Continuing the new series illustrating recent examples of systemic change Patricia deNava, past International President of the AIC (Ladies of Charity in USA), writes..
“In order to understand Marillac, it is important to picture its programs, not as a cluster of trees with no relationship among them, as we previously did, but as a forest, an ecosystem in which different systems and sub-systems interact with one another to provide opportunities to fulfill the diverse needs of people whom we attend to, like Lourdes, and thus bring about a systemic change in their lives.”
To this end she introduces The Story of Lourdes: A Woman Who Decided To Transform Her Life
“My name is Lourdes. I am married and have six children who, until the year I joined the Marillac Center, had never been to school. My husband, father of most of my children, sometimes finds work as a mechanic, but whatever he does is never enough. Every time I told him that we had nothing to eat for the following day, he would hit me. Each morning I would wake up in anguish because of all the things I had to do: clean the house (if you call the hut that shelters us, made of cardboard and tin, a house), feed the children, begin looking for a few cents to survive… I felt overwhelmed and incapable of doing anything. Our situation was scary. We were really violent and communicated with each other through blows. My children did not know how to act differently; they too were violent, even in their games.
By mere chance I began to go to the Marillac Center and I started to be aware of how terrible violence is. At the Center, I found all sorts of support: schooling and food for my children, clothing for the whole family, health and dental examinations, materials to improve the house, work for myself and psychological therapy for me, for my husband and also for the children.
Of all that I have learned, what has served me the most, and has really opened my eyes, is the nutrition program. Every day, I wake up joyfully and don’t get mad when the children ask me for something to eat. On the contrary, I think of recent lessons and I never forget to add amaranth seeds to any meal I prepare, because now I know that they have a lot of nutrients. I am happy because my children eat well and are glad to go to school.
I have learned a lot of things and I know that I can make my children healthier and energetic enough to be able to study. This week we are going to learn how to make healthy school lunches for them. This is going to help them a lot. Before, when I had some money, I would buy them a small bag of chips or a soft drink that they shared, and sometimes a piece of old bread that was left in the store. Now I include cucumber, a yogurt or an orange… I now feel like a different person; I am studying and learning how to read and write. I take care of myself and have confidence in the future. Gelasio has learned to like and respect me and my children are no longer ashamed of me.
Thanks to the Marillac Center, there are women and entire families just like Lourdes, whose lives have been transformed, or are in the process of being transformed.
More than 20 years ago, the Marillac Center started offering services in many marginalized neighborhoods of San Luis Potosí where there was a lot of violence, numerous street gangs and abundant drug addiction — all of these augmented by low self-esteem and the lack of moral values. At first, various activities for young people and women were planned, mainly classes, without really taking into account the needs of the inhabitants. These produced no significant changes in their lives. By means of an analysis of the real situation of the community, we were, along with the women of the community, able to form a new project: “Social Co-Responsibility and Education for a World without Violence”, which focuses on the prevention of, and the struggle against, violence, which flows from multiple factors related to poverty.
In order to understand Marillac, it is important to picture its programs, not as a cluster of trees with no relationship among them, as we previously did, but as a forest, an ecosystem in which different systems and sub-systems interact with one another to provide opportunities to fulfill the diverse needs of people whom we attend to, like Lourdes, and thus bring about a systemic change in their lives. This systemic approach has brought about the creation of several closely linked departments, through which ethical and Christian values, basic to our Vincentian way of seeing things, are reinforced in an ongoing way by means of talks, workshops and other types of interventions and in which the fundamental strategies are the participation of the poor and self-help:
- Social Work focusing on the defense of human rights: Assistance for families in extreme poverty, defending their rights, judicial and legal aid and promotion of individual and communal empowerment.
- Psychology: Individual or group psychological counseling and therapy.
- Health: Sessions for medical and dental care, referral to private and public institutions, prevention campaigns, development of sports and recreational activities, yoga and aerobics.
- Nutrition: ‘’Healthy Nutrition for All” is a project supported by a grant from the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change. It provides education for a balanced and healthy way of eating, techniques for preserving food, planning family vegetable gardens, and maintaining better child nutrition. Participation in a government-run program, called “SUSTENTA”, supports and teaches how to improve nutrition and money management in the home.
- Education: the INEA (National Institute for the Education of Adults) Center is an open elementary and middle school for adults and young people. It also provides scholarships for unmarried adolescent mothers. Arts and crafts and computer classes are offered as tools for a better future. Education in the area of micro-enterprises is also available.
- Communication and diffusion: Training for the community leaders, who are agents in the multiplication of this overall project and of the diverse sub-projects. Maintaining contacts and spreading the mission through the media. Transmitting the vision of a world free of violence, that emphasizes equality and solidarity.
- Children: Project “Healthy and happy children, children of peace” is a well-rounded after-school program in which solidarity, responsibility, peace and a positive way of learning that distances them from the negative and threatening aspects of their environment, are taught through theater and choral workshops, Scouts, and a multimedia program for early bilingual learning, named “Prosofia of Eduspark”, a very attractive program for helping children to learn a variety of subjects: music, math, science, and to develop their linguistic skills and vocabulary. All the lessons are taught in two languages in order to aid them to learn English as a second language.
The application of Systemic Change strategies, the creation of networks, the offer of wide-ranging assistance, the participation of the beneficiaries themselves and periodic evaluations have been deciding factors in the success of the Marillac Center. Every day difficult situations arise that need to be resolved and new challenges have to be faced, but in spite of all this, the AIC-Volunteers faithfully continue their work, with the help of the women of the community, who always encourage them with their selflessness and their courage. Like Lourdes, these women, thanks to the support of the Marillac Center, have been able to break out of the vicious cycle of violence and marginalization in which they were trapped and are worthy of admiration and respect.