"Piña Palmera", Centro de Atencion Infantil A.C., is a non-governmental organization dedicated to improving the lives of disabled and non-disabled children and their families in the southern coastal area of the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. The center is located near Pochutla; the only other such facilities are very distant and the center responds to the unattended needs of disabled and other children from local communities in this rural area.
Oaxaca is, according to many indicators, the poorest State in Mexico and in the Pochutla area over 60% of the population earns less than 2.50 USD per day with some 75% earning under 5.00 USD per day, scarcely enough to live. The center has grown, from its beginnings ten years ago, from two adults and five children to a community of seven family households in residence and thirty children. There are also many coworkers from neighboring communities who come to eat, meet and work at the center, as well as some fifteen international volunteers. These workers are themselves both disabled and non-disabled. The children without disability live at or come to the center with their mothers who work there.
"Disabled", according to Piña Palmera, means, first, physical and mental disabilities, including anyone who has trouble moving, learning, speaking, hearing or seeing, as well as people with epilepsy, psychiatric disorders or chronic infections that need regular care. Secondly, in the Oaxacan context extreme rural poverty, it also encompasses other disabilities: the center additionally works with children suffering from "social" disabilities, i.e.: the lack of forms of stimulation that children need for normal development, due for example to alcoholism or extreme deprivation.
Over these ten years Piña Palmera has helped nearly 500 children and their families better their lives. The center is not an orphanage, although it has sometimes felt obliged in the past to take in abandoned children. Disability very often arouses fear and rejection in rural Mexico; this is overcome by demonstrating that, with some training and basic elements and items of equipment and support, the children can be integrated into their families and communities.
In addition to a balanced diet of basic food, the center provides basic and specialized medical care, health education, physical and occupational therapy, special education (currently for six severely disabled children who, exceptionally, need and will continue to need full time care), stimulation for deprived children, sign language lessons for deaf people, acupunture and massage. The center takes children to hospitals in Oaxaca or Mexico City and when necessary arranges for operations. It also sponsors children that need orthopedic leg braces, hearing aids, wheel chairs etc. All care and services are provided on a flexible sliding scale: people pay what they can, in cash, or in kind (e.g.: by doing construction or maintenance work).
The center also has a carpentry workshop to fabricate adaptations (crutches, walkers and special seating etc.) and to make toys for sale, thereby helping provide employment for disabled and non-disabled children and adults; it also carries out ecological activities, including a garden, composting, dry lavatories and other waste management, water gathering and saving measures and contacts with the nearby Ecological Rural Reserve of Mazunte.
The center has recently introduced a major Community Based Rehabilitation program. This involves people from the center going to local communities who have requested assistance, and helping them organize themselves into volunteer rehabilitation committees. The committees select local volunteer promoters in the communities who identify disabled people there and help treat them at home. Functional treatment at home achieves a higher quality of rehabilitation. This "CBR" work has been started in three neighboring villages and towns, Nopala, Pochutla and Huatulco, using methodologies adapted from a leading manual of the World Health Organization; these have been successfully applied in a number of projects in a variety of countries. The center also draws from other publications and experiences on village-based rehabilitation. Staff from the center have tried and tested its rehabilitation techniques over the last five years and have therefore acquired practical expertise in their application.
Now there are active groups of promoters applying these techniques in all three villages. Local promoters receive regular supervision from Piña Palmera supervisors and can bring more complex or difficult cases to the center for short intensive stays in order to receive a more advanced rehabilitation if necessary. This CBR program will therefore reach more disabled persons and significantly contribute to achievement of the center's objectives: the non-dependency of those who have received care and training, and the sustainability of the project. The impact of this program will also go beyond treatment of disability; target communities will benefit in a broader sense from the program process: they will be strengthened to face other development challenges. This then is the ultimate goal of the center's work.
The future development of the CBR program in the communities depends on the needs of each community. They have to indicate the pace and direction they want to take.
The center has also started an environmental education and nature excursion venture to give opportunities to the children, parents, staff and visitors (including people from overseas) to take part in a range of activities which will raise awareness of the important biological, and cultural, diversity of the coastal region of Oaxaca.
Piña Palmera was registered as a non-profit, tax exempt organization in 1989. It has received support from a number of charities, institutions, foundations and individuals in Mexico, the USA and Europe, including in 1994: Patrimonio de la Beneficiencia Publica (Mexico), Slade Child Foundation (USA), Save the Children Foundation, Sweden, Liliane Foundation (Holland), SIDA (the Swedish Government aid agency), Les Amis de la Palmeraie (Belgium), Palmeras Všnner (Sweden),and Evelyn Grace (Great Britain), as well as other supporters.
The center is itself run as a community, with sharing of decision-making power and broad participation of community members in organization of daily work and life. The Board is made up of representatives of each of the working groups at Piña Palmera.
Further information on this project, which is seeking funding to secure its presence in 1996 and subsequent years, can be obtained from:
Anna Johansson de Cano (Director)
C.A.I. "Piña Palmera" A.C.
Apartado Postal 109, c.p. 70900
Pochutla, Oaxaca, Mexico
Telephone and fax: 52-958-40342
Note: It is advisable to send each fax twice due to unreliable telecommunications links to Oaxaca.
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