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Silvia Flores: a lasting dynamo for women’s health care services

Distinguished by her dynamic and perpetually cheerful personality, Silvia Flores stands out as the lakeside area’s trailblazer in the fields of family planning, reproductive health care and sex education.

A registered nurse and practicing midwife with more than 500 deliveries under her belt, Flores is the founder and driving force of the non-profit Centro de Desarrollo Jocotepec, A.C. (CEDEJO), currently headquartered in central Ajijic with an outreach clinic operating two days of the week at Chapala’s Tepehua Community Center.

Her long history of compassionate community service to local women and families goes back four decades when she began providing maternal care and health counseling to low-income residents in the south shore village of San Pedro Tesistan. Extending her work to other rural communities eventually led to the 1986 establishment of CEDEJO, based in Jocotepec until 1991 when she relocated to Ajijic.

Over the years she came to be recognized as a pioneer in sexual education who was welcomed into the classrooms at many local schools and even pre-marital orientation seminars offered by the area’s Roman Catholic churches.

Along the way she trained dozens of other lakeside women interested in following her footsteps in promoting pre-natal care, the prevention of cervical and breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, and the once widely taboo topic of contraception.

Meanwhile, Flores gained status as a leading national voice on family planning and women’s issues. She has organized community workshops and contributed to countless national and international conferences on population, development and advocacy, appearing as a guest lecturer for events in the United States, Egypt, Cuba, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Guatemala, as well as her home country.

In 1996 she received a certificate of appreciation for her work and “Contribution to Common Unity” issued by the United Nations. On the local front she has racked up numerous accolades, earning public recognition for her contribution to reproductive rights of women  and Community Awards trophies for Project of the Year (1986), Lifetime Achievement (1991), Woman of the Year (1995) and Pioneer of the Year (2005).

Flores has the added distinction of being the sole survivor of the first generation of volunteers at the Mexican National Chili Cookoff. She’ll be on hand for the 36th edition of the event, coming up February 14 through 16, in her customary spot as head of the hot dog  and chili bowl stand.

Despite her boundless energy and multiple achievements, Flores has not always enjoyed smooth sailing in her journey as an activist.  The very survival of CEDEJO has been threatened as grants and funding opportunities have gradually dried up over time.

Fortunately, the CEDEJO program has found a new and enthusiastic advocate in the person of Sheila Poettgen. The Vermont native and her life partner Kai arrived in Ajijic nearly a year and a half ago, immediately recognizing a congenial community to take an extended break from a round-the world cycling adventure. They promptly developed close ties with various local activists. Inspired by the commemoration of International Women’s Day last March Poettgen decided to honor women around the world who help to empower others by pitching in as a CEDEJO volunteer and program booster. She offered her talents to design fresh promotional materials for the center, develop a Facebook page, slick website (www.CentroDeDesarrolloDeJocotepec.com) and train staff on keeping them up-to-date,  and most significantly initiate some creative fund-raising schemes to keep the project going on more a solid financial foundation.

Last August she started a blog (www.gofundme.com/save-health-clinic) with the goal of raising 12,000 dollars to sustain CEDEJO programs for a full year. In December she posted the announcement of a Match Challenge, aimed at collecting 24,000 pesos by January, 31. CEDEJO supporter Judith Frugier and a group of Canadian friends made a time sensitive pledge to contribute a total of 12,000 pesos to double all donations received by the deadline. This week Poettgen reported the challenge was fulfilled 12 days ahead of the target date. The ante was immediately raised by an additional 4,000 pesos for donations coming in by the end of the month. 

Persons wishing to jump on the bandwagon are encouraged to drop off donations directly at the Ajijic Clinic, Ocampo 45-A, open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., or  follow one of the alternate avenues available on either the Centro’s website or Poettgen’s campaign blog.

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