected any time soon.

Looking back, we could have been more proactive. We could have continued with just the construction of household water tanks instead of waiting to see how the overall situation unfolded. We now invest more time on relationships with allies and supporters; we know better who our (potential) allies are. We document more thoroughly and more readily contact sympathetic news reporters with analyses and photos when necessary, always walking a fine line of assertiveness and safety. For our next major construction initiative (already on our agenda as a wellness centre for women and families and shelter), we will have to have a thoughtful strategy with sufficient preparation time, and a large enough base of organized women and their extended families at the ready.

Thank you all for your support of Atzin programs - much needed and appreciated. As always, Susan.


April 2018

Dear Friends of Atzin and Tlamacazapa,

Each year the Atzin team summarizes "the numbers" for each of our programs in Tlamacazapa, Mexico. Have a look at the Special Needs Program during 2017 from a numbers perspective. While the administrative procedures, intensive training and accounting activities are done by the team based at the Atzin House in Cuernavaca, Morelos, the day-to-day program activities are carried out in Tlamacazapa by local village women, called "promoters." Each takes responsibility for specific activities in a program. Total of program promoters: 21.

The Special Needs Program (SNP) serves those most in need of support because chronic health problems, acute poverty, malnutrition or family crisis. From January through to July 2017, participants in the SNP included:


  • Total number of individuals:                      123
  • Boys and girls (1-17 years old):                  77
  • Children with disabilities:                            15
  • Adults with disabilities:                                22
  • Elderly housebound:                                    9

Of those 123 people,

  • Children and adults (malnourished) who received a monthly food package:         38
  • Children and adults confined to house who received a monthly home visit:          27
  • Those with chronic conditions who receive monthly vitamins and medications:    25
  • Children with disabilities who attend Tihueliske Education Program:                     5
  • Children of families with special needs who attend Tihueliske Education:             31
  • Children in elementary school who receive monthly school and other supplies:    28
  • SNP families that received ecological stoves, attended class on use and care:    123
  • People who received a gift (footwear or used clothing in good condition):             123
  • SNP children and adults  who received (free) dental care:                                     86

From August through to December 2017, participants in the SNP included:


  • Total number of individuals:                         53
  • Boys and girls (1-17 years old):                   29
  • Children and adults with disabilities:            25

Of those 53 people,

  • Children and adults (malnourished) who received a monthly food package:                6
  • Children and adults confined to house who received a monthly home visit:                 22
  • Individuals with chronic conditions who receive monthly vitamins and medications:    31
  • Children with disabilities who attend Tihueliske Education Program:                            5
  • Children of families with special needs who attend Tihueliske Education:                   18
  • People who received a gift (footwear or used clothing in good condition):                   53
  • SNP children and adults who received (free) dental care:                                            47
  • People who received specialized equipment for their condition:                                  5
  • People who received funding (transport and food) for medical appointments:             7
  • Team accompaniment for medical appts. in Mexico City, total number days:              6
  • Shelter, food, legal procedures, accompaniment: domestic violence case:                 1   
  • Patients eye assessments and cataract campaign:                                                      7

You may have noted the drop in number of individuals between July and August - a major supporter of the SNP withdrew funding; the organization had shifted its priorities in programming to women's groups.  We had no option but to comb through registry and continue to work with those with the most acute needs, while seeking to build up the program funding base once again.

A report of the numbers captures only part of the SNP story but gives an idea of the participants and the activities. For any of us who has had a family member with a special need, we know first hand the tremendous amount of effort that is required to access treament, address personal and social needs, and keep stress at bay. All of you reading this note have donated to help the folks with special needs and living in acute poverty in this part of Mexico. Stay tuned for my next update from the field.... and thank you once again  

 As always, Susan

Executive Director

Atzin Mexico

Learning to read
Learning to read

Special Needs Program Report. The following account about a young village mom and her small daughter highlights the critical importance of health, education and mutual support.

A young mother, Martina, reads aloud, using her index finger to highlight each word while her eight-year old daughter, Rosa, listens and prompts her mom on occasion. Let me tell you about the remarkable story behind this photo.

Four years ago, Rosa - thin, pale and weak - was diagnosed with leukemia. Overwhelmed and afraid, Martina tearfully asked the Atzin team in Tlamacazapa for help. We said yes, and Martina and Rosa moved into the Atzin House in Cuernavaca; Rosa’s extended treatment started at the regional children’s hospital with financial and moral support from Atzin and lots of accompaniment.

Suddenly everything was new and stressful for Martina. All her life, she had lived with her parents and five siblings in a crowded palm hut with a dirt floor, cooking over a smoky three-rock fire, never leaving the village. All were illiterate and weavers of simple palm baskets, just barely surviving from day-to-day. Then this health crisis hit and they feared the worst. Martina’s only option was to learn to handle life in the city - taking buses, cooking on a gas stove, answering a phone, and most importantly, managing the confusing hospital systems and caring for Rosa while memorizing the many medications and procedures. We witnessed her determined courage to save Rosa, and Martina gradually made herself indispensable in the Atzin House, proudly earning a daily salary, until Santa Rosa recovered completely and returned to live in the village.

There is another layer to this story. Martina wanted to read. “How much simpler life would be,” she said longingly, “if I could just read the medicine labels, the bus signs, the instructions. Imagine If I could read to Rosa!” In response, Lupe and Ana, both living in the Atzin House with a scholarship to attend high school, began teaching Martina to read and write in the evenings as part of their community service. It was slow going, more difficult for Martina than managing the bus and the hospital. Lupe and Ana tutored Rosa as well, and despite her many absences from school, Rosa can now read and write well, having quickly surpassed her mother’s ability. She continues to thrive. Mother and daughter read together, each having helped the other, and their futures are forever changed for the better.

Martina and Rosa’s story illustrates a long crisscrossing thread of people helping people. In a similar way, we can trace the influence of Atzin’s programs. They are interconnected, allowing families to participate in different programs as needs arise. For example, a pregnant woman can be seen by the midwife; her children attended by the dentist; her son enrolled in the tutoring program to help him pass his grade in school; her toddler with special needs registered in the young child stimulation program.

These programs have evolved over time in constant consultation with villagers. They are successful because we carefully listen to people and respond to the best of our ability. Our small Centre in Tlamacazapa overflows with people and materials - the noise can be deafening! There is so much to do, always. Please support us as best you can, and thank you for all your help.

As always, Susan

P.S. Santa Rosa now 11 years old is doing well and recently joined Atzin as our youngest volunteer helping in the Special Needs Program. How cool is that?

Mom & daughter read - their lives change forever
Mom & daughter read - their lives change forever

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Organization Information

Atzin Mexico / Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario AC

Location: Cuernavaca - Mexico
Website: http:/​/​
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @N/A
Project Leader:
Susan Smith
Cuernavaca, Mexico
$6,013 raised of $8,500 goal
88 donations
$2,487 to go
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