Pioneers: Redefining Masculinity
Elva Haro, the current LIGA MAC Executive Director is a farsighted thinker who is devoted to San Jose del Cabo. Her clarity of vision coincided with LIGA MAC’s more than ten years ago when she came on board to lead the pilot project of ALAS. ALAS is a life skills program offering adolescent girls or young women, some concrete information about life. This is done by introducing a group of at-risk youths to successful women. The women and the organizers provide role models and information, including a psychologist who presents themes of self-respect, birth control and autonomy. Heddy Mayanín VillaseñorHernandez, M.Sc.has been integral to the psychological aspects of this program. She has over thirty years of experience working with issues of gender disparity while educating, promoting and encouraging change in workshops throughout Mexico.
Upon reflection, Haro and Villaseñor came to realize that young male adolescents also require some help with life skills. The result is the pilot project Águilas or the Eagles program. A volunteer study group was formed to create this course made up of local, young, successful men between the ages of 25 and 35 who have dedicated their lives to professional training in gender and masculinity. The group met every Wednesday for two months to develop the pilot project. The group is called GAFOPAMA and includes: David Delgado Tapia and Thomas Armando Llamas Úguez; Professional Consultants, Jesús Escobar Joaquín Espinosal and Joseph Garcia and as General Coordinator, Heddy Mayanín Villaseñor Hernandez, M.Sc.
The focus is to reduce violence and foster gender equality and a respect for human rights in the adolescent male population. This is done by exploring the following topics: sexuality, gender, health, masculinity and gender violence, with the culmination of the course ending in a life project. The ultimate objective is to help male and female adolescents coexist through learning to take care of themselves and others. The emphasis is on how a mutually respectful way of life improves personal, emotional and social ties and enhances quality of life.
The Eagles program is for male youths 11-16 years old. It consists of five three-hour sessions. Interactive games are used to build confidence and to add a sense of levity to some very important and life-changing ideas. In these sessions the young men work out a new strategy for living by being conscience of themselves in relation to others. One of the most enlightening exercises is called Take Care of Me. In Mexican macho society, the masculine definition includes being the bread-winner, but in most other aspects of life, men are taken care of. The exercise Take Care of Me is an excellent exercise to help change these underlying mores. What do they have to do? They have to make a sandwich for another person. And they have to wait until both sandwiches are prepared until they can eat. This simple exercise was very difficult for most of them. Lack of experience caused them to be afraid they would do it wrong or they would drop the sandwich. They were barely able to execute the act. They were unused to having to please anyone, especially another guy. The exercise emphasizes the amount of work required to take care of others and develops the ability to wait, among others.
Another exercise, done with eyes closed, was the exploration of violence, using the Violence – o – meter. Starting with violence in the form of name-calling and working through to homicide, the youths were asked to raise their hand if they had experienced or witnessed different forms of violence. Each and every one in the class had. Identifying internalized violence in this exercise helps youths understand that they are not the only one who has experienced violence; they are not alone. These baby steps are the foundation of a change in attitude.
When asked if the course was worthwhile, one hundred per cent said yes. In fact, the normal drop-out rate for similar courses is very high. Most do not make it through to the end. The LIGA MAC Eagles program participants stayed motivated and interested through the entire program.
When asked what they learned, one youth said he would no longer hit his little sister. The program teaches that you can choose to contribute to violence and you can choose not to. It opens up areas of both equality and choice based on mutual respect of others. A deconstruction of violence as it is portrayed in the media helps to build consciousness while exploring alternative approaches and underling the individual’s role in determining what is acceptable in the community.
The final program, The Life Project, guided by Joseph Garcia, helped to reinforce the changed values that these adolescents had experienced throughout the course. In pairs, they interviewed each other and then presented the interviewee to the group. Positive attributes were recognized and some life goals were outlined; what they want to do with their lives and just as importantly, how could they make it happen. Many said that they understood why it was so important to continue with a post secondary education, and also obtain at least one more language.
“As this is a pilot program, there is no base line to compare it to,” explains Villaseñor. However the kinds of fundamental changes that occur just by having more options were consistent. The hope is that members of this first group become leaders in their respective communities, schools and sport clubs, and that they give workshops to other young men so a ripple effect of non violence spreads in San Jose. Villaseñor hopes to have follow-up sessions in six months to see if any ideological changes are sustained and in what manner. Are they dividing the household labor more fairly and doing their part? Are they making choices about friends and relationships that include mutual respect; putting one’s self in another’s shoes? Have they accepted that taking care of the environment, animals, and people around you, does not threaten your own masculinity but it is the beginning of redefining it?
It is also the program leaders’ hope to create a manual of the program to be distributed throughout the area.The LIGA MAC Eagles program leaders want these youngsters to be disobedient: encouraging them to go against the norm. They are pioneers in the redefinition of masculinity; one that helps young men become better citizens, friends, parents and children. Disobedient, just like this small, dedicated group of individuals who have voluntarily taken concrete action towards the reduction of violence in our community. The LIGA MAC Eagles program is the first of its kind in Los Cabos and one of few available in the state. It is another example of how LIGA MAC is always looking for ways to work hand in hand for positive change with people in need in our community.