Feature Article :: "Saving a Clinic in order to Save Lives"
Volume 15, Issue 11 of "Lake Chapala Review"
Written by Sheila Poettgen
I rolled in to Ajijic over a year ago. My partner and I, attempting to fulfill a life-long dream to bicycle around the world, had pedaled over 5000 km from our home in Vermont to Jalisco. After 12 months of traveling we decided to stop along the shores of Lake Chapala to complete a writing project and to give our weary legs a break.
As we travel, we stop at places along the way so I can volunteer my technical skills (network administration, computer support, website design) to organizations whose missions I believe in. In giving of my time and energy I learn more about the local culture and about the community’s struggles and accomplishments. I also gain a stronger sense of compassion, a renewed sense of hope in humanity and friendships that last a lifetime.
For International Women’s Day in March, and in honor of all the women around the world who help to empower others, I decided to volunteer with a local women’s health clinic.
The Centro de Desarrollo Jocotepec, A.C. (CEDEJO), located in Ajijic, has provided care to area indigenous and low-income women and families for over 30 years. The Ajijic clinic accepts clients three days a week and leads educational workshops through a variety of community organizations, schools and forums. Twice a week CEDEJO offers free pap smears and breast examinations, as well as family planning counseling to one of the poorest and most vulnerable barrios in Jalisco, the Tepehua community in Chapala.
After meeting with Sylvia Flores, the inspirational director of CEDEJO, I realized I could best help by increasing the clinic’s visibility online and by updating their informational materials. After designing a website for CEDEJO, I created a Facebook page and designed a brochure outlining the services CEDEJO offers. It replaces a very outdated brochure from 1986. I wanted to use photographs of Sylvia and her volunteers in action in their new promotional materials so I asked for permission to visit the clinics during business hours in order to photograph their work.
While visiting the clinics, I was greatly impressed by how important the work of CEDEJO was to the community. I was particularly moved by the free clinic that CEDEJO manages at a space that the Tepehua Community Center provides to them, in which Sylvia meets with women to provide everything from breast exams and pap smears to counseling on domestic abuse and family planning. While there, I witnessed women of all ages lining up outside the clinic’s doors in order to gain access to health services they would not otherwise be able to afford. For many, it was the first time in their lives that they were able to receive gynecological care.
I saw the relief in their faces as nurses responded to their health concerns and I watched them leave with smiles of gratitude.
I learned from Sylvia that the local organization that provided financial support for the clinic over the past two years is unable to continue funding due to restrictions beyond their or her control. Sylvia feared that unless another funding source became available she would have to close at the end of August 2013. She was visibly concerned; the clinic’s work is too important to give up. She explained that the counseling and exams help the community to make great strides forward in relation to women’s health and empowerment.
As I looked into the eyes of the children visiting the clinic with their mothers, I couldn't help but think that the examinations being provided that day might help prevent their mothers from dying from cancer. Considering that cervical and breast cancer are the leading cause of death for local women between the ages of 35 and 60, it is tragic that so many women in the community are unable to afford access to vital, preventative services.
Later, while bicycling to our Lakeside home, I felt heartbroken that the clinic might be forced to close its doors. It did not seem just that women who were my new neighbors might be denied something that I had been privileged to receive throughout my lifetime. I felt I needed to do more.
It was then that I decided to start a fundraising campaign to attempt to raise the money needed to keep the doors of the clinic open for another year.
Thankfully, in the last two months, I've raised over 7% of the total fundraising goal, allowing the clinic to remain open through the end of October. However, the clinic is currently struggling from week to week, using funds as they trickle in, which is why I’m reaching out to the Lakeside community for help. Can we pull together to help our neighbors and to save this valuable clinic? I believe we can and so does a generous donor who has offered to match any individual donation of $5,000 pesos or more.
If you’re able to contribute any amount to this campaign (every little bit helps) or you’d like to review details of how funds will be used, please visit: www.gofundme.com/save-health- clinic. To find out more about CEDEJO’s inspirational work, visit their website. Thank you.
Sheila Poettgen is an activist, artist, minimalist, author, and supporter of sustainable living. She travels around the world by bicycle, works as a freelance website designer, teaches English as a second language, house & pet sits, and volunteers with organizations that promote social justice and women's empowerment