Mujeres en Cambio

Since 1996 Mujeres en Cambio has helped 918 girls and young women from poor rural villages get an education.

Doña Julia & Pakina Fernandez

Accomplishments in the 2019/2020 School Year 

In the 2019/20 school year, Mujeres en Cambio distributed over 1.8 million pesos in the form of scholarships to 177 students. In the same year, 33 of their young women graduated from high school and 17 graduated from university.

GIRLS GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL

Girls Graduated from University

MILLION PESOS DISTRIBUTED IN 177 SCHOLARSHIPS

Our History

How We Got Started

In early 1995, Georgeann Johnson, Diane Negrete, Norma Jane, Maggie Daicar, Jenna Sterling, and one or two others began to bring people together to explore ways they could help improve the lives of women in the poor rural villages around San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Georgeann had a keen interest in education. She had been visiting SMA since 1958 when her mother first moved there. Georgeann moved to SMA permanently in 1991. 

To raise money and explore ideas for their cause they arranged monthly luncheons on the last Thursday of each month. The luncheons would feature a local chef who prepared the main course while the organizing members provided the sides, desserts, and beverages. They called themselves “Mujeres y Cambio”. 

To promote these money-raising luncheons and the need for assistance to rural women, one of the “Mujeres y Cambio” members would prepare an article for the local English language newspaper Atencion. The article would boost the main dish that the chef would be preparing for the lunch, describe some of the problems in the villages they wished to address, and indicate that they would entertain proposals from attendees for possible projects. In the very first article published by Atencion, they were mistakenly called “Mujeres en Cambio”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Desarollo Integral de la Familia, (DIF) is dedicated to aiding poor families and children in rural communities around San Miguel. DIF delivers breakfasts (desayunos escolares) for school children and food packages (dispenses) designed to supplement and improve rural family diets. DIF typically delivered the ’dispenses’ to a central place in the rural villages, (often under a large tree), where the village women would come to pick them up. A DIF social worker would go with the deliveries to provide information on hygiene, nutrition, family planning, and environmental issues. Pakina Fernández was head of DIF. Her husband was mayor of SMA at that time and by tradition, a female member of the mayor’s family is named head of DIF.

To strengthen DIF’s programs, under Pakina’s direction, they hired a Chilean woman living in SMA, Carmen Marambio, with the idea of forming cooperatives to sell embroidered items and boost the independence of the village women. Carmen went with DIF to visit the villages to promote the embroidery projects. Pakina also had the idea of setting up pre-kindergartens for the rural children as there was no pre-K program funded by the government at the time. 

At her meetings with the village women, Carmen came across an elderly lady, Da Julia Lopez Martinez, who was an activist in the Juan Xito community located on the way to Celaya. 

Diane Negrete, a Mujeres en Cambio founding member, was aware of the DIF programs being run by Pakina and in April 1995 asked her to come to Georgeann’s house to meet the Mujeres en Cambio group and give them her perspective on projects Mujeres en Cambio might pursue. Pakina told them about the embroidery classes she had started as well as the pre-K project she wanted to start. She also noted the intelligence gathered by Carmen Marambio regarding the village women’s interest in getting help for the education of their daughters. The Mujeres en Cambio group found the idea of helping to educate girls to be a good one and set about planning a mission to help. So it was, from this meeting, that the scholarship program was born. 

Assisting with the education of girls was not the only idea in play. One of the participants, Zuzu Heven for example, was particularly interested in helping the women in the local jail. There were only 3 women in jail at the time and the Mujeres en Cambio group delivered hygiene products, soap, and shampoo to these women for about a year. 

Also, at that time Rosa Velazquez headed the ecology program in the Presidencia, and with Mujeres en Cambio’s assistance they started to bring girls to hear talks at el Sindicato, (Centro Cultural Comunitario), from environmentalists arranged by Rosa. This only lasted about 6 months because by that time Mujeres en Cambio favored the scholarship program as the best use of their limited funds and energy. 

In addition, the owner of Victoriana, Alison, and her sister, were looking for assistance with the C.A.S.A. midwife program. Alison was a midwife and came to a Mujeres en Cambio luncheon to ask for help. Mujeres en Cambio gave some money to the midwife program at C.A.S.A. for about one year.

Another member of the group, Margaret Ross, persuaded Mujeres en Cambio to help with sales of the embroidery products. She suggested pillow covers and small bags to sell at the Mujeres en Cambio luncheons. She also introduced better materials for the embroidery work and did most of the work with the village women. Mujeres en Cambio supported her with some money.

Later, because the embroidery project was not delivering the kind of sustainable assistance envisaged, it was suggested that rug hooking might have better prospects. Another of Georgeann’s friends, Gerry Gill had rug hooking experience and together they drove to some of the rural villages for a couple of months where she conducted rug hooking classes. Mary Kay Maudsley, (a Cuban-born Canadian), came along at that time and with her Spanish language skills carried the teaching forward for the two winters she was in SMA. Georgeann brought the second-hand woolen clothing down from Salvation Army stores in the US to provide the raw material. This project continued in this way until Charlotte Bell came on the scene looking for a project in the rural villages. She took it over and has shepherded it to this day.

To kick-start the scholarship program, Carmen Marambio, (the embroidery teacher), helped by gathering information used to select some eligible girls and in early 1996 it was agreed to give scholarships (becas) to 7 girls starting secondaria (grade 8 equivalent or junior high school). She brought information from teachers and students to ensure academic standards were met and distributed the scholarship funds provided by Mujeres en Cambio. The scholarship assistance in the first year amounted to $18 USD per student per month. 

As donations grew so did the scholarship program. The girls began to come to DIF headquarters in SMA for beca distributions. Doña Julia also came with the girls to DIF to lobby for assistance for her 2 granddaughters. Doña Julia herself wanted to finish high school. She intended to enroll in a government adult education program but needed to graduate high school first. Mujeres en Cambio saw that she was very smart and very much involved with the villages and so they supported her. At about age 78 Doña Julia graduated from Haute Couture technical college in San Miguel with Mujeres en Cambio assistance.

When the mayor’s term ended and Pakina left DIF, so did the direct DIF assistance with transportation and logistics. The new head was not interested in continuing the programs Pakina had started including support for Mujeres en Cambio. By this time Mujeres en Cambio was concentrating their effort on becas. Thanks to Pakina and her husband, who owned the Terrassa Restaurant, the beca distributions were moved permanently to that location.

The fund-raising luncheons being held at member’s homes had also grown and become unwieldy with respect to the table and chair rentals and transportation logistics. Thanks to Georgeann’s mother’s friend, Alicia Franyutti, they were moved permanently to her Hacienda de los Flores. 

In 1998 Mujeres en Cambio, realizing they needed to become a registered charity if they were going to be able to raise more serious money, began the process of getting their A.C. and 501c3 credentials. And so, with official charity registration, a stable location for money-raising lunches, a permanent place from which to distribute becas, and a rotating roster of dedicated volunteers, the Mujeres en Cambio scholarship program was well on its way to becoming what it is today. 

Since 1996 Mujeres en Cambio has helped 918 girls and young women from these poor rural villages get an education. In the 2019/20 school year, Mujeres en Cambio distributed over 1.8 million pesos in the form of scholarships to 177 students. In that same year, 2019/2020, 33 of their young women graduated from high school and 17 graduated from university.

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