Experience the Comadres Oaxaca Exchange Program
by Marina Alzugaray

[Editor's note: This is an excerpt of the full article, "Birth of a Collaboration," which first appeared in Midwifery Today Issue 69, Spring 2004.]

If you are a student of women's health, why not take advantage of a great opportunity and enroll in the Comadres Oaxaca Exchange program?

Mexico is one of the few countries in the Americas with a healthy number of traditional midwives remaining. Traditional, indigenous ways of healing and midwifery are abundant in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca. The state of Oaxaca has the greatest number of indigenous populations in Mexico, counting some 16 different pueblos with marginal connections to health services but with a richness of culture and heritage that includes healers and midwives.

This educational exchange project will bring new energy into the region, giving support to traditional midwives. Visiting exchange students can learn from the parteras. Participants can share information and international research with each other and have the opportunity to become a "Comadres Family," building a link between Pan American midwives and each of the exchange students. The goal of the exchange is to foster a culturally sensitive program that promotes awareness of Latin American women's health care needs, resources and services with Oaxaca as the focal point for the effort.

The traditional midwives have established rotations in a variety of midwifery healer care settings, which demonstrate traditional health care services for women and the midwifery profession. Exchange students will be immersed in the language and culture of the hosting midwife healer's daily life. The elder midwives are deeply connected to the context of the region, its people and its ecology. The utilization of medicinal plants, steam bath ceremonies, prayer and respect for the integral health of the woman, family and community are all part of the domain of traditional midwifery in many regions of Oaxaca. Exchange students will learn to make herbal preparations, use massage techniques from the traditional midwives and even provide hands-on care in a supervised setting. This collaboration will add to the students' experience and practice of their own midwifery education, while also bringing new energy to and respect for the preservation of the healer midwife tradition in Oaxaca.

The Comadres Oaxaca Exchange program is based on the stated goals of the World Health Organization. The goals are to reduce maternal/infant morbidity and mortality throughout the world, including STD/HIV prevention, by an increase in the utilization of nurses and midwives as providers of women's health care and by the integration of midwifery and nursing in national women's health policy, education and care initiatives. In addition, the Comadres program is dedicated to the preservation of the pueblos's ways with respect to women's healing, birthing and nursing culture, as the heart of a community.

Many contemporary midwifery education programs in the U.S, Canada and Europe do not cover the realm of traditional midwifery healer knowledge. In Mexico, there are still many traditional midwives and there is still time to learn from them. Please visit the Comadres Institute web site for current program information. Plan for a 21-day experience.

Currently, a project for the development of a school based on traditional midwifery in the city of Oaxaca is also in the works. The Centro Educativo de Mujer y Familia (CEMyF), an NGO for the education of women and families in Oaxaca, developed the preliminary model. CEMyF has finished a needs assessment and viability study for the community-based school. The response has been positive from the traditional elder midwives, who had been asking for help in recruiting young midwives. Now a younger generation has been identified and is ready to start the midwifery course, which shows that there is still interest in learning midwifery in Mexico.

Midwifery students will meet once a month at the school during their two-year training. The rest of the time, they will study and live in their own pueblos. This model allows students to integrate traditional midwifery art and retain links to their own heritage, while attending an educational system that adds contemporary science competencies. The "Comadres Family" concept comes into play once again in this project, where the goal is to form a relationship between the student and midwife mentor. The concept of the family means closer ties to the CEMyF student/mentor and to the community where they live, in an effort to directly benefit an elder and a young midwife. It also provides the visiting participant with the opportunity to share in the reality of the community and its future.

You are welcome to become a member of a "Comadres Family" by enrolling in the exchange program, or you may support a "Comadres Family" by sponsoring the education of one pueblo midwifery student.

Midwife Marina Alzugaray, MS, has more than 25 years of experience in women's health care and is the director of Comadres Institute. Visit www.comadresinstitute.com and www.aquanatal.com for more information. She lives in the Florida Keys, where she develops courses and facilitates educational retreats. She is also an international consultant and speaker and serves as regional representative to MANA.

To help support the Comadres Oaxaca Exchange, study with a traditional midwife healer, learn Spanish, touch your roots or participate in other aspects of the effort, please contact Marina Alzugaray by e-mailing midwife@aol.com or calling (305) 744-3370.

Read more about this program and how it started in the Spring 2004 issue of Midwifery Today Issue 69. Look for Marina Alzugaray's full-length article, "The Birth of a Collaboration."

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