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Mexico: Giving birth

15-03-2002 Feature

My name is Petra Guzmán García. I am an Indian and for almost three years I have been working with the ICRC in Chiapas, Mexico. For some months now, I have been teaching in a programme to train local midwives.

The programme is a great experience. It offers me the opportunity to work with my own people. I am very proud of being part of this programme. I think my presence makes the course easier for these women because I speak their language, know their culture and, especially, because I am one of them. The fact that I am an Indian does a lot to help create an atmosphere of confidence. It is easier for the women to trust an organization that has Indians on its staff.

It is a pleasure for me to teach these women. Actually, I am not the only teacher, since we constantly learn from each other. The ICRC gives me the opportunity to help them to know more about the modern practice of midwifery and about the availability of new medical technology. In return, they offer me and the whole ICRC medical team their knowledge of the work of a traditional midwife. Through this exchange I have started to rediscover the world of my own people.

My goal is to raise their standard of living without harming their culture, and to prevent deaths that could occur through lack of knowledge.

A particular problem for these women is their condition as displaced people. Until 1994 they owned property. They had cattle and enough land to cultivate corn, beans and other vegetables. Today, they no longer have access to their fields and they have very few cattle. Many families left all they had behind them, including a bit of their culture. They live a precarious exist ence and they suffer. But I think that one day, when they finally return to their houses and fields, they will benefit from their experiences in these difficult times. Already, they have learned to be more tolerant to change and they have discovered their ability to adapt to different environments.

A very useful initiative was the construction of a " house for women " in 2001. This house is the result of cooperation between communities of displaced people and the ICRC. Among other things it is used for the training sessions and meetings of midwives. Some women have even decided to give birth in the " house for women " . The midwives are the real owners of this house. They decide on when it can be used and for what purpose.

Indian women have a very weak position in society. A woman's opinion counts for less than a man's. Working with the midwives I have observed that they have started to talk more openly about their problems and difficulties — especially in the " house for women " , where they sometimes have very open discussions on topics of interest to women. Thanks to the experiences they are having now and the midwifery programme, I think that displaced midwives will be able to express themselves more easily in the future. That will take a long time, of course, but the important first steps have been taken.