Monday, June 23, 2008

Mexico's #1 Fan

Mexico City is one of my favorite places so when our jury choose a woman from Mexico as one of our honorees, I was delighted to return to a city that I enjoy so much. My mother claims Mexico City should hire me to run their tourism board. I do understand that not everyone considers the sprawl and crowds of the world’s third largest city to be an ideal vacation spot but I love the art, the fact that you can find it everywhere, the architecture, the mix of old Mexico and super hip Mexico. It’s everything I love about New York, only Latino and fantastic in that way.

My reason for coming is Maria del Carmen Elu Cayado, a social anthropologist who brought the problem of maternal mortality into the light in Mexico and forced the government to add it to their national health plans. She was actually selected to be one of our 2007 honorees but before we could contact her, she was in a terrible accident. While driving in Chiapas a bolder fell on the car. She was near death but pulled through. We postponed her award until this year to give her time to recover.

Tanitra, our web maven and my Barometer-of-Cool, is also coming on this trip to learn more about video production. Also, we invited one of our board members, Rita O’Connor to join us. I came a few days early as the last time I had a business trip to Mexico City (back before the Jack Abramoff scandal and the new ethic rules in the House of Representatives that prevent us from taking members of Congress to see UNFPA’s work) I was frustrated at not having a free hour to stroll this city. So I came early and by the time Tanitra arrived Sunday I had already wandered my favorite streets, eaten at some of the city’s trendiest restaurants (thanks to my hipster cousin and traveling companion) and climbed the Piramide del Sol at Teotihuacan. Unfortunately, and to the chagrin of some good friends who were in Mexico City a few weeks ago, I did not get to the Lucha Libre (which means free wrestling and by that they don’t mean it doesn’t cost anything.)

On paper, and in some concrete ways, Mexico is the success story of women’s health. From a fertility rate of more than seven children per woman, the country has lowered the rate to just over two per woman (the same as the United States). But, as Dr. Elu and my colleagues in the UNFPA Mexico City office continually point out, there is a huge disparity between urban and rural women and one fifth of all Mexican women live in Mexico City. So the statistics are skewed to make it seem as if Mexico has transformed their health care system when this is only true in metropolitan areas.

With no specific agenda on Monday, Tanitra and I decided to take a laptop to Mexfam (the Mexico Family Planning Organization, part of the International Planned Parenthood Federation) and see if we could get them interested in our Lifelines project. We met with Ofelia Aguilar, the Director of Operations, and explained that we are trying to build a community of women who are not classified as givers and receivers of aid, but as individuals learning from each other and that, because of the challenging issues of Mexican immigrants in the United States, we thought it would be really great to have some strong, accomplished Mexican women highlighted.

We got a lot of support from the women at Mexfam, even Ofelia who allowed us to post her Lifeline. One of the directors invited us to her clinic tomorrow to interview two of her doctors.

These women only speak Spanish and have graciously allowed us to post their stories in English. This is generous of them. And I also want to point out that it would not have been possible without our excellent translator Adolfo, who is apparently, friends with everyone in Mexico City who works on women’s health issues. Everywhere we went in Mexfam’s considerably large (and beautiful) office compound people waved and greeted him by name.

Check out the Lifelines we got – just search on Mexico.

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