Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 21 Jonah's Log

Thinking Outside the Box to Make Change

Many groups are working to improve conditions in Mexico City. A lot of them are high-profile and are supported by the government or several international agencies. But there are also many individuals not connected with the larger organizations struggling to improve Mexico's problems on a smaller scale. They're considered rebellious since their solutions don't conform to what the larger organizations are doing.

I had the good fortune to spend a day with one of those individuals, Carlos E. Biro. He is an amazing man who happens to be a psychoanalyst, an immunologist, a primary healthcare specialist, and the author of ten books! The way he changes the world around him is to teach kids how to be independent and to rely on themselves. For example, he has taught general medicine to some young people in very poor barrios, which can help reduce the cost of healthcare for a family or a community. Occasionally one these youths will even diagnose an illness that the regular doctor has missed! Obviously, being corrected by a 15-year old doesn't make the doctor very happy.

All of this makes me wonder, if public programs and large organizations can't solve the problems in poverty-stricken areas, then who can? From what I've seen, it's the activists willing to think outside the box, like Dr. Biro and Carlos Valdez (the activist interviewed earlier this month by Silvia).

One of Dr. Biro's books talks about a social program that he helped develop that combines therapy and works to give hope and help reduce crime. The following story is from the book:

A nun working in a poor Mexico City barrio took a break with several underprivileged youth. They were talking about the past several years of their lives. "We should do something to make things better for the kids." "They should have it better than we did," the group agreed. Seizing the moment, the nun encouraged, "That's a great idea! But what are you going to do?" Soon they began to plan a youth soccer league. Each Sunday they would block off the streets, set up goals, and play soccer for the whole day.

The nun, hoping to make the program work, went to Carlos Biro and asked for his assistance. He agreed and organized weekly meetings with each of the group members. On the outside, these were simple organizational meetings for training, talking, and organizing. On a deeper level they were therapy sessions aimed at improving group dynamics and preserving the soccer league. After a long period of time, a lot of work, and a lot of experimentation, the program succeeded and improved the area in a number of ways, especially in crime reduction.

This kind of program has been repeated many times, in many different places, with many different results. Much of the time the impact is far-reaching and significant, though Carlos is the first to explain that what works in one underprivileged area may not work in another. No two are alike, so you must assume that you know nothing about it.


PS: You can find Dr. Biro's book described above: Cueli J., Biro C. E., PsicoComunidad. PHI - Editorial Prentice/Hall Internacional: Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1975. (Spanish)


Related Dispatches: 
Jonah - Thinking Outside the Box to Make Change

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