Meeting the Women of Emiliano Zapata


Talking with a family using an interpreter.

By Marissa Bergh

Today we made our way to Emiliano Zapata, where one of Victor’s community centers is. Mérida is divided into north and south, with all of the wealth residing north of the city. The further south you drive, the more impoverished the city becomes. Emiliano Zapata is a Sur (a neighborhood) of Mérida, about 30 minutes south of the city center where we are staying. The homes in this area vary greatly. Some houses have multiple rooms, painted in radiant blues, yellows, or pink (and cost around $30,000 US to build), and others have a no true windows or doors, barely larger than 8×8 square, and no bathroom or kitchen (cost around $3000 US to build).

Victor’s center, an extension of Hogares Mana, lies right in the heart of Emiliano Zapata. We got the great pleasure to meet and speak with a few of the women from the community who volunteer at the center. With the help of our incredible interpreters, Carolina, Leslie, and Victor, the women told us about their daily lives, their perceptions of the community, their frustrations with healthcare, and their appreciation for the work Victor does in their community.

It was really incredible to listen to their individual stories, but also difficult. The majority of us are accustomed to living with certain comforts and luxuries. We complain when our AC goes out, or when we don’t get the class we want because Opus/Sign-Up genius decided to freeze at the worst possible moment. Most of these women initially denied any desire for change, but to us there seemed to an abundant of things that could be improved to increase access to goods and services that we often consider a fundamental right. For example, the women expressed frustration that the closest hospital is over 40 minutes away, the closest grocery store is 45 minutes away by foot (most of the women do not have cars, and they must walk in the heat with their children in tow. There is no community health clinic in the neighborhood, despite “universal healthcare”, and many medications are not accessible nor are they affordable to the women and their families.

Students with Victor.

There was a unanimous sentiment among the women, that Victor and his organization are the best things to come to the community in years. He has worked with them for over 15 years and has grown his community center from just a table in an empty lot, to a large complex that serves as a hub and major resource for families in the community. From here he feeds the neighborhood children, connects families with medication resources, and promotes general health and safety for the community.

As I said in our first post, this is the inaugural trip for Emory School of Nursing and our primary goal is to build a good relationship with Victor and his community. But we are also here to do a thorough community assessment to determine sustainable interventions for future groups and Victor’s organization to continue in the months and years to come.

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