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Where angels fear to tread: an interview with Silvia Flores

Cat Gonzales

This morning Nurse Practitioner Silvia Flores Gonzalez is a little tired, having gotten up at 4:00 am to deliver a baby. The young mother knocked on the door of "El Centro de Desarrollo para Mujeres" in Ajijic at 4:00 am, and she only had $30.00 pesos to pay for the delivery. The women's center serves many middle class women who need psychological and physical health services, but no one is turned away for lack of money. Both the Jocotepec Center and the one in Ajijic rely on donations to keep the doors open, as federal funding was pulled a couple of years ago.

Several years ago I didn't have any money to pay for my Pap test and Silvia hunted me down and did all but literally twist my arm so I would go and get it, and paid for the lab work herself. With so many organizations at Lakeside competing for charitable contributions, it is more often than not a struggle for them to continue, and on several occasions have had to close their doors.

The financial crisis the Centers are experiencing seems incredible when you consider that the Centers' innovative programs in the areas of health, and responsible sexuality for adolescents, have received worldwide recognition. It seems that only their neighbors have not noticed all the good deeds being done.

In 1992 Silvia was invited to attend the pre-planning sessions of a United States sponsored international conference on population and development. It was held in 1994, in Cairo, Egypt, where over 200 countries sent women delegates. Its purpose was to advise strategies to get the participating countries to ratify the statement of human rights.

Silvia Gonzalez Silvia leans forward with an earnest look on her face and recites the statistics on world population: "At present time, there are about 6 billion inhabitants on the earth; by 2016 if present trends continue, there will be 8 billion people struggling to survive on the resources of this poor earth. Every year there are 900,000 pregnancies in the world and about one fourth of these are unwanted. 1,400 women a DAY die from problems associated with maternity, 20,000 a year die from botched abortions."

Silvia continues "The UN, demanding adequate health, shelter and birth control for all people, created the human rights treaty. Indigenous people were specifically mentioned in the treaty. Some of these provisions were difficult for many countries to accept, particularly native peoples rights: of asylum, health care and education to preserve cultural identity. In countries like Guatemala, which has been systematically assassinating their Indians for 35 years, this went over like a lead balloon. The women delegates exchanged ideas on strategies to get their governments to ratify this groundbreaking treaty. Incredibly, every country represented eventually signed" she says with obvious satisfaction. Silvia is, obviously, of indigenous descent and this is a very important subject to her.

Getting non-governmental agencies and government agencies to cooperate was the goal of this year's conference on " Reproductive Health for Adolescents" and there were 500 or so advocate groups for teenage education in the areas of health and sexuality. Japan is cognizant of many of the same problems among the adolescent population: AIDS, young pregnancies lack of resources for unwanted pregnancies. Silvia expects a visit from a member of the Japanese embassy, Tomoyo Wade. The purpose of Wade's visit is to learn about some of the Centers' programs such as "Options for a Better Life" for adolescents aged 15 and older. She seeks cooperation between Japan and Mexico in the area of adolescent sexuality and to share strategies for getting government agencies to cooperate with and learn from non-governmental agencies (whose approach is usually more radical). With a smile Silvia repeats that SEP, the Secretary of Public Education (Secretaria de Educacion Publica) of Jalisco now cooperates with these agencies in dispensing information and changing attitudes about such issues of adolescent sexuality. According to Silvia, this is a tremendous step forward. A recent conference, DEMYSEX, stressed these same goals.

She seems immune to the controversy that making sexual education available to adolescents causes, or perhaps she is just used to it.

Little by little, the community has slowly gotten used to the idea that young people have a right to know. At the San Andres Catholic Church on the plaza in Ajijic, she has been giving informal talks to engaged couples for three years. "No one else wanted to touch the topic of human sexuality," she says. Among the topics in these talks is the right to sexual pleasure, which she illustrates with no-nonsense diagrams, family planning and responsible sexuality. She stresses gender equality. She has been giving talks and providing information and informed choice for 26 years as part of her concern with women's health, and she still loves it.

"What", I ask "is men's part in your programs?"

"Often the leaders of small groups within the outlying areas, such as El Molino and San Nicolas de Ibarra are men." she explains, "And it is to a man's benefit to learn about family planning, so the couple is not burdened with more children then they are able to comfortably feed and clothe. The purpose of these groups is to talk about and explain sexually transmitted diseases, the use of contraceptives and responsible parenting."

"God always puts in my path wonderful women who help to carry out the work (in the centers)" she says. "There is Gaby Escamilla, who has been here for years, and the wonderful nurse from El Molino who is at the Jocotepec center, Lucia Candelas, and the psychologist, Esperanza Padilla, who has a Master's degree in Human Sexuality. Did you know that for the first time ever we are offering psychological counseling to the poor women at the Jocotepec center? Many people have taken advantage of this service in the last year."

Silvia radiates not only a great deal of personal warmth and love for humanity, but also a kind of intensity, as if she is put out that she only has one life to live, and that is not enough time to do all the things she wants to. Her personal style is simple and straightforward, and her wealth is in the legion of friends she has made, the people she has helped and those all over the world who wish her well.

This article appears courtesy of the Chapala Review, a monthly Newspaper published in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. The focus is the Lake Chapala area. The goal is to provide quality information about the area, its stories, events, history, culture and people.

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Published or Updated on: January 7, 2007 by Cat Gonzales © 2008
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