MAS: Empowering Women and Transforming Communities
BY PEDRO BENITEZ
MAS means plus in Spanish; the mathematical addition, which is defined as the action or process of adding something to something else. And that is precisely what Celia Roldán (55) is doing today through a civil association here in Cabo San Lucas called MAS (Mujeres en Acción Social), “Women in Social Action”, for its acronym in Spanish.
Celia Roldán comes from a difficult background, growing up in the east side of Mexico City in the borough of Iztapalapa, known for crime, drug trafficking, sale of stolen auto parts and with the highest rates of rape, domestic violence and violence against women in the whole city!
Celia is the fourth, of a family of ten siblings. They sometimes suffered from hunger during their youth, yet lived in a household with love, solidarity and a strong set of values where they were always taught to help others, avoiding judgement at all costs. To walk a mile in somebody’s shoes was their motto.
She married at the young age of eighteen and had five kids with a man who then left. While still in a relationship, she was a victim of physical, emotional and economic violence. She had to raise her children all alone, with just a high school diploma to fend for herself.
After many years of struggle as a teacher and always believing in the good in people, she came to Los Cabos as a tourist almost six years ago and as soon as she got here, she had a realization: Celia wanted to bring her family and live here, away from all the noise and crime of Iztapalapa. And so she did in mid-2017 when she came here with two of her children, who are now adults, and settled in a small room they rented. She started doing several odd jobs, and within the next months she was able to bring the rest of the family.
Now settled and feeling more comfortable in town, Celia started talking to her neighbors and asking questions related to well-being and the major issues within the community during her free time. She saw children who were left alone in their homes because their parents were away working. Those same children often did not have enough to eat and did not have educational assistance with homework and class materials. So Celia started a small support group for these children. She began helping these parents, the majority of whom were single women who worked all day and were absent. Celia was used to teaching, feeding and assisting kids like these, as she had done in the past back in Mexico City with several neighbors of hers.
“I started under a tree, with a group of eight children. We didn’t even have tables or chairs. From there, the word began to spread about our work,” says Celia. She believes children just need attention and it is also a subject that she is very passionate about.
Through her work in the community, she discovered Alianza para la Seguridad Alimentaria ASA – (Alliance for Food Security for its acronym in Spanish), which works to provide food access, as well as support trainings and resiliency programs to low-income communities throughout Baja California Sur. One of the trainings that ASA offered Celia was the participation in a Community Savings Group (CSG). The CSG that Celia joined was christened Mariposas del Caribe (Butterflies of the Caribbean) due to the fact that they live in the Caribe Bajo neighborhood. It began with eight members, all women, and they are now fifteen, including some children.
Women are especially excited about getting their offspring involved, since these kids have the opportunity of learning things that their moms never learned when they were younger and they can gain first-hand knowledge from the successes their mothers are having, while establishing good financial habits for the future which ripples into their family and their community. “When a woman is in control of her finances, she feels empowered, knowing that she can have money and she can manage it. It gives us a lot of security and changes our lives and the family environment,” says Celia.
Celia realized that through hope, hard work and collaborations like these, big changes could take place. “This program with ASA has helped me, with the trainings and attention, it has given me the wings I needed so that I could help other families,” says Celia.
With this revolution in motion and to avoid losing its momentum, Celia decided to establish a civil association with fifteen women, each of them exerting a strong influence and leadership in their communities and representing the voice of a particular problem within them. For example, Celia works with children, another woman in the community works with environmental care, other deals with the elderly, another one with female abuse, etcetera. This is how MAS began.
The Astra Foundation also works closely with MAS by promoting its cause and gathering toys, clothes, food for the children as well as providing seminars for its members.
Nowadays MAS has meetings every two weeks, where they plan, distribute and assign tasks, as well as deadlines to meet. They also focus on events and causes, for example, every month they hold an event in the Caribe Bajo neighborhood where they give medical consultations, legal attention, psychological and nutritional attention, organize cultural and sports programs, give free haircuts, promote the donation of clothes, shoes and food. This month it will take place on March 27th.
On April 6th MAS is planning on collecting one kilometer of books – this is approximately five thousand books, in order to promote the habit of reading amongst the youngsters. They will also bring a storyteller and a mobile library. This event is being organized hand in hand with “Dibujando Nuestros Sueños, A.C.” (Drawing Our Dreams, for its acronym in Spanish).
Not much seems to intimidate Celia Roldán. When she first moved to Cabo San Lucas, almost six years ago, she dove right into tackling some of the biggest challenges her new community faced. Even though she lacks formal education, she more than compensates it through effort, love and everyday practice.
If you wish to know more about this noble cause feel free to visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100083110401959, where you can contact Celia and join her in fighting this never-ending undertaking.