Letters to the Editor: Response to Newsletter #25
I was entirely disgusted by “Juan Pérez” being used to highlight the “accomplishments” of Project PROJIMO. I’m eager to support your efforts to expand health care, especially in underserved regions. That does not mean providing a haven to torturers and murderers. If I want to support people who “feel at peace” after they “kill their enemies bit by bit,” I’ll send donations to the US government and its pals.
I would like to commend Hesperian’s courage in printing Newsletter from the Sierra Madre #25. So many international agencies portray their beneficiaries simply as helpless victims dependent on First World donors for succor, giving the impression that all their problems will be solved by a vaccination, a water well, or a new school. In contrast, Hesperian has once again pulled aside the veil to expose the human results of systemic poverty and oppression. Hesperian shows us people who are not saints, or innocent victims, but real human beings who are struggling against greater odds than most of us have ever known, to have the things that most of us take for granted. Hesperian has placed the hard choices that some Mexicans face into a context that helps us understand the true complexity of their lives and decisions.
Beyond this, I commend Hesperian’s commitment to the PROJIMO participants as they struggle to find ways to make their project work. As the agency responsible for soliciting at least some of the funds that support PROJIMO, it must be upsetting to see that community m such turmoil, especially if that turmoil leads to actions that are difficult for American donors to understand or accept. Some donors may be concerned that their dollars are somehow supporting drug and alcohol abuse or providing a haven for violence. However, we should remember that the work at Projects Piaxtla and PROJIMO has never followed a standard approach. When David Werner first began collaborating with the people of Ajoya, the health care industry scoffed at the idea that rural farmers could learn to address the majority of their own health care needs without a physician’s help; indeed, the approach was considered dangerous. In the intervening years, the books developed by these same rural farmers, Where There Is No Doctor and Helping Health Workers Learn, have come to be considered seminal texts in health development. As PROJIMO struggles to find a balance between equality and effective administration, between compassion and justice, between personal freedom and group responsibility, who can say what insights and pioneering new approaches may emerge?
I will not say that the picture painted in the newsletter did not concern me. I wonder how many disabled children have gone without treatment because their parents were afraid to take them to PROJIMO; I find worrisome the idea that people trustingly seeking help at the project have been subjected to physical assault. I don’t know the answer or the best way to address these difficulties. But I do know that the foundation of Hesperian’s approach to development has always been faith in the ability of local people to command their own destiny, to solve their own problems. Are we willing to support them all the way? Or will we turn our backs when it gets ugly? I, for one, am grateful that at least one organization is willing to honor its commitment to the end - and to share the story with us.
Cindy Roat, Seattle, Washington
It is indeed ironic that we both find ourselves moving into the area of substance abuse after working so long in the disability field. It is becoming increasingly clear to me how much disability is caused by tobacco, alcohol, and . . . illegal drugs. In most US states the majority of serious traffic accidents involve intoxifications, so many of those with spinal cord and head injuries have a history of substance abuse. As the reality of their new disability sets in, it is not surprising that many continue to use their original intoxicant and add whatever pain killers their physicians prescribe . . . Oddly, it seems that many rehabilitation hospitals pay little attention to these phenomena.
Greg Dixon, Deputy Director, FIGHTING BACK: Community Initiatives to Reduce Demand for Drugs & Alcohol, Nashville, Tennessee
Editor’s note: We understand that many readers may have found “My Side of the Story” shocking. Our intent was not to glorify or condone the subculture of drugs and violence that is on the rise in México, but to give our readers some sense of the psycho-social disabilities it causes and the complex challenges they pose for Project PROJIMO.
PROJIMO’s philosophy has always been to avoid prejudging people, to see their untapped potential, to try to bring out the best in them. One of PROJIMO’s mottos is “Look at our strengths, not our weaknesses." Project PROJIMO is discovering that this saying is not only applicable to people with physical disabilities, but to those with social disabilities as well.
We are happy to report that the situation at Project PROJIMO has improved since the events described in our last newsletter. After Manuel had spent four months at the Albergue de los Reyes Anti-Alcoholism Center, a group of other disabled PROMO members with substance muse problems went to visit him there and brought him back. This group was deeply impressed by the ability and commitment of the recovering alcoholics who run the Albergue. Since their return, these young people have made a sincere and mostly successful effort not to drink, and have even begun to counsel some of their peers. Also, four of the young men with spinal cord injuries who have had the greatest difficulties have become increasingly active in the wheelchair and carpentry shops. Two of them, including Juan Pérez, have become outstanding builders of rehabilitation aids, and take great pride in their work. These same individuals are also taking the lead in PROJIMO’s volunteer coordinating group.